Leading the nation in environmental initiative once again, the California Building Standards Commission has unanimously approved the country's first green building code for all new structures'from homes to businesses, schools to hospitals'built in California. 'We have already committed to making our state-owned buildings more green and energy efficient. This statewide code will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency and conserve water in all new buildings,' Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

As part of its goal to curb emissions by 2020, the new standard is voluntary for now, but will become mandatory in 2010.  This green code looks to decrease each new project’s carbon footprint, reducing energy use by 15 percent and landscape water use by 50 percent.  It will also mandate that more recycled materials be used during construction. “Momentum for green buildings has been growing for years,” says Charles Eley, executive director of the Collaborative for High Performance Schools, a nonprofit working to improve school facilities. “It is an ideal time for California to step forward with the nation’s first state green building standards.”

Last Wednesday, the governor was forced to meet with discontented environmentalists to make last minute revisions to the code’s stance on certain issues, which apparently were not as stringent as advocates would have liked.

The original language set a low bar for energy efficiency, so a section was added requiring a 15 percent improvement in energy consumption over the existing California code. “A ‘green’ building should show exemplary performance,” says Nick Zigelbaum, energy policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council.    

Another concern was that the code would send a confusing message to the cities and towns in California that already enforce stricter standards. “The green building code is a minimum—communities can reach above and beyond if they choose,” Zigelbaum explains, adding that statutory clarification is needed.

On the issue of certified wood, the entire section of the code was revised to give time for deliberation about lumber standards—environmental advocates endorse Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood only, which the building sector strongly contests. Along with other measures, environmentalists have pledged to continue fine-tuning the code to help meet California’s 30 percent reduction target by 2020.