Sustainable Calm Under Industrial Pressure
Santa Rosa has the highest population growth in the Philippines and yet constrained land use, but is not in so much of a hurry to give economic opportunities to its 350,000 inhabitants that it doesn’t have time and attention to commit to being a leading sustainable city. The local ambition is framed by the huge national commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 70% within 15 years. Along with impressive climate and energy initiatives, Santa Rosa stands out by delivering city-wide results relating to food and waste.



City Challenge Winner 2014

Emissions reductions - while growing the city’s capacity

Already in 2010, Santa Rosa had conducted a comprehensive greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory demonstrating intensive carbon outputs from the key industries that had come to dominate the regional economy – including various heavy and technical industries. The subsequent GHG Management Framework Plan laid out a series of actions for private, public, and social actors and setting the framework for the city’s currently high level of ambition. Single-point actions included the conversion of street lights to solar power, and the use of LED lighting at the city government offices. Many other actions integrate carbon management into housing, energy, waste-management and landscaping provisions.

​For example, Santa Rosa is one of the cities inducted this year into the UN’s vanguard program of sustainable building development, the Building Efficiency Accelerator, which assists subnational administrations achieve 25-50% reductions in energy demand (and thus in most cases carbon emissions), from existing and new buildings. Actions under this program include improved building codes, incentive structures, or technical guidelines on best practice. Santa Rosa has already committed to a 30% reduction in community emissions on the 2010 baseline. Unusually for a city with as many social, spatial and economic pressures – or perhaps because of them – Santa Rosa has also prioritised some climate adaptation measures involving creative use of vacant lots as urban agriculture zones.

Food waste management linked to social development

Santa Rosa’s other standout achievements cluster largely around the nexus of food, waste, and land use. Two similar projects, converting waste into useable materials, both cutting down on landfill, carbon emissions and water pollution, are the charcoal briquetting project and the centralised composting facility. The briquetting project makes charcoal out of waste coconut husks and the undesirable plant water hyacinth, and the composting facilitating creates soil fertiliser for urban agriculture out of food waste.

A broader program of waste management, Project Clean ALWAYS (Air, Land, Water are Yours to Save), includes better management of waste fractions and a stakeholder-based approach to regulation of the disposal of plastics, and a total ban of styrofoam.

Santa Rosa

Low Carbon Community housing project

The most complex and ambitious project in Santa Rosa’s sustainability portfolio is probably the the Low Carbon Community, supported by the urban greening project. The Low Carbon Community is a housing project for incoming settlers and local government workers, which has around units in the current phases. The design innovation is not just to pioneer appropriately sited, high-density housing for key economic groups, but to use special vacuum-based wastewater treatment, and to make that water specially available for onsite agriculture, integrating solid waste, waste water, and urban farming into a housing project.
Cities around the world can not easily claim that industrial transformation, economic segregation, farmland shortage, pollution, and budgetary constraints are blocks to sustainability leadership – when Santa Rosa has achieved so much in precisely those conditions.

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Text by: John Manoochehri
Last edited: 2017-03-15