Jeremy Sigmon

This article is co-authored by Wes Sullens.

In the land of tech giants, giant sequoias, great earthquakes, and movie star legends, there’s no doubt that the state’s belief in California exceptionalism is real. While you won’t hear most people boasting about it, the building code, too, is outstanding. In 1978 it became the first to house an energy conservation code. Since August, 2009, the code has also included green building requirements for virtually all buildings. CALGreen became mandatory statewide in January, 2011.

Today, the California Green Building Standards Code (affectionately known as “CALGreen”) remains the nation’s only statewide code to tackle such a range of green building priorities directly within its building standards used by all communities.

The scale is big: 540 local jurisdictions that, together, are home to the world’s eighth largest economy. The idea is even bigger: green buildings can be a central part of the solution to a range of economic, public health, and environmental challenges; and if we can mainstream green building in every corner of this giant state, then so can other cities and states across the U.S. and around the globe.

So, after more than four years of CALGreen implementation by state and local jurisdictions, how are we doing in the pursuit of this big idea? USGBC and USGBC California convened a group of experts to answer this question. Could we help speed up the statewide green building transformation?

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT: “Green Codes for California: a progress report and recommendations from the LEED & CALGreen User Group”

The report—released yesterday at the Green California Summit—summarizes observations, findings and recommendations from a group of green building practitioners seeking to answer several central questions about how green building codes and rating systems evolve and harmonize in California. Importantly, optimizing this market-and-policy relationship at scale in California will help green building flourish efficiently in the Golden State.  In addition, it will help us better understand how best to evolve LEED, the International Green Construction Code and Standard 189.1 that, together, seek to serve as a greener, more adoptable, and more effective code baseline for states and localities across the country seeking to reap the rewards of healthier, more efficient, lower impact buildings (read more).

The report illuminates nine recommendations—for green building practitioners, policymakers, policy implementers and the public—that outline a means of taking California’s current green building code and marketplace to the next level: see pages 18-20 of the report for more detail.

  1. Education & Outreach
  2. Funding for Enforcement
  3. Code Clarity
  4. Uniform Documentation
  5. A Pre-Plan for Voluntary Leadership Beyond Code (aka “Tiers”)
  6. Regional Adoption of Tier Criteria
  7. Continuous Improvement
  8. Model Code Alignment
  9. Get Involved

In a follow-up to this analysis, another group was convened to ask how LEED might be able to be streamlined for projects already complying with CALGreen.  Just this week, the LEED Steering Committee approved a recommendation from the LEED Technical Committee that was drafted by this group of volunteers and staff to streamline LEED documentation for a short list of LEED BD+C v3 credits and prerequisites that closely match requirements in CALGreen or California law. Further rating systems, versions and closely aligned content will be analyzed for opportunities to remove documentation burden for projects that take the extra step to certify to LEED. The initial set of alternative documentation pathways should be available for use in July.

In an opening message from Andrew McAllister, Commissioner at the California Energy Commission, he said, “The need to move forward is urgent: both we and generations of our descendants will occupy and utilize the buildings we create today, and will benefit from our success in building green.”

Indeed, CALGreen is already a critical step in this direction. The new report outlines many benefits of the code and highlights opportunities for codes, rating systems and the California green building community to do more to ensure even better results.

In conjunction with the Green California Summit, USGBC California hosted its annual Policy Palooza, a series of events in and around the state capital with members, partners and allies celebrating a few amazing people and promoting a variety of legislative measures and big-picture ideas. Our message to California lawmakers: green buildings are an essential piece of any strategy to drive environmentally and fiscally responsible growth, and we’re here to help! You can learn more at

Governor Brown’s historic announcement of water restrictions last week highlights a new reality for the state.  In a world with a changing climate and continual demands for water resources, uncertainty abounds. As a community, we look forward to being part of the solution because in California’s unyielding drought, green buildings can help.

Buildings have so much to offer in every community’s sustainability journey.  With a better understanding of how to optimize building codes and rating systems to achieve your sustainability goals, we are equipped to act. Join your local USGBC chapter to get involved, because what we need now is you!