State of (green building) affairs

Green Building Initiative challenges California to reduce the eco-impact of state facilities

SN&R buys a building, wants to make it green and pays Sena: Eco Warrior Princess to write a weekly column about it.

Roy McBrayer is all about spreading the word. Not in the preacher or annoying, lecturing authority-figure way, but in the much more preferable committed-to-a-cause way, which is actually what I’ve found to be true of most government employees working on environmental issues. Back in August, McBrayer, deputy to the state architect and program manager of the California Green Building Initiative, sat down with SN&R for three hours in the Ziggurat building to talk about the state’s green-building activism. Most of my best friends won’t even talk to me for three hours in one sitting. Who am I kidding, none of them will.

Outside, construction took place on the new CalSTRS structure, a 13-story office tower pursuing LEED-gold certification in West Sacramento. Throughout California, more than 200 state buildings are pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design recognition. Early on in its green-building efforts, California selected the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program as its guiding tool because of its holistic approach.

Let’s backtrack for a second. By now, we all know the story. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger chose his legacy and passed landmark legislation to put California on the map as a leader in the fight against global warming, in the absence of federal leadership. This seminal piece of legislation, AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, requires the state to take early actions to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the largest sectors. Prior to this law, Schwarzenegger passed Executive Order S-20-04, also known as the Green Building Initiative, which sets the goal of reducing grid-based energy use in state-owned buildings 20 percent by 2015, from a 2003 baseline. The initiative will reduce carbon emissions by 500,000 metric tons by the year 2010 and 1.8 million metric tons by 2020. The subsequent Green Building Action Plan lies out compliance measures in detail. The order also encourages private commercial building owners to comply, and they are increasingly doing so as they see the economic benefit of high-performance green facilities.

“When the governor signed the Executive Order in 2004, the environment then was that we let the treehuggers get out of control and now they’re forcing something on us. That has changed so much. Now it’s mainstream,” McBrayer said when he met with SN&R again last month.

Under the initiative, new facilities larger than 10,000-square-feet are required to meet LEED-silver certification, implementing among other measures, distributed generation technologies, which means creating on-site power from renewable energy sources, such as solar, fuel cells, biomass and wind. New buildings, however, represent only a small percentage of what’s already been built and existing state buildings present more of a challenge. Existing buildings at least 50,000-square-feet will be retro-commissioned or retrofitted to meet LEED-silver. These tune-up processes are expected to yield energy-use reductions of 8 to 15 percent, producing a real bang for the buck. But the state struggles to identify an adequate funding mechanism to pay for the upfront costs. In theory, this should be easy because, as McBrayer said, “We’re pursuing a pure public-policy objective. It’s for the betterment of California’s citizens and to address the environmental changes we face.”

As the state moves full-force ahead with green building, watchdogs want assurance from the governor that he’ll provide needed support. Some of his actions so far have been worrisome. This year, he vetoed three bills set to strengthen green building standards. AB 35 would have mandated LEED-gold certification for new state buildings. AB 888 would have required new commercial buildings larger than 50,000-square-feet to meet gold-certification beginning in 2013. AB 1058 would have required new residential green building standards by 2010.

Dear Arnold: It cost me $35 in a street cleaning parking ticket to attend a media workshop in November to learn more about the Green Building Initiative, and you can’t even pass one measly little green-building bill?

Thankfully, the California Building Standards Commission likely will incorporate voluntary, and then mandatory, green-building components in future code adoption processes, but still I hope one day, Governator, you realize how sad you’ve made me. Yes, the California Building Industry Association and various lumber and forestry associations wanted you to veto those bills, but that didn’t mean you had to. Please don’t forget about the goals of AB 32—your bread-and-butter—nor should you forget about the United Nations study released earlier this year that reported that the implementation of aggressive green building standards could do more to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions than all the actions agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol.