Silicon Valley these days is the epicenter of all things green, home to renewable energy entrepreneurs, ecologically minded venture capitalists and global warming-fighting CEOs. Moreover, Sustainable Silicon Valley, a coalition of tech giants, utilities like PG&E (PCG), local governments and non-profits, has set a target of slashing the region’s greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. The valley is, in local parlance, eating its own dog food. On Tuesday, the group released its annual CO2 report. While some individual companies have dramatically cut their carbon footprints and the valley’s overall emissions have fallen slightly since 2000, Sustainable Silicon Valley won’t realize its ambitious 2010 goal. "Unless a miracle happens between 2007 and 2010, it’s highly unlikely," Sustainable Silicon Valley executive director Rick Row told Green Wombat.
Why? Blame it on the car in carbon. A whopping 56 percent of Silicon Valley’s greenhouse gas emissions came from the tail pipe in 2006 (compared to 40 percent for California as a whole). A trip down one of the valley’s traffic-choked freeways is a graphic reminder of the region’s dependence on and love affair with the automobile. The bottom line is that you can cover Applied Materials (AMAT), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and other companies in solar panels but you won’t make significant strides in cutting carbon emissions until you deal with the monster in the garage. "We don’t have traditional city centers and clear corridors that people can commute along," says Row. "The problem with cars is that people only think about the marginal costs of driving" not the global impact.
Some Silicon Valley companies are trying to cut their employees’ commute. About half of Sun Microsystems’ (JAVA) workers telecommute while Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO) dispatch biodiesel-powered shuttles to ferry employees to corporate campuses. Those companies and others also offer subsidies toward the purchase of fuel efficient cars and encourage car-pooling. But the Sustainable Silicon Valley report underscores the necessity of replacing the infernal combustion engine with electric motors and fuels cells. While valley VCs have invested in local electric car company Tesla Motors and various biofuel startups, they and the region’s legions of entrepreneurs have appeared more interested in solar energy and other green plays than solving the car carbon conundrum.