In a unanimous January 2010 decision, the California Building Standards Commission approved “Calgreen” as the first mandatory statewide green construction code to be adopted in the United States.

“The code will help us meet our goals of curbing global warming and achieving 33 percent renewable energy by 2020, and promotes the development of more sustainable communities by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy efficiency in every new home, office building or public structure,” said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the January 2010 announcement.

Photo: State of California, Office of the Governor
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger pushes for adoption of “Calgreen” in a 2009 press conference.

Scheduled to take effect in January 2011, Calgreen was developed from voluntary green building standards enacted across the state in 2008. It establishes a mandatory baseline for all new buildings statewide, with optional tiers that local jurisdictions can incorporate for higher levels of performance. The baseline will require all new buildings to reduce water consumption by 20 percent; divert 50 percent of construction waste from landfills; use low-emitting materials; separately meter indoor and outdoor water use (nonresidential only); and submit to mandatory inspections of mechanical system equipment to ensure that it continues to achieve design performance (nonresidential buildings over 10,000 square feet.) According to the California Air Resources Board, these provisions should reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions by 3 million metric tons carbon equivalent by 2020.

Opposition to the code has come from some environmental groups, which have criticized the two-tier voluntary rating system within the code, suggesting that it will cause confusion for local building inspectors. Referring to the possible ambiguity resulting from voluntary tiers, Elizabeth Echols, director of the U.S. Green Building Council's Northern California chapter, expressed concern, noting “the potential for builders to label their buildings green without substantiating their claims.”

Others have applauded the move to create one uniform standard for buildings across the state, but statewide uniformity will not necessarily bear out in practice: Calgreen does not preclude local jurisdictions from instituting stricter green building regulations, which more than 50 California municipalities already have in place.

Copyright 2010 by BuildingGreen, LLC