Green Building Policy: More Scrutiny at the State & Local Level

Posted on September 15, 2023

Governments have certainly played a role in driving the green building boom. State and local efforts followed those initiated at the federal level. Today, authorities across all levels of government pursue more sustainable construction.

In 2021, the Congressional Research Service published an overview of green building issues. The report defines “green building” as “integrated building practices that significantly reduce the environmental footprint of a building in comparison to standard practices.”

Rating Green Building Successes

LEED is the best known rating system for determining for applying green building criteria to projects. The U.S. Green Building Council set the standards for LEED certification. Categories focus on energy, water, materials, sites, and the indoor environment. They are the basis for many of today’s updated municipal and state building codes.

BREEAM is another collection of validation and certification systems promoting sustainable built environments. Its holistic approach simultaneously addresses net zero, health, and ESG goals. Millions of global structures are registered in the program. It is the product of the BRE Group.

GreenPoint Rated (GPR) is a program of California-based Build It Green, a professional non-profit organization. Independent raters take a step-by-step look at a building’s design and construction.

State Initiatives

Many states have adopted green construction initiatives. California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are three examples.

California: CALGreen

The California Green Building Standards Code is found in California’s Code of Regulations, title 24, part 11. The nation’s very first state-mandated green building code is known as CALGreen. In 2007, state officials began to carry out the state’s landmark climate initiative, Assembly Bill 32.

Among its provisions was a requirement that greenhouse gas emissions return to 1990 levels by 2020. Buildings were identified as the state’s second largest source of GHG emissions, and CALGreen is one response.

New Jersey: 2023 low-carbon concrete law

In January, 2023, New Jersey’s Low Embodied Carbon Concrete Act (LECCLA) became state law. It received widespread bi-partisan support in both the state’s assembly and senate. Representatives believe the LECCLA will make New Jersey a leader in low-carbon concrete.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) sets the embodied carbon guidelines. These baselines are expressed as the amount of CO2 generated per cubic meter of concrete.

Those who meet the benchmarks will receive a tax credit of up to eight percent of a contract’s value. A concrete producer may qualify for up to $1 million in credits per year. The program’s total tax credits max out at $10 million. To qualify, concrete producers must supply 50+ yards of concrete for state-funded projects in one year.

Pennsylvania: GreenGov Council

Pennsylvania’s GreenGov Council incorporates sustainable practices into state functions. These include policy, planning, procurement, operations, and regulatory. The secretaries of three state departments co-chair the Council. They are General Services, Conservation and Natural Resources, and Environmental Protection.

Municipal Initiatives

Increasingly, cities work to decarbonize both publicly- and privately-owned structures. Some embrace net-zero policies requiring that new projects produce as much energy as they consume.

Denver Green Code

The Denver Green Code (DGC) is a voluntary code adopted in 2019. It promotes the use of mitigation, adaptation, and resiliency to address climate change. The DGC embraces a shift from ameliorating environmental impacts to creating regenerative outcomes.

The DGC promotes an integrated design process. It seeks to 1) exceed code requirements, and 2) speed adoption of mandatory regulations. Together, these efforts promote adoption of Denver’s Comprehensive Plan 2040.

Its many provisions include those that promote improved building performance and sustainable materials. For example, Section 901.3.2 of the code sets standards for embodied carbon of concrete. For example, if the minimum specified compressive strength is 4500-5499 psi, CO2 emissions are limited to 409 kg/sqm. Higher limits apply to high-early-strength (533 kg/m3) and lightweight mixes (675 kg/m3).

New York City: Local Law 97

New York City’s Local Law 97 passed in 2019. It is part of a plan to make the city carbon neutral by 2050. It is one of the more aggressive state initiatives for reducing emissions. Local Law 97 seeks to reduce emissions of NYC’s larger buildings by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. It requires that 25,000+ sq ft buildings meet energy efficiency and GHG emissions standards by 2024. Even stricter limits will apply in 2030. Check out the current version here.

San Francisco Green Building Council

The combination of CALGreen and local requirements is known as the San Francisco Green Building Code (SFGBC). San Francisco’s green building requirements apply to new construction and major renovations. They apply to residential, commercial, and public projects. The SFGBC requires compliance with requirements linked to GreenPoint and LEED rating systems.

Pittsburgh’s NZE ordinance

A 2019 Pittsburgh ordinance requires that municipal building projects be net-zero-energy (NZE) ready. This applies to new construction and retrofits alike. This tends to promote the installation of renewable energy equipment on-site.

Want to reduce embodied carbon in the designing of your next project? Consider using the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) tool. It is both free and easy-to-use. The tool reduces a project’s embodied carbon by comprehensively assessing construction material supply chains.

About PACA

The Pennsylvania Aggregate and Concrete Association (PACA) regularly reports on industry innovation through its website. We welcome your questions about your current or future concrete projects. Contact us today!

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