California Becomes the First State to Mandate Green Building Legislation

California unanimously approved its Green Building Standards Code dubbed “CalGreen,” making it the first state to enact a mandatory green building law.  Effective January 1, 2011, Calgreen requires that every new building reduce water consumption by 20 percent, divert 50 percent of construction waste from landfills, and install low pollutant-emitting materials and water saving plumbing fixtures.  Commercial buildings will also be required to install separate water meters and will be subject to mandatory inspections of air conditioning units, heat, and mechanical equipment.  Hospitals, however, are not required to meet the new regulations.  By making these provisions mandatory, it is estimated that greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by three million metric tons equivalent by 2020, achieving 33 percent of renewable energy during this period.  The code was supported by the building industry, realty associations, as well as California's Chamber of Commerce.

Despite California's accomplishment of setting a baseline minimum standards, environmental groups point out that the CalGreen standards fall short of other regulations already in place in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other California cities.  Among these critics are the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Global Green as well as the California Green Building Council, which maintains that having inconsistent standards will lead to confusion among local building inspectors.  In response, supporters of the new code assert that the regulations will be useful for jurisdictions who have been unable to develop their own green construction guidelines. 

California's policy is part of a wave of green buildings legislation moving across the nation.  Progressive States Network's Shared Multi-State Agenda contains model green building legislation.  Key provisions of PSN’s Green Building Agenda include standards for public buildings and retrofits, municipal financing options, residential weatherization programs, and job creation and training. 

2010 California Green Building Code
Progressive States Network, Shared Agenda: Green Buildings
Los Angeles Times, Environmental groups try to block parts of California's green building code
USA Today, California approves toughest statewide green building code in U.S.
San Francisco Chronicle, State adopts greenest building codes in U.S.
The New York Times, California Adopts Green Building Codes