Green State

Green State

California green builders find new solutions to scaling
LEED with green codes.


By Alison Gregor

Workshops held at the congregations spread the word about mitigating waste, growing vegetables in the church gardens, and carpooling. Top right photo: Kathy Arnold; Left and bottom right photos: Kari R. Frey, FREYtography

Building codes in many areas of the country are becoming incrementally greener, with the state of California in the lead after the 2010 adoption of the nation’s first and only statewide mandatory green building code, called CALGreen.

CALGreen is considered so eco-friendly that the LEED Steering Committee ruled this spring that a handful of their building measures are aligned enough with LEED credits for building professionals to use a streamlined documentation path for LEED certification.

As of July, projects in California subject to the mandatory 2013 CALGreen requirements and registered under the 2009 or v4 versions of LEED BC+C or LEED ID+C can use the streamlined path for select credits and prerequisites.

“The streamlining of paperwork has obvious benefits,” says Wes Sullens, green building program manager at StopWaste, a public agency responsible for waste reduction in California’s Alameda County. “However, this is also the start of something bigger, which is an overall alignment between LEED and green codes.”

Sullens is chair of the LEED and CALGreen Task Group, which worked since the summer of 2014 to investigate LEED and CALGreen alignment in technical detail and explore opportunities to reduce the costs of documenting LEED. The group, and ad-hoc group of statewide technical experts coordinated under the USGBC-California banner, found that six LEED measures concerning indoor water use reduction, refrigerant management, the storage and collection of recyclables, construction waste management, and the use of low-emitting paints and adhesives were functionally equivalent to a corresponding CALGreen requirement.

Engineers, architects, and other building professionals in California were inspired to learn about the streamlined documentation path for CALGreen projects.

“When we shared this news around the office, people were pretty happy and thought ‘Wow, that is great news,’” says Andrea Traber, a principal with Integral Group, a green engineering firm in Oakland. “It’s a removal of confusion that’s really helpful. We still all have to design well and pay attention to all the details, but the streamlining is really what’s so important.”

Joseph Marfi, the director of sustainable design and construction with Turner Construction Company in Anaheim, said it will be easier and less expensive to achieve LEED certification by saving time in the documentation process.

“I suspect this will increase the number of LEED certifications in California in the near future,” which has positive ecological implications, Marfi says.

“Everyone knows the fragile environment in California is in dire need of help,” he says, “from air pollution and snarled traffic caused by cars to droughts and water shortages caused by old, inefficient infrastructure and outdated buildings that also fuel climate change.”

Sullens says that as California’s building code has become greener, a debate has been ongoing in the state as to whether LEED is still necessary to achieve eco-friendly buildings. Yet, while some other measures are close to alignment between CALGreen and LEED, many are not, he says.

“This clearly shows that there is a lot else that isn’t able to be streamlined so easily, because LEED does it quite differently and exceeds CALGreen in many ways,” Sullens says. “So it helps solidify that codes and LEED are not necessarily equivalent.”

Nevertheless, there are still other parts of LEED and CALGreen that are similar, and work will continue to reduce required documentation, says Ryan McEvoy of Gaia Development, a green building consulting company in Marina Del Rey.

Dan Burgoyne, sustainability manager for the state of California’s Department of General Services, who also sat on the task group, said that, specifically, the energy standards used in LEED (ASHRAE 90.1 – 2013) have similarities to California’s Energy Code (Title 24, Part 6) and may also be a candidate for streamlining. In fact, USGBC issued two LEED addenda on July 1 that do just that (#10419, #10421).

“California continues to make large strides in energy efficiency with each code cycle,” Burgoyne says. “By comparing these two code standards, and determining how they align, this will save California building professionals additional engineering costs to run two energy models and will reward California buildings appropriately for higher efficiency.”

Terminal 3, boarding area E of San Fransisco International Airport. Natural updrafts will create a fresh-air feeling, more like being outdoors. Photovoltaic panels, solar water heaters, and radiant ceiling panels are also expected to help SFO achieve LEED Gold certification. 

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) incorporates sustainable design features that promote energy efficiency while mitigating adverse environmental impacts.

The new LEED documentation path for California projects “is the first stab at actually showing what (a building code) overlay looks like. . . so it’s really the start of something much bigger happening.”
—Wes Sullens

Marfi, also a task group member, notes that California’s building codes and LEED continue to evolve and “codes change usually on a three-year cycle…We will have to restart the analysis when these updates are released.”

One potential stumbling block in California is that, while the CALGreen requirements may be mandatory, they’re not necessarily understood, adhered to, or enforced equally in the state’s hundreds of jurisdictions, says Bill Worthen, a founding principal of Urban Fabrick Inc., a consulting architecture firm.

“How [the new codes are] being implemented is in no way consistent, and that’s a real risk right now,” Worthen says. “There are a lot of things that were in the building codes even before CALGreen that are still never really enforced, so this just adds another layer of complexity.”

Worthen, who sat on a preceding task force effort also chaired by Sullens, contributed to a report released by USGBC and USGBC California in April. The report acknowledges these challenges in code implementation, makes other observations on progress to date, and offers recommendations for how green building codes and rating systems can evolve and harmonize in California.

While California is the only state with a mandatory green building code, a handful of U.S. communities have adopted the International Green Construction Code (IgCC). The so-called “IgCC Powered by 189.1” is also being analyzed for overlap with LEED, says Sullens, who sits on the standards body working on the alignment of LEED, the IgCC, and Standard 189.1.

“The U.S. Green Building Council committed years ago to green codes and seeing their alignment with LEED to help encourage the benefits to the environment that they provide,” he says. The new LEED documentation path for California projects “is the first stab at actually doing that and showing what an overlay looks like…so it’s really the start of something much bigger happening,” Sullens says.

In honor and appreciation for this foundational work, and also for many other exemplary contributions, Sullens was recognized at USGBC’s annual volunteer meeting this summer with the organization’s annual Astounding Advocate award.

Several members of the LEED and CALGreen Task Group agreed that what happens in California often has a way of happening across the country.

“This is a real message to other states, and I hope it will accelerate the development of green codes nationwide,” Marfi says. “No longer can codemakers turn a blind eye on inefficiencies for which society will have to pay a very high price throughout the life of our new buildings.”