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Cats and Dogs Forming Acronyms (and furthering green building in California)

Posted by Jim Gunshinan on August 09, 2010
Cats and Dogs Forming Acronyms (and furthering green building in California)
It started in Santa Clara County, then spread to Marin, and now its everywhere in California; builders, developers, city governments, and environmentalists, all getting along and creating green building standards together. It’s the new PC—Policy Collaboration.

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), a business development group, got things started in Santa Clara County by meeting with city mayors to discuss a coordinated building policy to replace the patchwork that existed in 2007. Once they got the mayors go ahead, SVLG got the endorsement of the Santa Clara Cities Association. Then representatives from the cities formed a group called the Green Building Collaborative (GBC), and the group began to meet with builders and to enlist the help of builders associations like the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA). With all those acronyms coming at them, the city councils in Santa Clara County, one by one, succumbed to the contagious enthusiasm and passed the green building ordinances.

Marin County decided to go ahead and do its own collaborating. San Rafael Mayor Al Boro and Planning Director Bob Brown started talking with other city officials in Marin about a coordinated green building policy. They formed a task force with representatives of all the cities, recruited some building experts, and created a really cool sounding acronym, BERST, for the Building, Energy, Retrofit, and Solar Transformation task force. The group reached out to builders, designers, and business groups to try to form a consensus. It was tough work, which for Brown became a half-time job. Cats and dogs is easy—this was bob cats and wolves. But goodwill reigned and eventually everyone agreed on a green building policy that looked a lot like the one in Santa Clara (see Table).

One of the features of the code is that homes larger than 7,000 square feet of floor area have to compensate for size by being net-zero energy users. In other words, they have to produce as much energy—through solar electric PV and other renewable energies and by being extremely energy efficient—as they use over the course of a year.

San Rafael was the first city to adopt the green building ordinances. Three other cities have signed on, and more will be voting in the fall.

Leif Magnuson, Pollution Prevention Coordinator at the San Francisco office of EPA, was the prime mover in spreading the collaborative spirit to Sacramento. Magnuson gathered California stakeholders at an ACI conference. ACI is a national training organization that for 25 years has hosted regional and national training and networking conferences bringing together everyone interested in sustainable home building and renovation, from weatherization professionals, energy auditors, and small home performance contractors to policymakers, production builders, manufacturers of building materials, and representatives of big box home improvement stores. And after a while, they had to create an acronym to match their ambitions—HERCC, for the Home Energy Retrofit Coordinating Committee.

It was only a matter of time before the California Energy Commission (CEC) got involved—in fact representatives of the commission were a part of HERCC from the beginning. So it is no wonder that the HERCC recommendations greatly influenced the CEC green building regulations that became a part of the California Title 24 building codes. The investor owned utilities all throughout California support the green building policies championed by HERCC through its rebates offered to builders and homeowners.

From the beginning, HERCC wanted to put in place an infrastructure to support green building and retrofits beyond the years of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which flooded federal dollars to the states that will be running out in about a year. HERCC will outlast ARRA, thanks in part to BERST, which owes its inspiration to groups like SVLG, GBC, and BOMA. Go CA!

(Many thanks to Elise Hunter, who recently served as the government relations manager at Build It Green and who is now studying for advanced degrees in sustainable enterprises at the University of Michigan, for putting together the facts in an upcoming article about policy collaboratives for Home Energy Magazine.)

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