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Green Building – Snapshot of Local Agency Programs and Policies 2009


About the Snapshot

In Spring 2009, the Institute for Local Government’s California Climate Action Network surveyed cities and counties to gather information about activities, policies and programs in five areas related to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions: commercial recycling, green building, land use and community design, efficient transportation, and civic engagement.

While the information gathered does not reflect all of the green building programs in California communities, it does provide a snap shot of trends, opportunities, constraints and lessons learned.

Climate Action Connection: Green Building

Green buildings reduce energy consumption, use water more efficiently and utilize materials with recycled content, thus saving money and natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Snapshot Summary

  • A growing number of cities and counties are adopting voluntary or mandatory green building programs for new residential or commercial construction.
  • Some communities require certain residential or commercial remodeling projects to incorporate green building features.
  • Most cities and counties developed the green building program in collaboration with the building community and virtually all agencies responding require green building features for new agency facilities.

Highlights of Local Agency Green Building Activities

  • The number of cities and counties that are adopting either voluntary or mandatory green building programs or ordinances is increasing. Although it appears that the majority of programs are voluntary, any agencies that previously had adopted voluntary programs are transitioning to mandatory programs.
  • Virtually all local agencies responding lead by example and impose the same green building requirements on their own facilities.
  • While the majority of green building programs apply to new residential construction, a growing number also apply to new commercial construction as well as remodeled residential or commercial projects, although most of these are voluntary.
  • Cities and counties routinely work with architects, builders and others when crafting the local green building programs or policies.
  • The overwhelming majority of the green building programs or policies from those agencies responding are based upon either LEED, BuiltItGreen, the State of California’s new green building code, or a customized local agency policy.
  • Some local agencies have adopted their green building program or policy as part of a broader climate action plan. Few of those responding have calculated the amount of resulting greenhouse gas emissions from the programs.
  • Some agencies provide incentives to encourage voluntary compliance, while others include incentives in mandatory programs based upon different levels of “green” features incorporated.
  • Many agencies offer green building education through workshops, website, or resource guides.

Opportunities, Constraints and Lessons Learned

  • Many communities use existing green building frameworks, such as the State’s Green Building Standard or Build It Green for new residential construction, and LEED for commercial. Still others use elements from multiple other programs and craft their own framework unique to their community.
  • In some communities, fee waivers for green features or exceeding a minimum threshold encourages green building. For example, in one community the incentives for building green are quicker plan check timelines and more rapid building inspections.
  • Working collaboratively with the development community helps avoid unintended consequences and community support. One agency’s green building ordinance was a successful collaborative effort of agency staff, architects, building professions and residents.
  • Incorporating a transition period between voluntary and mandatory compliance can be helpful. One community adopted an 18 month voluntary program before the mandatory requirement took effect.
  • Using a regional approach can be helpful.

So, What are Counties and Cities Doing?

Click SNAPSHOT to learn:

  • which counties and cities have adopted mandatory or voluntary green building policies or requirements
  • what types of green building policies counties and cities have implemented
  • which counties and cities have green building programs based on industry standards or on custom-made policies.

Tell Us About Your Agency’s Programs

Would you like your city or county’s green building program to be added to our lists? Let us know what your community is doing to promote green building programs to combat climate change by completing our short Climate Leadership Survey on Green Building.


This project was conducted in partnership with the California Air Resources Board.

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