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Become a carbon neutral County that supports a transition to zero waste

and zero emissions.

Goal #1. Carbon Neutrality

The County established a commitment to 100% carbon neutrality by 2045 for County operations and will continue to move towards holistic, systems-based approaches to reducing greenhouse gases through clean and active transportation systems, fossil-fuel free energy systems, decarbonized buildings, zero waste solutions and carbon sequestration in our farmlands, rangelands, forests, and wetlands.

Associated Policies and Plans

Carbon Neutrality Preview

How will we get there?

In 2019, the County achieved its goal to receive 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. This was accomplished through a mix of strategies that includes on-site renewable energy projects, solar farms, direct renewable electricity purchases from Community Choice Energy providers such as Silicon Valley Clean Energy and San Jose Clean Energy, and the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (REC). The County also recognizes that purchasing clean energy is not enough.

County will continue to support improvements in the energy supply system. For example, the County is working on the development of the Renewable Energy Aggregate Program (REAP) Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), which would install solar, energy storage, electric vehicle charging stations, and potentially micro-grid enabled technology at particular County sites.

Strategy 1.1 Targets and Key Performance Indicators

Existing Programs, Policies, and Activities:

Strategy 1.1 - Clean Energy

Strategy 1.1
Strategy 1.2

Strategy 1.3 Targets and Key Performance Indicators

Existing Programs, Policies, and Activities:

  • County clean fleet upgrade programs

  • Transportation Demand Management program, including opportunities to maximize teleconferencing and telework

  • Valley Transportation Authority ECO pass for County employees, benefits for vanpools, parking at Caltrain or Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations

  • Parking management, including carpool, EV charging stations, and valet parking

  • County Resolution supporting Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) Cut the Commute Pledge Goals

  • Driving to Net Zero

  • Intelligent Transportation Systems and Safety 

  • Safe Routes to School program

  • County Health Element

  • Plan Bay Area 2050

County Operations and Facilities Target:

  • Decrease the percentage of County employee single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) commuters by at least 10% by calendar year (CY) 2025.

Unincorporated County Target:

  • Adopt Complete Streets policies into the General Plan Circulation and Mobility Element by 2024.

Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions throughout California and in Santa Clara County. Changing how people travel within Santa Clara County requires regional partnerships with the County’s member cities, public transit agencies that serve the County, and neighboring counties. More specifically, people must make fewer trips in single-occupant vehicles and use alternative modes —which will reduce emissions while achieving additional benefits for air quality, public safety, and public health. 

The County of Santa Clara continues to support infrastructure improvements that make alternative transportation choices more appealing—through “complete streets” policies that make roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians, improved public transit, and enhanced freeway management and benefits for carpools via high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. Within unincorporated County and at County facilities, the County is expanding the electric vehicle charging stations and infrastructure necessary to increase the use of electric vehicles (EVs). The County also will continue to work to reduce emissions that employees generate on the job and through their daily commutes by transitioning its fleet vehicles to clean alternatives (including EVs); support employees’ ability to work remotely and to have alternative work schedules when feasible; and incentivize the use of active transportation, public transit, and carpools. 

Strategy 1.3 - Clean, Safe, and Active Transportation

Energy use in buildings is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. Using less energy and cleaner energy to power our buildings will make a significant contribution to achieving the County’s goal of carbon neutrality. Building electrification helps to reduce air pollution and potential public safety hazards associated with the distribution and combustion of natural gas. 

The County is maximizing the energy efficiency and decarbonizations goals of its own building systems through its Green Building Policy, which currently includes directives to use sustainable materials, install energy-efficient appliances, and incorporate renewable energy systems into the construction of new buildings. The County also conducts routine maintenance to ensure equipment and facilities operate at the optimal level. Additionally, when equipment needs to be replaced, the County maximizes energy savings by installing the most efficient new model and/or electric equivalent whenever possible. These efforts will be complemented by the County’s efforts to reduce demand and consumption of electricity in buildings, promoting building electrification standards for new construction and retrofits of buildings and identifying opportunities to eliminate other fossil fuel use for space and water heating in County buildings and facilities.

Strategy 1.2 Targets and Key Performance Indicators

Existing Programs, Policies, and Activities:

  • Green Building Policy (LEED requirement) for County facilities

  • Green Building Ordinance for new development in County

  • Energy conservation projects (lighting, HVAC, retrofits) on County buildings, including park facilities

  • Automated thermostats at most Valley Medical Center (VMC) buildings

  • Bay Area Regional Energy Network implementation

County Operations and Facilities Target (In addition to those featured in the data dashboard)

  • Evaluate strategies and implement pilot projects for zero-net energy retrofits, solar hot water, boiler efficiency measures, or biogas procurement that contribute toward County facility decarbonization over the next five years. 

  • Decarbonize all healthcare facilities and operations to become carbon-neutral and resilient to climate impacts.

Unincorporated County Target:

  • Ensure that private development in unincorporated County areas meet the requirements of the County Green Building Ordinance. 

Strategy 1.2 - Decarbonization of Buildings and Facilities

Smart growth policies encourage a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, and development within existing neighborhoods, which help to create equitable and sustainable communities with fewer greenhouse gas emissions. In order to reduce transportation-related emissions, community members must make fewer trips in single-occupant passenger vehicles, instead using public transit, rideshare, carpooling, or active transportation (e.g., biking, walking). Ensuring that residents and businesses are served by a robust and accessible public transportation system that takes people where they need and want to go is key to changing how community members make trips.

Building upon the County’s current General Plan and Zoning Ordinance, the County will implement policies that encourage transit-oriented development, mixed-use development, and human-scaled streets that provide a safe space for walking and biking.

Existing Programs, Policies, and Activities:

  • County General Plan and Zoning Ordinance

  • LAFCO Agricultural Mitigation Policy, Urban Service Area (USA) Policies, and Sphere of Influence (SOI) Policies

  • County Bicycle Accommodation Design Guidelines 

Unincorporated County Target:

  • Employ Vehicle Miles Traveled as a metric of transportation impacts to meet state and County greenhouse gas reduction targets.

County Operations and Facilities Target:

  • Reduce per capita passenger vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by at least 19% relative to 2005 by 2035 (aligns with Sustainable Communities Strategy).

  • Increase the proportion of households located within 0.5 miles of high-quality transit.

Strategy 1.4 Targets and Key Performance Indicators

Strategy 1.4 - Smart Growth

The County of Santa Clara and its member cities have many long-standing programs and policies to reduce the amount of waste generated and divert waste from landfills or incinerators, including bans on single-use plastic bags and polystyrene, policies on reducing waste at County events and facilities, and initiatives to compost food and yard waste. In order to achieve zero waste, the County must build upon its existing operational policies and provide enhanced infrastructure and education to divert 100% of achievable waste from landfills.

Methane released from the disposal of food waste in landfills is one of the most potent greenhouse gases currently contributing to climate change. As such, the County is focusing future policies primarily on repurposing food waste and diverting unconsumable organic waste (e.g., yard waste, biodegradable cups) from landfills to composting facilities in line with California SB 1383 requirements.

Existing Programs, Policies, and Activities:

  • BOS Policies: 8.2 Zero Waste Events; 8.3 Zero Waste Policy for County Facilities and Operations

  • Single-Use Carryout Bag Ban County ordinance

  • County ordinance restricting distribution of expanded polystyrene (EPS) food and beverage containers

  • Trash analysis at Elmwood jail and conversion of trash to recycling/quasi-recycling program

  • Recycling and Waste Reduction Division disposal programs, which includes drop-off or take-back locations for e-waste, sharps, medication, paint, and other household hazardous waste

  • CEPA engagement in statewide Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) efforts  

County Operations and Facilities Target and Unincorporated County Target

  • Implement strategies to convert waste to energy from organics.

Strategy 1.5 Targets and Key Performance Indicators

Strategy 1.5 - Zero Waste

Reduce overall waste generation by supporting the sustainable

consumption of resources and diverting or reusing materials.

Strategy 1.6 - Carbon Sequestration

Explore and implement practices that sequester carbon, including
agricultural practices and urban ecology to help offset greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. It is one method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the goal of reducing global climate change. In addition to the County’s active tree planting and preservation policies, the County can enhance carbon sequestration by pursuing agreements and policies that give the County the tools to protect open space and implement sequestration practices, such as carbon farming.


Carbon farming involves implementing practices that are known to improve the rate at which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and converted to plant material and/or soil organic matter. This strategy also complements the County’s zero waste goals Strategy 1.5  by creating a beneficial use for compost created through food waste and organics composting requirements. Compost application, used as an organic way to improve the soil for plants not only stores carbon but also improves the overall health and biodiversity of the County’s ecosystems.

Existing Programs, Policies, and Activities:

  • County of Santa Clara Ecology-Based Tree Management Guide, County Tree Ordinance, and Tree Protection Guidelines  

  • County Tree Inventory  

  • Forest health program  

  • Sustainable landscaping outreach  

  • Arbor week  

  • Carbon Sequestration for Agricultural Land State Conservation Grant with County of San Mateo  

  • LAFCO Agricultural Mitigation Policy, USA Policies, and SOI Policies (see Strategy 4.3)

  • Agricultural Resilience Incentive (ARI) Grant Program  

  • Integrated Pest Management Program 

  • Water Efficiency Landscape Ordinance 

Strategy 1.6 Targets and Key Performance Indicators

Strategy 1.3
Strategy 1.4
Strategy 1.5
Strategy 1.6
Continue to Goal #2.
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