California Sets Statewide Standards for Building Green

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Last month California adopted a statewide green building code which pushes builders to reduce energy use in their structures by 15% below the state’s current mandatory energy efficiency standards.  The standards cover both commercial and residential construction, including public institutions such as schools and hospitals. 

The California Green Building Standards Code will be administered by the California Building Standards Commission (Commission), which is responsible for the state’s building codes.  The new code will take effect 180 days from adoption and applies to all new construction statewide, although compliance will be voluntary until 2010.

The code provides standards for energy efficiency, water conservation, material conservation, resource efficiency and environmental quality.  If these measures are met, the complying buildings would meet the requirements for a silver rating under the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

A friend of mine at the Department of Energy pointed out that requiring targets for green buildings that meet a certain LEED certification level could eliminate the market for the certification altogether in the state; if all new buildings are de facto LEED certified, then why spend the money for official certification to distinguish your building?

Of course, there are other certifying organizations that will benefit from the new code.  For example, Section 705.2.1 of the code requires that wood-based materials and products that make up at least 50% of a major building component, such as framing, floors or millwork, be certified by one of several standards setting organizations, including the Forest Stewardship Council, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Standard and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) Schemes.  Other building aspects that require certification include heating and cooling systems and carpeting.

The Commission says that the code is the first of its kind in the U.S., and here’s hoping that other states follow in California’s footsteps.  Such comprehensive policy measures are very important for combatting global climate change:  according to the USGBC, buildings nationwide account for 39% of U.S. energy use and 39% of carbon dioxide emissions. 

Eric Lane Avatar

Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.