California Advances Green Building Efforts
Touting sustainability in the buildings sector might sound like an old song to some, but the need to reduce carbon output in California is still at a crisis level. And not just because of climate change-induced wildfires that annually spark particle pollution into the air, but also due to persistently high levels of ozone as well. The respected American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” gives most California counties—especially those in Southern California and in the Central Valley— failing grades. For instance, during 2015-2017 Los Angeles County logged ozone pollution of 209 “orange” days, 83 “red” days and even 12 “purple” days, and 29 orange and seven red days of particle pollution. Some Central Valley counties had even worse air. Though transportation uses about 40 percent of all energy, buildings are responsible for slightly more than 37% of energy usage (about 23% commercial and multifamily and the rest single-family residential). And since we spend almost all of our time inside structures, the air quality inside buildings is as important as what transportation and buildings expel outdoors. California government agencies and the private sector are moving steadily toward better air quality, in spite of Trump Administration’s carbon lobby-fueled efforts to thwart the state’s cleaner-air campaign with a variety of executive actions as well as widespread legislative opposition.
California’s Latest Energy Roadmap to Greater Efficiency
California Department of General Services Director Daniel C. Kim told California Buildings News, “DGS recognizes the magnitude of impact of global warming and the need for immediate action. As the business manager for the state and under the direction of the governor’s office, DGS has taken a leadership role developing sustainability policies for state facilities helping the state lead by example and take immediate actions to mitigate climate change. “Some key DGS actions include implementing efficiency retrofits to reduce the energy and water used at state facilities, installing solar and wind systems at state facilities to increase the capacity of renewable energy supplying the state’s energy use, and installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure to support both employee and fleet charging needs. DGS developed and implements policies for state fleet purchases to be zero emission vehicles, unless public safety exempted.”
Kim continued, “Through efficient retrofits and operations, the state has reduced our energy use in state facilities by over 18% relative to a 2003 baseline. State water use has been reduced by over 28% since 2010. Importantly, overall state greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by over 30% since 2010. DGS leads the state by example reducing overall GHG emissions by 64% since 2010, largely through the purchase of renewable energy, improved efficiency, reduced fleet emissions and electric vehicles. “DGS recognizes the importance of further accelerating our efforts to mitigate climate change and is adopting aggressive clean fleet policies and pursuing creative partnerships with utilities to help the state achieve targets to meet 100% renewables and carbon neutrality for our state buildings.”
State Energy Action Plan Sets Goals
The recently released California Energy Commission Action Plan is designed to provide energy efficiency guidance to commercial buildings owners and managers. It says, in part, “Energy efficiency is a key piece of California’s efforts to lessen the impacts of climate change, reduce the economic burden of energy consumption on low-income populations, and complement sustainability efforts in the state...The plan charts the progress toward doubling energy efficiency savings in buildings, industry, and agriculture; achieving increased energy efficiency in existing buildings; and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. Through robust, sustainable marketplaces, California can achieve its energy and climate goals and deliver benefits to California residents. “In 2018, two major pieces of legislation signaled the state’s evolution from a relatively narrow focus on traditional energy efficiency to one that also embraces building decarbonization. Building decarbonization is the effort to reduce or eliminate GHG emissions from buildings.Senate Bill 1477 allocates $50 million per year through 2023 to two new programs: Building Initiative for Low-Emissions and Development and Technology and Equipment for Clean Heating. These two programs offer incentives to install building decarbonization technologies into new and existing homes. Assembly Bill 3232 requires the CEC, in consultation with the California Public Utilities Commission California, Air Resources Board and the California Independent System Operator, to assess by January 1, 2021, the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in buildings by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. That assessment will illustrate the state’s pathways to decarbonization, including recommended strategies to reduce the carbon content of buildings, estimate the impact of those efforts on the electricity grid, and calculate a cost comparison of the pathways to decarbonization.”
The Commission set forth three major goals: Goal 1: Double Energy Efficiency Savings by 2030 Goal 2: Expanding Energy Efficiency in Low-Income and Disadvantaged Communities
Goal 3: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Buildings
You can view the comprehensive 152-page California Energy Efficiency Action Plan at: https://efiling. energy.ca.gov/GetDocument.aspx?tn=231261&DocumentContentId=62916
Private Sector Pushes for Better Air Quality, Energy Savings
Building industry associations are working closely with state and local governments throughout California to achieve healthier environmental goals. Leadership from groups like the American Institute of Architects, Building Owners and Managers Association, CoreNet, International Facility Managers Association, Institute for Real Estate Management, state and local apartment associations and the U.S. Green Building Council are making significant headway toward improving indoor and outdoor air quality by reducing energy and fostering more sustainable environments. All such organizations have comprehensive environmental programs involving widespread product and service partners. One group leading the effort is the USGBC of Los Angeles—an area most impacted by bad air quality. Its board members are particularly engaged.
Says Holly Hill, senior sustainability advisor at SoCal Edison and USGBC-LA Board chair: “Despite decades of air pollution control regulation and progressive environmental laws, air quality in the Southern California region still struggles to meet federal air quality standards. In 2019, the South Coast Air Quality Basin exceeded federal air quality standards for ozone on 126 days. This underscores the importance of creating healthy indoor air quality environments in our buildings. We have an opportunity, and an obligation, to ensure building occupants are surrounded by air, materials, and furniture that improve health and wellness. Buildings provide us with a unique medium to bridge indoor and outdoor environments and have a direct and immediate on occupant health and comfort.”
Cushman & Wakefield’s Melissa Gutierrez-Sullivan, vice president of sustainability and wellness, and a USGBCLA Board Member says, “LEED Zero is most relevant to California right now. A majority of my clients want to reduce their waste stream and are pursuing TRUE Zero Waste certification. In addition to that, I have more and more clients asking about Zero Carbon—they want to learn about it and are interested in pursuing. I think we will see these LEED Zero certifications as the next step in California buildings.” C
Cassy Aoyagi, a USGBC-LA board member and owner of FormLA Landscaping, says her industry is key. "Landscaping practices can have a profound impact air quality both inside and outside our structures. Two decisions will maximize air quality near your home. First, plant living, native foliage that needs no chemical pesticides or fertilizers to thrive. Then, maintain it using either electric or people-powered equipment."
And Kathleen Hetrick, senior sustainability engineer at BuroHappold in Los Angeles and also a USGBC-LA board member, says “To make significant impacts on air quality, Red Lists (of building materials that contain toxic chemicals) are only a first step. Consider the recent severe wildfires: many building products considered healthy release toxic gases and dangerous particulates when they burn. Our experience collaborating on the design of the new Santa Monica City Services Building—expected to be the first U.S. municipal facility to achieve Living Building Challenge certification—revealed that manufacturers are often waiting for project teams to request healthier alternatives. Many reps we spoke with when sourcing cradle-to-cradle healthy products were eager for an increase in demand, because it helps them make the case for investment in greener chemistry.”
Allan Robles, Urban Fabrick’s senior sustainability analyst in San Francisco, attended Greenbuild. His comments: “Many public and private global, regional, and local frameworks have been developed to counter the creation of emissions into the environment. Specific to Urban Fabrick’s presence at Greenbuild 2019 in Atlanta, a conference that convenes sustainability practitioners and allies from across the country and world, some relevant and promising strategies include:
• Embodied Carbon: Now project teams can benchmark and track carbon dioxide emitted during building material manufacturing, transportation, and construction, with end-of-life emissions. The Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) tool, launched at Greenbuild, leverages a robust database of building materials and third-party verified Environmental Product Declarations at no cost.
• Regenerative Buildings: Some frameworks are now devising means for buildings to serve as contributing positive assets to their surrounding natural environment and communities. USGBC debuted LEED Positive, a vision statement and roadmap, which will challenge buildings to think beyond best practice.