The California Building Standards Commission adopted a green building code yesterday for all new construction statewide as part of a rules package that policymakers said was the first of its kind in the nation.

Adherence to the California Green Building Standards Code [PDF], which takes effect in 180 days, will be voluntary until 2010, when its provisions are expected to become mandatory, commission leaders said. The voluntary period gives builders, local governments and communities time to adapt to the new rules, the commission said.

The code sets targets for energy efficiency, water consumption, dual plumbing systems for potable and recyclable water, diversion of construction waste from landfills and use of environmentally sensitive materials in construction and design, including eco-friendly flooring, carpeting, paint, coatings, thermal insulation and acoustical wall and ceiling panels.

"By adopting this first-in-the-nation statewide green building code, California is again leading the way to fight climate change and protect the environment," Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement released Thursday. "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."

"This is a huge step in greening the state and greening the nation," said Rosario Marin, the Secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency and the chair of the California Building Standards Commission.

At Sierra Club California, Senior Advocate Jim Metropolus said, "We recognize that this is a first step. We also recognize that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done."

In announcing the adoption of the new code, just hours after its approval, Marin said the standards represent the work of more than 15 months by policymakers and external stakeholders ranging from environmentalists to industry advocates.

Those familiar with the process said the challenge was to produce guidelines that struck a balance among the different groups, from advocates of requirements that set the highest standards for environmental responsibility to others who held that objectives perceived as being too tough would not be achieved — and possibly not attempted.

Marin acknowledged the efforts by saying the process brought together groups with "very disparate interests" to develop the building code. The code "sets a floor, not a ceiling," she said, adding that builders, cities and counties are encouraged to exceed the standards.

The standards cover commercial and residential construction in the public and private sectors as well as schools of all levels, hospitals and other public institutions. The green thresholds include a 50 percent increase in landscape water conservation and a 15 percent reduction in energy use compared to current standards. All the measures if acted upon would at least be comparable to the requirements of a "silver rating" under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), commission representatives said.

The standards were preceded by an executive order signed by the governor in 2004 that requires state buildings to reduce energy use by 20 percent by 2015, and directs all new state buildings and renovation projects to attain at least a LEED silver level certification.

Last October, Schwarzenegger vetoed green building Assembly Bill 1058. In a memo to the Assembly, the governor said he supports green construction standards and shares the goals of the bill. But he said he objected to some of its provisions, noting passages that ran afoul of California seismic and fire safety standards. The governor also said building standards should not be statutory and that the responsibility for setting that criteria rests with the Building Standards Commission. His memo, in effect a directive to the commission, accelerated work by the panel that resulted in the green building code approved on Thursday.

In Washington, D.C., USGBC President, CEO and Founding Chair Rick Fedrizzi lauded California for adopting its new code.

"The LEED green building certification system helped lead the way while setting the stage for states and municipalities to strengthen local building codes," Fedrizzi said in a statement. "Buildings are our first, best opportunity to reduce energy use and C02 emissions, and greening them must be a critical component of any policy approach that aims to fight climate change."

Buildings account for 39 percent of the energy used in the U.S., 71 percent of electricity use and 39 percent of C02 emission, according to the USGBC.