The State’s climate change goals, established in the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB-32) and reaffirmed by the voters through Proposition 23 just last year, aims to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 30% by the year 2020. Ideally, CALGreen would support the greenhouse gas reduction targets with measurable goals for energy efficiency, but at present it only requires meeting the minimum mandatory energy efficiency standards required by the Calfornia Energy Code and Title 24. It remains to be seen in the current economic and political climates whether California’s Energy Code will require further energy reductions in the near future. Of course, California’s Energy Code reduces energy use more than most states, but as demonstrated by the more than 1,000 LEED Certified projects statewide, we can do better.
We now have the ability to achieve higher than minimum energy efficiency in new and existing commercial buildings in cost-effective ways. With advances in lighting systems, mechanical equipment, and building envelope design, the goal should be to design for maximum energy efficiency wherever and whenever possible. For example, on the multiple LEED Interior Design + Construction projects I have completed, the project team consistently achieves greater than 15% over Title 24. In cases where utilities are rolled into a commercial lease and a tenant has no monetary incentive for improved energy efficiency, energy consumption is routinely realized on a cost neutral basis. In addition to energy, CALGreen’s minimum requirements for water reduction, recycling, indoor air quality, and other criteria should be exceeded at minimal or no additional cost.
With any new building code, there is a need to educate plan reviewers and inspectors and to develop a strategy for enforcement. The economic climate has significantly reduced the resources, such as staff and operating hours, which many city and county building and planning departments can allocate to incorporate CALGreen at a local level. Building departments will be challenged to review and verify the necessary documentation for CALGreen compliance to truly give it any weight.
More than 70 cities and counties throughout the state have already developed and adopted energy efficiency requirements within their local green building regulations. In San Francisco, the 2008 Green Building Ordinance addresses more aggressive energy reduction targets and will remain the standard for all new construction. Other cities that first work through CALGreen become pacesetters in incorporating the code. There are many existing case studies and best practices among cities in the Bay Area that could serve as models for local agencies and developers to apply to regions lacking green building momentum.
Particularly in these areas with no local green building legislation, developers should evaluate a project team’s qualifications and experience with sustainable design being a major criteria. Challenges that developers might be facing could include a longer review process, additional information required for drawing documentation, and expanded inspection services in order to comply with CALGreen. Above and beyond the 65 mandatory measures in CALGreen, there are also levels (Tier 1 and Tier 2 – Tier 2 being the most aggressive) that jurisdictions can choose to adopt which alter the definition of green building.
Because of its high density, San Francisco has learned right away that its carbon footprint is linked to its existing building stock. The City’s Existing Commercial Buildings (ECB) Task Force has made significant strides toward creating a plan to reduce total energy use by an estimated 50% by the year 2030. The driving force behind this plan is AB-32. Released in 2007, LA’s Green Building Plan calls for the City to reduce its carbon footprint by 35 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. If the goal for California is to reach 30% statewide energy reduction, it won’t be met with CALGreen’s minimum guidelines for new construction. The strength of the ECB’s plan is its holistic approach to evaluate a building’s life span through energy benchmarking. If businesses and institutions first create strategic improvements in their existing buildings, that success can set the stage for even greater accomplishments with new construction.
CALGreen is a statewide regulation that we must understand, follow and integrate into our design, construction and building permit processes. But from the onset of a project, building owners and developers need to be aware of CALGreen’s minimum regulations as well as adopted tiers and encouraged to explore options to achieve the best possible levels of energy efficiency. The good news for those of us who have been committed to sustainability for many years is that CALGreen is an easily achievable baseline that will allow for improvements that we can exceed on every level. For those who are late adopters, it is now a requirement, but hopefully, a welcomed platform that will promote green building throughout the state and the country. It’s too early to tell just how local and state mandates and third-party rating systems like LEED will converge and work with or against each other, much less what will happen across the country as other states begin to follow California’s lead. But I am optimistic that CALGreen can adapt and evolve to ultimately help California meet its climate change goals.