San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has signed into law what experts are calling the most rigorous green building codes in the nation.


New regulations mandating greater energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction, and lower carbon emissions, are set to take effect in 90 days. The new standards will apply to residential projects that are taller than 75 feet, new commercial buildings over 5,000 square feet, and renovations on buildings over 25,000 square feet.


Among the ordinance’s many provisions, buildings will be required to allocate space for recycling centers, to cut the amount of potable water used for landscaping by half, and to improve stormwater management. The incorporation of renewable energy systems is also a focus.


“If we want to get serious about addressing the root causes of global warming, then let’s draw down the empty rhetoric and start taking concrete actions,” Mayor Newsom said last week at a signing ceremony. “A lot of people don’t realize that their homes and businesses create a significant portion of our carbon footprint … .”


Make that 50 percent. The new legislation comes on the heels of a municipal Climate Action Plan that was formulated after research determined that buildings were responsible for roughly half of the 4.5 million tons of CO2 emissions produced in Fog City in 1990. The goal now – as put to a green task force including local builders, developers, and architects -- is to reduce carbon emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012.


For Bay Area builders who count among the nation’s earliest adopters of green standards, the benchmarks established in the legislation are familiar. Under the new ordinance, large multifamily residential and commercial projects will be evaluated in accordance with the LEED rating system, while medium and smaller residential projects will follow Built It Green’s GreenPoint rating system. All buildings under the code will be required to obtain third-party green verification.  


“We felt it was important to use programs that people already knew and had standardized their processes around,” says Phil Williams, vice president of sustainability and technical systems for the San Mateo-based builder Webcor, who served as chairman of the city’s green building task force.


“Buildings that go through this rigorous process will emerge as certifiable, but the end goal isn’t the plaque on the wall. It’s really about results, not which group gives you third-party verification,” Williams explains, noting that the city’s roster of green building inspectors will include city-approved engineers and architects, as well as LEED and GreenPoint specialists.


With the phasing in of the new green standards, city officials hope to achieve some significant metrics by the year 2012. These include: reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions by 60,000 tons; conserving 220,000 megawatt hours of electricity and 100 million gallons of drinking water; reducing waste and stormwater by 90 million gallons, reducing construction and demolition waste by 700 million pounds, increasing the valuation of recycled materials by $200 million, eliminating 540,000 automobile trips; and increasing clean power generation by 37,000 megawatt hours.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA.