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California’s adoption of a new Green Building Code, the first state in the nation to do so, will not derail projects already under construction, according to code experts. But the move is certainly part of an overall move toward sustainable development, and may encourage other jurisdictions to follow suit.

The new code calls for a 20% improvement in water use efficiency, 50% increase in water conservation, and 15% reduction in energy consumption in all new construction. The code is voluntary until 2010, when all new construction must comply.

“By adopting this first-in-the-nation statewide green building code, California is againleading the way to fight climate change and protect the environment,” says a statement from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “This is literally a groundbreaking move to ensure that when we break ground on all new buildings in the Golden State we are promoting green building and energy efficient new technologies.”

Business has been supportive, with the California Business Properties Association, Sacramento, which represents more than 10,000 companies in the commercial, industrial, and retail real estate industry, lauding the new code.

“Our industry is proud that in this state we are already building some of the most efficient buildings in the nation. A new building built in California is almost 50% more energy efficient and emits half the greenhouse gasses of the national average,” notes Rex Hime, CBPA president, in a statement. “Now, the state has adopted the first set of green building codes in the nation which will continue to move us towards a more sustainable built environment.”

The local branches of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, NAIOP SoCal and NAIOP California State Council, also support the new code. NAIOP members provided technical suggestions and feedback throughout the code development process.

“The Governor has set very high standards for our industry and we are up to the challenge to build the most sustainable facilities in the nation. We look forward to the next phase of the process to determine which of the initial green building features will become a permanent part of the code,” says James V. Camp, senior vp at Voit Development Co., Legislative chair for NAIOP SoCal and chair of the NAIOP California State Council, in a statement.

Current construction will be unaffected, code experts say, giving architects and contractors time to adapt designs. “Anything permitted after a certain date will have to comply,” says Gene Boecker, a registered architect and project manager for St. Louis-based Code Consultants Inc.

This situation likely won’t be unique. Though California is the first state to adopt its own “green” code, cities such as New York and Chicago have their own sustainability requirements, and some associations are pursuing national standards. The International Code Council has been working with the National Association of Home Builders to develop a national standard for Green Homes, and the American National Standards Institute also is working on a standard as well.

“What California has done is not an ICC code,” notes Steve Daggers, vp of communications for the ICC, Washington, D.C. “Until something is adopted, it’s just a piece of paper.” It also should be remembered, Daggers said, that any new code is a baseline, rather than a ceiling.

Despite its move in sustainability, Daggers says, California was the last major state to adopt the International Building Code as its own standard. The International Code Council Board recently approved the creation of a Sustainable Building Technology Committee to develop proposed code changes and analyze and respond to related changes proposed for the Code Council family of codes and standards.

Even so, California’s actions should always be examined, particularly because it is a state with a strong central government. “A lot of what takes place in California is subject to a lot of scrutiny,” Boecker says. “And you have to give them credence.”

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