http://paloaltoonline.com/square/print/2007/12/13/cost-of-green-in-palo-alto


Town Square

Cost of "Green" in Palo Alto

Original post made by Sally on Dec 13, 2007

This may seem like a small issue, but I think it is symbolic of current issues in our city.

I asked my husband to walk down to the local copy shop to order an outdoor banner for my church. He was told that Palo Alto does not allow the sale of UV-protected banners. He walked home and drove to Mt. View, where the same chain store was happy to fill the order. He drove back. After the proof was ready, we both drove to Mt. View to review it. In two days, he will drive back to pick up the order.

We live three blocks from the local shop. Not only are we increasing the carbon footprint, but Palo Alto is also losing out on the sales tax (item cost $380).

Is there something wrong with this picture?

Comments

Posted by marvin, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 13, 2007 at 6:18 pm

thanks for a good laugh, sally. This story is so palo alto.
is it a wonder people shop everywhere besides pa? That is unless you likeoverpriced botique stores


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2007 at 7:27 pm

I bet we can come up with more examples of these.


Posted by trudy, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 14, 2007 at 6:49 am

Probably the banner is non-biodegradable or made of toxic materials and there is an environmentally better substitute. If someone told me something was not allowed to be sold in an area, I would ask why, and if the reason was it was harmful to the environment, I would go with something else.

$380 for something that is presumably temporary?


Posted by Geoff, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 14, 2007 at 10:53 am

Trudy makes a good point - what alternatives were available, using the assumptions that having this banner (temporary?) was deemed a necessity and that there is a good reason behind the restriction? This is not to say that the policies in Palo Alto are correct.

Seems to me the restriction is probably based on the chemicals used to coat the banner, making it UV resistant.

I would state, without knowing any of the details behind this restriction, that just b/c our neighbors feel it okay (or are ignorant to) the ?problems? with selling such items does not necessarily make this restriction wrong. Also, if you incorporated the trips to the store to buy the banner, in Mt. View, into other errands that you normally run, the increase in your carbon footprint would not be that great. Making special trips for each errand would, however, less you were on a bicycle ;-)


Posted by Sally, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 14, 2007 at 11:49 am

The banner is semi-permanent, in that it will be used seasonally for many years. It needs to be UV resistant. Today, I asked my husband exactly what the reason was. He said that the shop said that Palo Alto does not like environmentally unfriendly chemicals, such as those used to confer UV resistance. He said he asked about what chemicals were of concern, and what toxics list they on in Palo Alto. The lady he talked to said she didn't know, just that their PA store does offer this product, but the Mt. View store does. He tried to look up a toxics list for Palo Alto on the Internet, but he couldn't find what he was looking for.

Does anybody know if that list of banned substances exists? If so, please let me know. Thanks.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 14, 2007 at 3:09 pm

And why shouldn't a merchant choose to work with chemical substances that will not harm the merchant, or the community. Seems to me that if that's the case, we're talking about consumer ignorance, and not an overbearing municipality.


Posted by DJ, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 14, 2007 at 3:43 pm

"And why shouldn't a merchant choose to work with chemical substances that will not harm the merchant, or the community. Seems to me that if that's the case, we're talking about consumer ignorance, and not an overbearing municipality."

It is a fair question to ask the municipality why they are banning certain chemicals. They must have a rational reason to do so. UV-resistant plastics (like vinyl banners) have been around for a long time. Is there some new data that proves that they are an environmental hazard? If so, at where exposure level, and for how long?

Sally (or her husband) is right to ask for the list of banned chemicals in Palo Alto. Her little story is the tip of the iceberg. Will car tires or plastic pipe or platic computer shells or concrete blocks or computer printer ink be banned next?


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 14, 2007 at 3:45 pm

"Will car tires or plastic pipe or platic computer shells or concrete blocks or computer printer ink be banned next?"

If they're shown to be toxic, why not?


Posted by DJ, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 14, 2007 at 4:36 pm

Mike,

Let's just start with car tires:

Web Link

We can then move on with many other toxics in our environment. Car tire rubber has toxics in it, and it grinds to a fine 'sand' on the roadways. These toxics are water soluble. Shoud we ban car tires in Palo Alto, Mike?


Posted by janette, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 15, 2007 at 5:34 am

Sally seems to have asked the merchant for a list of banned chemicals, not the city.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 15, 2007 at 10:02 am

This is an interesting case study, and it raises all sorts of issues from individual choice to corporate responsibility, as well as role of local government's in policies that may not be happening at the same pace on a state or federal or global level.

I do not want to be critical of Sally, and her project. It does strike me, however, that in this case, she and her church chose to acquire an item that had substances in it that were considered to be environmentally unfriendly. The stated needs of having a semi-permanent banner are a starting point, but it is not clear if there were additional considerations that they could have added after they understood the implications of getting a banner from a place that applied this particular UV ray protection. Did they consider changing their "objectives" after they understood that the way they were going to meet those objectives had such consequences? Perhaps they did, and decided they were acceptable conditions. On the other hand...

Next comes the mighty issue of corporate responsiblity. I don't know if the place where this banner was made was Kinko's (now owned by Fedex) but it sounds like it. Even if it is another place, be it a local establishment or one with a global presence, such companies should be asking questions about the materials they use on behalf of their clients to see what they can do to contribute less to this problem.

My company does business with Whole Foods, I am trying to do something with them right now, and they have made it very clear that unless the approach I take meets certain "green" standards, they won't even consider a proposal. Good for them! It puts the onus on me as a small business owner to figure out how to provide a great idea to them in a way that is more friendly environmentally. GE is another example of a large company that is not only asking these questions around what they make and how they make it, they are actually viewing the whole matter as a huge business opportunity for them. We need more companies of this scale with leadership teams that are incorporating these considerations into what they do, how they do it, and what sorts of business opportunities they will invest in going forward. VC money on Sand Hill Road is pursuing this right now as well--what might that tell us?

And whither government at the local, state and national level? At all levels, goverment is much less nimble than is private enterprise, and changes very slowly. Large organizations, public or private, are less nimble than are smaller ones. We see in the just ended Bali conference that the current leadership in Washington DC is taking a position that this country will not at a federal level move forward unless other countries agree to do the same. What a cop out. I will not go there about the current administration, but I think Palo Alto should be pushing hard on these types of things, even if from a "gamesmanship" standpoint, we experience some downside consequences in the early stages. We have seen the Schwarzeneger administration say they are not waiting for Washington's lead to deal with things such as automobile mileage and emmissions standards, and Palo Alto should not be afraid to take the same assertive leadership role at a municipal level. What we do in this town gets watched, followed, emulated, imitated over time.

Palo Alto as a local government with some prominence is able to move more nimbly and easily around these matters than can ever be expected at the state or national level, no matter who is in office. What we do around here matters, it matters here, and it matters in other hallowed halls.

How about that Kinko's or a scrappy competitior in Palo Alto open up a shop and say it only uses environmentally friendly ingredients in the making of banners and other products? Get some VC money to back it up. Last I checked, there are people who reside elsewhere who are attracted to such a value proposition, perhaps they would be coming to Palo Alto to spend their dollars and fill our tax coffers if we made it known that in this town, we walk the talk.


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 15, 2007 at 10:50 am

At issue here is "Palo Alto Exception-ism" and how far we can/should push the envelope.

PA clearly has no problem thinking independently and doing things that few other cities do. Sometimes that's leadership; sometimes it's dumb; sometimes it is just re-inventing the wheel.

Being a small town with a "Mayor" who spends her time photo-op'ing on environmental issues is an example; another is having one of the only "private city parks" (FHP) in existence; another is a "sizzle" oriented city web site (that till recently thought they could deliver better search than Google); another is not having big box stores; and here is the example of not allowing shops to sell items that are readily available in the next town.

My two cents is that we would benefit from dialing it back a bit. Not all the way, but some. We are a small city, with plenty of small city issues - taxes, crime, infrastructure, street repair, etc. We should pick our spots on where to lead, and maybe have a healthier respect for the "conventional wisdom" of other towns.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2007 at 11:48 am

It all comes back to personal responsibility. I want to do my bit, but I don't understand exactly all the ins and outs of every situation and although I may want to educate myself on some issues, it is not realistic to know it all and we have to some extent trust the rules that are being put in place.

To give an example. We have had a couple of spare the air nights recently and from a thread going back a month or so, there are many who feel that this is a good idea and others who feel that this is encroaching on their personal freedoms. Smoking came into this category ten, twenty years ago, and now it is the norm. What is the norm today will change over the years.

I recently went shopping in Ikea. Without making any noise about it, they have started charging for their bags. I and most other customers easily made do without bags. We loaded our goods into our carts and took them to our cars and then put them in the trunks. Was it that I begrudged paying the 5c (or whatever) for bags. Not really, it was just that when I thought about it, I realised I didn't really need the bags. This should also become the norm. I already have re-usable grocery bags for groceries, why should I expect to have bags at every store I visit when I have a shopping cart. I may need that at Stanford or such like, but I don't need them at Target, or Ikea, etc.

When we start living green it isn't always through legislation, it is through being aware. If I need a banner for something, if I am offered a realistic alternative I would consider it. If I am told, sorry we don't do this because it isn't "allowed", then I go elsewhere where it is available. If I was offered something else, believe me it would be easier to use the something else rather than have to waste time going elsewhere.

So make it convenient and it will be used. Make it unavailable and we will either use the alternatives or go where we can get it.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 15, 2007 at 12:23 pm

Here is another example of how it happens at multiple levels: sea food.

My family visits Monterey Aquarium now and again, a few years back we got a card while we were there that explained which types of sea food were over fished, which were OK to eat, etc.

I kept the card, but I (being a married man, meaning I lost 95% of memory at the altar) could never recall which fish were OK to buy at the market or order at a resturaunt. Frankly, if I really care about this fish consumption matter, I must do a better job of staying informed, and making sure my buying habits reflect those concerns.

By the same token, I don't think it is unreasonable to expect dining establishments, grocery stores (from Whole Foods to Safeway to Costco) and others that peddle this stuff to take some responsbility in what they buy to vend in their establishments. They have people whose jobs it is to know fish, shouldn't this sort of thing be part of their knowledge base? And how they buy?

How that translates into government involvement starts to get interesting. We do have the endangered species act at the federal level, and it may be more teeth are needed in that law. Should Palo Alto offer guidelines on what seafood should be offered in town? That might be getting too granular, but it illustrates the conumdrum in a very real way.


Posted by Sally, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 15, 2007 at 1:02 pm

I am asking for a list of banned toxic substances in Palo Alto. Can anybody point me to a Palo Alto website where that is available? It seems that I (and others) are being told to become smarter and better informed consumers. How can I do that if I cannot get the information?

Perhaps Paul Losch can help me, since he is in business and probably knows the rules better than most. Paul?


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 15, 2007 at 1:10 pm

"We can then move on with many other toxics in our environment. Car tire rubber has toxics in it, and it grinds to a fine 'sand' on the roadways. These toxics are water soluble. Shoud we ban car tires in Palo Alto, Mike?"

Knowing that, we and other regions, and states, should be lobbying to change the chemical composition of tires. If tire companies fail to comply, we should fine them severely.

Further, we should be taxing tire sales to the degree that tire products sully the environment - i.e. we should be extracting $$$ to clean up the damage that tires cause.

Incidentally, building housing closer to jobs will eliminate much of the toxic by-products of tire dust, because we'll keep more cars off the road.

We should be more like Europe in this respect, which is FAR more aggressive about insisting that products are monitored, and forcing incremental payments for the social and other costs of product effects on health, etc.


Posted by DJ, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 15, 2007 at 1:47 pm

Sally is right in asking for a baned toxics list in Palo Alto. This would allow us citizens to examine the rationale for banning certain substances.

Toxicity is a complex subject, but it boils down to dose, exposure, bio-stability and sensitivity. For example, table salt is more toxic than Round-Up, the herbicie, yet Palo Alto restricts the use of the latter, but not the former. Why? Many "organic" vegetables sold at the local farmer's market contain toxins (plants have evolved strategies to fend off insects and competitors). However, one would need to eat to beyond human capacity in order to feel the effects of these toxins. Water is toxic, at too high a dose, and a number of people have overdosed on it.

There is a certain toxics hysteria going on in Palo Alto.

Sally should have had to go to Mt. View. Yes, Paul, it IS an interesting case study. Let us see the list of banned toxins. Good job, Sally, your simple story has opened up a can of worms that needed to be opened. Merry Christmas.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 15, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Sally,

I don't work for the City, although I am on the Parks and Recreation Commission as a volunteer citizen. I suggest you contact the planning department or the fire department, one of those departments should be able to provide the sort of information you specifically are seeking.

It points out another aspect of this whole thing, which is how difficult it is to develop awareness that people can incorporate into their day to day lives--my fish story being an example. Perhaps in the case of Sally's church, understanding what their alternatives are to UV protection is what was needed--don't expect a Kinko's employee to know much about that at the time you are getting a banner made.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 15, 2007 at 2:24 pm

Of course, DJ's argument about toxins is all relative, because he ignores the fact that some toxins - especially naturally-introduced toxins - have made it through the natural cycle of human adaptation. Not so with the spate of chemicals that have been *recently* introduced to our food supply, and general environment.

Note DJ's failure to consider suggestions made to deal with tire pollution, above. Like the dinosaurs near extinction, he just plods on to his next faulty example about why we should continue to sully our environment.

This is easily shown in ethnographic studies of food and other element adaptation.

Toxic hysteria? You bet. We should be hysterical about the fact that the United States lets in more toxic additives than anyplace else on earth, save China. [agood look at how the European Union handles this sort of thing wouldl be instructive) I fact, given the length of our large exposure to unbounded consumerism, we are subject to more environmental toxins than any other population on earth.

DJ is arguing for some mythical libertarian sense of the market. Like most arguments of that kind, it will die in obscurity, as the vary complex variables of life, and the selective nature of DJ's research, are revealed for what they are - a paean to "anything goes" as long as it makes money. We're smarter than that, in spite of false logic to the contrary.


Posted by DJ, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 15, 2007 at 2:43 pm

"Perhaps in the case of Sally's church, understanding what their alternatives are to UV protection is what was needed--don't expect a Kinko's employee to know much about that at the time you are getting a banner made."

Paul, really, that is a cop out. Your are putting the onus on Sally (and her church) to explore alternatives that are not explained/provided by the vendor. In order for Sally to make a rational decision, she needs rational information. The onus should be on the vendor to explain why they will no longer sell a given product. The salesperson does not need to know the science, but the vendor should provide her/him a simple handout that explains why a given product is not offered. That information should include references to good scientific rationale, and it should refer to city policies that demand such a restriction. If the local vendor just decided to go it alone with a "green" notion, then that vendor needs to explain to Sally why she needs to spew carbon going to Mt. View to get a products that could have been provided with a simple walk down the street (by her husband).

This a classic case study! Paul, I suggest that you study it.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 15, 2007 at 3:00 pm

DJ,

I am not interested in getting into a polemical exchange with you about this.

What I was pointing out is that the understanding and awareness is poorly distributed, among the end users, in this case Sally's church, among the people on the front lines of companies selling items that may be contributing to the problem, in this case it appears to be Kinko's. It is a practical, every day dilemma each and every one of us faces, just as I do when I sit down at the Fish Market and order my dinner. Poorly distributed awarenss exists at the end of the consumption chain, and at the beginning, and in between, and it is a very difficult problem to solve wholesale.

If I am putting the onus on the Sally's of the world in my comments, it does not stop there. The onus is equally on the Kinko's of the world, and the City of Palo Alto's of the world to articulate in a comprehensible way what is behind a policy such as the one being discussed here. For starters.

What aspect of the case study should I be studying DJ?


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 15, 2007 at 3:00 pm

"The onus should be on the vendor to explain why they will no longer sell a given product. The salesperson does not need to know the science, but the vendor should provide her/him a simple handout that explains why a given product is not offered."

A simple explanation that states: "xyz" is a product that we have been advised may be dangerous to your health" should suffice. Merchant have no obligation to tell customers why they do or don't carry products. I would respect a merchant who hdid this, and spend the extra money to get what I need from him. (recent consumer research backs this up - in fact, this holiday season has seen several alternate holiday wrapping and greeting card companies thrive with product prices 4-5x the norm, because people are willing to accept some inconveniences to face the *inconvenient truth* that our lifestyles have brought about.

Beyond that - like pointing the customer to a website, there is a cost associated with providing additional information, and that that cost will be born by the customer, ultimately.

Then, it should be up to Sally - as a responsible citizen (not a passive recipient of information) to make up her own mind about making the trip to Mt. View.

We have to accept personal responsibility for our purchasing decisions; that's what being a responsible, moral citizen is all about.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2007 at 3:31 pm

The responsibility in Sally's example, should not be Sally's, or her Church's or even the vendor or his salesperson. If there is a more environmental friendly, similar costing item available, the store should be able to say, "Sorry we don't sell this because of the toxins, instead I can sell xyz which is about the same cost, will do the same job, last the same length of time and is safer for us all". I feel sure Sally would have bought the alternative and that would have been that. Trying to educate ourselves on every item we need to buy or decision we need to make, makes life tedious.

Two examples. I am told that by shopping at Costco we are indirectly paying into Barak Obama's campaign. Likewise if we shop Walmart, we are paying for Hillary's. For us to consider things like this when we shop is expecting too much for the majority of us.

There are so many toy recalls at present because of lead from China. To expect the consumer to check every product recall list, test every toy, give up buying toys, etc. etc. is very onerous. We expect our toys to be safe but to do all the necessary onerous work is time consuming and cause for nightmares. So for the majority of us, it is a case of "c'est la vie" when toy buying and trusting to good luck.

These two examples show that there are things which can be done in any given situation and others which don't matter as much as we think they do when it comes to making rational decisions. The same will be said for being green.


Posted by DJ, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 15, 2007 at 3:41 pm

"What aspect of the case study should I be studying DJ?"

Paul, you should be studying the actual toxicological information on a given product, before you make suggestions that Sally do her own homework. Actually, Sally is requesting the information to do just that. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

--

"he ignores the fact that some toxins - especially naturally-introduced toxins - have made it through the natural cycle of human adaptation"

Humans have not evolved for a long enough period to "adapt" to many naturally occuring toxic plants. They have simply learned to avoid them, or to take them in small enough doses so that they might survive long enough to reproduce (that's called cost-benefit, in case you can't figure it out). Please tell me where there is ONE human being that can survive a tasty dose of Amanita phalloides (Death Cap mushroom) on top of their hormone-free steak. There is no essential difference with synthetic chemicals that provide better living for the human species. It IS relative to dose, exposure, bio-stability and sensitivity, period.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Thank you, Sally. Please keep asking simple questions...they are the most powerful of questions.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 15, 2007 at 4:16 pm

This is not an exercise in toxicological expertise. I was on another thread about the sport turf at the high schools a couple weeks back, and someone from elsehwere in the country was suggesting that we will poison our athletes if they play on sport turf, due to the type of shredded tire material that may be used. I questioned the person's assertions, as there were several degrees of separation from the information she was providing and the proposed use of sport turf at the high schools. Just like the salt and Round Up analogy, it is a matter of degree.

It also is not a matter of identifying just whose "job" it is to be informed and make the judgments about a particular matter. Resident aptly points out that any one of us would be overwhelmed if we had to weigh fully the various consequences behind our patronizing a certain establshment to buy our milk, to pick a fairly innocuous item. As I suggested earlier in this thread, it is a shared and distributed responsibility that exists at various levels with individuals, business entities, and our governmental bodies. That is what makes it such a daunting matter to tackle. It is nobody's job and it is everybody's job.

Add to that the lack of well distributed awareness, or even the availability of reasonable information, and then the differering opinions that legitimately exist (for many aspects, but not all of them) around these matters. How can people act in an informed way? Oftentimes they can't. I seldom bring my fish card with me when I go out to eat, and that is an easy one.

And there you have Sally's poor husband just trying to get a banner made up for their church. I suspect he was a little hot under the collar when he was told, with not much of a clear explanation, why he could not get his project done on Calif. Ave., and got even more agitated when it was possible to have it done in MV. I doubt that he was at that point trying to understand why there may be a policy in Palo Alto banning a certain substance that is good for UV protection. I know I wouldn't be. I would be wanting to get the blasted banner made and be done with it. The man was not on an environmental crusade, nor was he out to contribute to global warming.

So, I suppose we can all just throw up our hands or send our pointing fingers in various directions and feel it is someone else's problem to solve, or it is too much for any one individual. I think we can expect more of ourselves than that, and we should expect more than that from the business entities and regulators as well. Progress, not perfection, is needed across the board, and we all have a role in the matter.


Posted by DJ, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 15, 2007 at 4:33 pm

Paul,

What we SHOULD expect is that there be a reason for banning certain substances. Shed sunlight on the issue. If it can't hold its own weight, as a rational argument, then there is no reason for the ban, no matter who imposes the ban.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 15, 2007 at 4:35 pm

DJ,

I concur. Your point applies to many things, including regulation of substances.


Posted by joyce, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2007 at 4:58 am

I think things are getting a little heated here - no one seems to have done the simple thing of calling up city hall and asking for a list of what's banned.

That seems far more reasonable than to expect a store to keep a list of all possibly banned items they don't carry, or a clerk who is probably making minimum wage to know that. I would expect if a store discontinued a popular item, that they might post an explanation.

Also, ref the criticism of the web site, etc. The web site is spectacularly a mess, but it does not follow from that that everything the city does is wrong. How about actually asking the city about the materials banned instead of speculating without info.


Posted by joyce, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2007 at 5:01 am

Sally,

Your church might want to look into Interfaith Power and Light, which is a group of religions working on green issues:

Web Link