Sonoma Mountain Village
Photo courtesy City of Rohnert Park
First for California:
State Adopts a Green Building Code
by Lisa Lilienthal
"I don't subscribe to the notion that for the environment to be protected,
that industry has to suffer," says Secretary of the California State and
Consumer Services Agency (SCSA) Rosario Marin. "And vice versa, for
industry to thrive, the environment doesn't have to be in danger. We can
have both – a healthy economy and a healthy environment."
It's a win/win scenario that Marin says will bring new products, services,
jobs, and industries to California. With that in mind, Secretary Marin has
advocated widely for reforms
as Secretary of SCSA, as chairwoman of the Governor's Green Action Team
and chair of the California Building Standards Commission.
A place at the table for both industry and the environment are reflected
in California's new
green building codes, unanimously adopted
by the California Building Standards Commission (a commission under
Secretary Marin) on July 17, 2008. The codes, designed to improve energy
efficiency, reduce water consumption and lighten the carbon footprint of
California's built environment, will phase-in over a 2 ˝ year period,
with initial voluntary compliance leading to mandatory compliance in 2011.
Secretary Marin notes that the new green building code - the first enacted
by a state - "sets a floor, not a ceiling" and that builders, cities
and counties are encouraged to exceed the standards.
"Once again California is leading the nation and the world in emissions
reductions and finding new ways to expand our climate change efforts,"
said Secretary Marin. "The commission should be commended for bringing
everyone to the table, including representatives of the construction and
building trades industry, environmental groups and labor organizations,
and achieving something no other state has been able to." And it was
achieved in record time. Codifying green building best practices took a
little more than a year and a half, thanks in part to the proliferation of
green building programs already in existence.
"We looked at 252 programs, including the U.S. Green Building Council's
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program," explained
Marin, referencing what is commonly viewed as the gold standard for green
building. "There is a high level of acceptance for green building
programs, and a widely held understanding of our need to conserve
resources. Though it was a mammoth task, it is a giant leap forward for
The new building code applies to every new structure to be built in
California, from hospitals and hotels to homes and schools. Those already
familiar with LEED guidelines will find many similarities. (Click
here for a side-by-side comparison.)
U.S. Green Building Council President Rick Fedrizzi was among the first to
applaud California's effort, saying: "…The new standards adopted
unanimously today by California's Building Standards Commission are an
important step for moving California's buildings to a higher level of
California's Green Building Initiative was launched in 2004 when Governor
Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order
S-20-04, which calls for the state to
lead the way in designing, constructing, renovating and operating its
buildings to make them among the most resource-efficient, energy-efficient
and healthful public buildings in the nation. It is viewed as an
aggressive action in pursuit of goals for energy and resource efficiency
in particular, with an objective of reducing electricity purchased from
the grid by existing government and private commercial buildings by 10
percent by 2010 and 20 percent by 2015.
That Executive Order set into motion the process to develop the California
Green Building Standards Codes, which now set targets for energy
efficiency, water consumption, dual plumbing systems for potable and
recyclable water, diversion of construction waste from landfills and use
of environmentally sensitive materials in construction and design,
including eco-friendly flooring, carpeting, paint, coatings, thermal
insulation and acoustical wall and ceiling panels.
Among the many entities impacted by the new codes are schools in
California. "It all comes down to good design," said Rob Cook, executive
director of the
Office of Public School Construction.
"Most school systems will find these standards are readily attainable, and
the state school bond program is ready with
high performance incentive grants
that more than cover the incremental costs of efficiencies that the
districts are implementing."
While school systems in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other highly
populated areas may already be on the leading edge when it comes to green
building and energy efficient campuses, Cook acknowledges that it will be
incumbent upon his agency to also support the 600-plus districts in the
state with fewer than 2,500 students.
"For those districts that don't have a dedicated facilities department,
the superintendent wears multiple hats," said Cook. "It will be important
to bring good design to those communities." Ultimately, he says, the new
green building codes will translate into energy cost savings and freeing
up general and operating funds that can be used for teaching kids. Green
building advocates point to recent studies that have linked better indoor
air quality with improved learning outcomes, another benefit.
The Collaborative for High Performance Schools' Executive Director Charles
Eley agrees, saying, "With an impressive list of successful demonstration
projects, a greater understanding of the challenges facing the planet, and
strong leadership from state government, the building community, and
environmentalists, it is an ideal time for California to step forward with
the Nation's first state green building standards." Eley said that
California already has more than 25 green schools, with hundreds more
under construction, which demonstrate that green building can be
While big cities might be grabbing the green headlines, smaller
municipalities have stepped up to the plate as well. Rohnert Park, a city
of 43,000 just south of Santa Rosa in California's wine country, adopted a
mandatory green building ordinance in 2007, an ordinance authored by city
building official Peter Bruck. Rohnert Park's ordinances, like others in
communities throughout California, actually have a higher threshold for
compliance than the new state green building codes. Cities like Rohnert
Park are accumulating a knowledge base that should help newcomers up and
over the learning curve, says Bruck.
USGBC's Rick Fedrizzi agrees: "Buildings are our first, best opportunity
to reduce energy use and C02 emissions, and greening them must be a
critical component of any policy approach that aims to fight climate
change. As building codes evolve, it's also important to ensure that
individual builders and communities are free to reach for even higher
levels of performance. By specifying that they will in no way preempt
local authorities from continuing to lead by example, the new standards
adopted unanimously today by California's Building Standards Commission
are an important step for moving California's buildings to a higher level
In support of this sentiment, Peter Bruck has posted Rhonert Park's
initiative, along with his own master's thesis on sustainable and energy
In August of 2005, the Rohnert Park City Council directed its staff to
create a green building ordinance that contained mandatory provisions for
all construction within the city. The primary result was an ordinance
containing the most comprehensive green building requirements of any local
community in California when it became effective July 1, 2007. All new
commercial and residential construction, commercial tenant improvements,
residential additions more than 500 square feet in area, and
city-sponsored projects are subject to the requirements of the ordinance.
"As part of my master's work, I wrote a narrative process documenting the
development of Rohnert Park's green building ordinance," says Bruck. "It
is essentially a ‘how-to" guide." Bruck also serves on the California
Building Standard Commission's Green Building Code Advisory Committee, as
the group's building official designee, and participated in a number of
focus groups to vet the new state building code.
"I've received a lot of calls from communities asking if they should wait
until the new green building code is mandatory," said Bruck. "There's no
universal answer, but the learning curve will take time. I have encouraged
communities to do whatever they can now, and to move forward as soon as
they can. They will reap the benefits."
Building owners are equally supportive of the new green building codes.
"Our industry is proud that in this state we are already building some of
the most efficient buildings in the nation," said Rex S. Hime, president
and CEO of the California Business Properties Association. "A new building
built in California is almost 50 percent more energy efficient and emits
half the greenhouse gasses of the national average. Now, the state has
adopted the first set of green building codes in the nation which will
continue to move us towards a more sustainable built environment."
Hime went on to say, "Our members applaud the Governor for his leadership
in encouraging our industry to adopt feasible and cost effective
technologies that ultimately will produce some of the most sustainable
buildings in the nation. Adopting these codes through the existing
iterative standards process is the best and quickest way to bring about
this monumental change."
With the private and public sector on board, what's next for California
when it comes to green building? "We're already looking at what revisions
to the green building code will be made," said Secretary Marin. "This is
just the first step."