Opinion: Opportunity to build on California’s foundation for

A green building wave has rolled into California – one that is going to change the way we do construction and build our communities.  And that wave is being amplified by some important state policies.

California is an extraordinary place where electric cars are becoming commonplace, recycling is pursued with a passion and composting isn’t just something you read about in Organic Gardening magazine.  Business and political leaders in California can agree that reducing energy consumption and conserving water can be good for the environment and good for business at the same time. Further, we are building more energy-efficient buildings to help address volatile energy prices and reduce our dependency on foreign oil. California’s pursuit of green touches many aspects of its economy.

Growing the economy in an environmentally sound way can be good business.  Policies like CALGREEN, the new green building code, are having a significant impact on sustainable residential, commercial and retail construction around the state. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger deserves a lot of credit for pushing the Building Standards Commission to adopt a mandatory green building code, in 2010, supported by the environmental and business communities. Under the governor’s leadership and in partnership with the Legislature, the state has implemented green building initiatives that are solid, sensible public policies that also happen to be good for the environment without overly burdensome requirements for builders.

In 2004, a governor’s executive order created the California Green Building Initiative, challenging state government to demonstrate leadership in energy efficiency and environmental responsibility in state buildings. The initiative requires the state to reduce grid-based energy usage in its buildings 20 percent by 2015, and, consequently, reduce energy costs and provide environmental benefits – at the same time.  The initiative has been quite successful.  In fact, the California State and Consumer Services Agency has achieved United States Green Building Council LEED certification for 18 new state buildings and certification for 18 more existing structures that have been retrofitted. However, there’s much more that can be done.

In 2007, the governor’s leadership was moving the state to achieve environmentally sound construction methods. It became quickly apparent, however, that the environmental community and building industry wanted a uniform, consistent, statewide green building code. In response, the Building Standards Commission expanded the work it was doing and coordinated with key state agencies on the adoption of a green building standards code that would apply to every building throughout California. From the Oregon border to San Diego and from the Central Valley to the San Gabriel Valley – a common consistent code that would save huge amounts of water, energy, divert materials from landfills and ensure quality indoor air in working environments.

In January 2010, after three years of hard work and perseverance, the California Building Standards Commission successfully adopted CALGREEN, the nation’s very first green building code. Beginning in January 2011, CALGREEN requires that every new building constructed in California reduce water consumption by 20 percent, divert 50 percent of construction waste from landfills and install low pollutant-emitting materials. In the coming years, new CALGREEN compliant buildings will populate the state and become an important part of its infrastructure. Over time, California will become a national and international leader of resource conservation and innovative building design and construction.  Also notable about the CALGREEN code is that it was developed collaboratively with environmentalists, architects, builders, and government officials.  It is a significant achievement.  
While California has set the bar high for green construction practices, Gov. Jerry Brown has the opportunity to lead and encourage the state and local jurisdictions to do more. Gov. Brown can bring those same parties back to the table to improve upon the mandatory provisions by challenging local governments, builders, and industry leaders to establish resource conserving buildings and neighborhoods.  He can also encourage his administration to continue to retrofit existing state buildings to become more energy efficient while building new state facilities that surpass current CALGREEN requirements. This will further California’s leadership in green building practices.

California’s leadership in green technology matters is increasingly being challenged in places like New York City. New York recently passed a package of legislation known as the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan aimed at improving the energy efficiency of the city’s commercial buildings. Some analysts say it is the most comprehensive legislation of its type in the nation. California must continue to invest or cede leadership in this area of technology development.

CALGREEN and the Green Building Initiative are important achievements that demonstrate California’s leadership in resource conservation and set an example of how to build the future on a greener foundation.

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