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Sustainability 55: CalGreen

Updated on March 20, 2011
Going seriously green
Going seriously green

The Golden State of California has long been a socio-cultural weather vane for the rest of the country, detecting the winds of fashion and change long before the remainder of the continental U.S. It is now evident that California is once again leading the rest of the nation, this time in establishing new standards of sustainability.

At the very beginning of this year, a revamped mandatory code for the construction of new buildings — that had been adopted by the State's Building Standards Commission — took effect. CalGreen (as the new green building code is being called) enforces a variety of environmental building design and construction practices. Topics regulated range from recycling to energy consumption to waste disposal to resource conservation. CalGreen will enable the State of California to move toward its long-term goals in carbon footprint reduction, energy conservation and reduction in greenhouse gas production. It is anticipated that CalGreen will help Californians substitute renewable energy for one third of total demand by 2020.

CalGreen encourages reclamation or reuse throughout the building process, so that half of construction waste re-enters the product manufacturing stream or is repurposed, rather than ending up in landfills. The code fosters improved indoor air quality by restricting toxic or emitting products in construction materials, finishes and furnishings. To guarantee minimum operating efficiency of building systems, the code also requires inspections of fire, safety, heating, plumbing, air conditioning, and ventilating systems.

As elsewhere around the country, water demand and ways to meet that growing demand have become growing and ever-more-volatile issues throughout California. CalGreen calls for reductions in water consumption of 20 percent or greater in all new construction, and — to monitor, control, and better understand consumption patterns — requires that all buildings other than residential uses have separate meters for indoor and outdoor water use.  The Code also mandates that the irrigation systems for larger landscape installations have moisture sensors to facilitate more carefully calibrated water use.


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