Strict Green Building Standards in Place in San Francisco

Strict Green Building Standards in Place in San Francisco

San Francisco's green building ordinance, which sets the strictest municipal standards of their kind thus far in the U.S., has been signed into law.

Mayor Gavin Newsom signed the ordinance during a ceremony on Monday. The standards apply to newly constructed commercial buildings over 5,000 square feet, new residential buildings that are taller than 75 feet and building renovations that involve more than 25,000 square feet.

In each case, structures are subject to a specific level of certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards or other widely accepted green building ratings systems.

The ordinance also lists environmental targets and says that by 2012 its provisions will help the city reduce CO2 emissions by 60,000 tons, save 220,000 megawatt hours of power, save 100 million gallons of drinking water, reduce waste and storm water by 90 million gallons, reduce construction and demolition waste by 700 million pounds, increase valuations of recycled materials by $200 million, reduce car trips by 540,000, and increase green power generation by 37,000 megawatt hours.

The standards further San Francisco's efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012, a goal outlined in the city's Climate Action Plan. The plan found that energy use in buildings and facilities is responsible for approximately 50 percent of San Francisco's greenhouse gas emissions. In 1990, the city's energy use resulted in an estimated 4.5 million tons of CO2 emissions. The year 1990 is the baseline year for greenhouse gas emissions under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set the target at a 7 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2012.

Newsom said this week that San Francisco is on track to achieve its 20 percent goal and that by 2005 it had already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent. The progress also represents an 8 percent drop from peak emissions in 2000.  

According to the mayor, the results of San Francisco's GHG inventory were reviewed by ICF International, which prepared the United States Greenhouse Gas inventory and numerous other public and private sector inventories. The mayor's office quoted the ICF as saying,  "San Francisco's community inventory methodology goes above and beyond most current community inventories in the United States. These efforts are impressive given the inherent complexities and challenges in producing a community-wide inventory and the lack of a widely-accepted and standard community-wide inventory protocol."

The city released information about the inventory on Tuesday, the same day ICLEI awarded San Francisco with a fifth star for achieving goals set by the agency for a city to address climate change. ICLEI is the international association of local governments and national and regional local government organizations that have made a commitment to environmentally responsible development.

Also this week, Newsom decided to roll back the fines sought in his proposal that would make recycling and composting mandatory in San Francisco. On Thursday, the mayor told the Department of the Environment to cap residential recycling fines at $100. The fines discussed had included sums in the $500 to $1,000 range when the proposal was floated last week.

“The point here is to boost our recycling rate to above 90 percent,” Newsom said in a statement. “We don’t need outrageous fines to do that.”

According to the mayor’s office, the Department of the Environment described the higher fines as being “place-holder” numbers in a draft of the measure that is expected to be introduced to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the fall. The higher fines may still apply to businesses and landlords of large apartment buildings who refuse to offer recycling and composting to tenants when feasible.

The mayor’s proposal was met with a mixed reception: Proponents hailed the measure for its tough stand on recycling. Some applauded the intent, but quailed at the prospect of heavy fines.  Others criticized the measure as being onerous in almost every aspect.