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San Francisco weighs green-building law

The city may pass the most far-reaching ordinance in the US in March. It would require most new commercial and residential high-rises to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 27, 2008

'Green' steel: A worker crossed steel flooring the CityCenter site in Las Vegas on Dec. 5, 2007. Nevada requires LEED certificication for state-funded buildings.

Andy nelson – staff

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Oakland, Calif.

A proposed green building ordinance in San Francisco would transform the construction industry across northern California, impacting everything from city paint shops and local subcontractors to suburban neighborhoods resistant to sand pits and gravel quarries.

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If passed in March, the ordinance would require most new commercial and residential high-rises to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. Under LEED, developers must earn credits from a checklist of building practices that reduce the project's carbon footprint.

A number of cities and states, such as New Mexico and Washington, have adopted LEED for public buildings, but San Francisco would mandate it for the private sector as well. San Francisco officials say they want to get tough because the operation and construction of buildings account for half the city's CO2 footprint. If passed, the ordinance would be the most far-reaching in the US.

If it kicks off a national trend, it could realign the contours of the trillion-dollar construction industry. "The credits are absolutely driving the marketplace," says Marilyn Miller Farmer, a LEED architect in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Take materials: There's been an explosion of new products including recycled carpet and insulation made from old blue jeans. The number of such products has jumped tenfold over the past decade, says Ms. Farmer, who tracks them at greenbuildingpages.com. "New products are coming out all the time," she says.

Other LEED credits stipulate that certain percentages of materials originate from within 500 miles of the site. That could make waves down at the docks, where ships are hauling in rocks and sand from Canada and cement from China. Local suppliers are short of these ingredients for concrete because Californians resist quarries and sand pits in their backyard.

LEED amplifies an argument made by local miners: Moving cement and rock halfway around the globe creates a lot of greenhouse gases. "Until LEED came along, there weren't credible environmental groups also saying this," says Ben Licari, director of geology and exploration at GraniteRock, a Watsonville, Calif., company that supplies locally sourced concrete. "Now customers come in the door ... specifically looking for green products and locally produced products."

California has been out front in LEED construction, with more than 1,000 buildings now registered with the nonprofit US Green Building Council. Many cities, including San Francisco, now offer incentives to private developers, the most powerful being fast-tracked permitting.

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