California Building Standards Commission Approves Landmark Embodied Carbon Requirement

California becomes the first state in the nation to require embodied carbon on buildings larger than 100,000 square feet.

Sacramento, Calif.– In a unanimous decision, the California Building Standards Commission has passed two California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen) amendments to reduce embodied carbon emissions associated with buildings for new construction and major renovations. California is now the first state in the nation to address embodied carbon on public and private buildings larger than 100,000 square feet, and schools larger than 50,000 square feet in size. Effective July 1, 2024, this new measure is a crucial step forward in California’s pursuit of its ambitious climate goals. 

The building sector is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions worldwide. One-third of those emissions comes directly from the creation of construction products and construction activities. The historic requirement addresses the carbon footprint associated with building materials and construction processes. It tackles operational and embodied carbon and provides three solutions to address these issues: building reuse, whole building life cycle analysis (LCA), or a prescriptive option for specific products. This provision allows building design teams to choose options best aligned with their project goals. The newly adopted requirements align with existing standards such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Buy Clean and low embodied carbon concrete policies.

“The unanimous adoption of the CALGreen mandatory and voluntary embodied carbon amendments demonstrate California’s determination to make a meaningful impact on climate change by addressing both operational and embodied carbon,” says Webly Bowles, associate director of codes and policy at New Buildings Institute (NBI), who offered key technical support and contributions to the code. “The code amendment is a testament to the power of collaboration between government, industry, and environmental advocates in shaping a greener and more sustainable built environment.” 

Since its inception in 1998, NBI has been an unwavering vanguard of carbon reduction in codes. NBI has embraced the challenge of addressing embodied carbon, blazing a trail of transformation within the esteemed ASHRAE 189.1 working group starting in 2020. In 2022, NBI introduced proposals to the International Building Code. These efforts sparked interest in carbon reduction in multiple jurisdictions; NBI has since support embodied carbon code and policy options in six U.S. jurisdictions.

The California Division of the State Architect, American of Institute of Architects California, and many other building industry professionals were instrumental in developing and passing the CALGreen mandatory and voluntary embodied carbon amendments. To learn more, read the complete CALGreen code language. Information about the CALGreen Carbon Reduction Collaborative (CCRC) workshops is available. 

About New Buildings Institute

New Buildings Institute (NBI) is a nonprofit organization pushing for better buildings that achieve zero energy, zero carbon and beyond. For more than 25 years, NBI has worked collaboratively with industry market players to promote advanced design practices, innovative technologies, public policies and programs that improve energy efficiency. Learn more: newbuildings.org

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