Greening Buildings to Create Jobs

sf-city-hall.jpgBy Gavin Newsom

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “green building?” Sleek new structures with skins of advanced glass and recycled steel that blend into the landscape, facades and roofs draped in a combination of daylight-harvesting windows, wildlife habitat, and photovoltaics? New construction affords the flexibility to build contemporary masterpieces, like the California Academy of Sciences, which will receive its LEED Platinum certification this morning in San Francisco. The museum will be the largest and most visited LEED Platinum building in the world. (You can watch the event live at 9:30 AM PST).

The Academy of Sciences is a breathtaking example of our city and our citizens’ efforts to address the fact that roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions in San Francisco are attributable to our buildings. In August of 2008, I signed a groundbreaking green building ordinance that created the most stringent green building requirements in the nation. This was a big step in the right direction, requiring that all new buildings be subject to an unprecedented level of LEED and green building certifications. However, a comprehensive recipe for our environmental and economic sustainability requires solutions to the challenges posed by existing buildings.

New construction is essential to the vitality of a city, but it’s important to note that most of the San Francisco of the future has already been built. New construction typically represents less than one percent of San Francisco’s built environment in any given year. In contrast, more than half of commercial buildings in San Francisco were constructed before 1978, when the state adopted Energy Efficiency Standards – requiring far more energy than those built afterwards. By retrofitting our existing structures there is the potential to create thousands of green building jobs.

Greening existing buildings is more challenging than new construction. Consider that buildings use two thirds of our state’s electricity. While per capita electricity use in California has remained consistent for decades, total energy use continues to increase by 1.5 percent per year. Existing buildings are diverse in their size, vintage, use, and resources available for maintenance and improvements. In a tough economy, vacancy in commercial real estate is increasing nationwide – but the vacancy rate in LEED certified commercial office space in San Francisco is less than half that of standard office space.
To address these challenges and opportunities, I’ve convened an Existing Buildings Efficiency Task Force comprised of members from San Francisco’s ownership, developer, financial, architectural, engineering, and construction community. With the aid of this Task Force, the city will partner with the private sector to enable, encourage, and in some cases require that cost-effective opportunities to cut energy consumption 20% to 50%, improve water efficiency, and continue to move toward the elimination of solid waste in our community.

The Task Force builds upon a great deal of work we’re doing already – taking full advantage of the $7-$11 million provided in Energy Efficiency Block Grants provided by the federal stimulus, leveraging our ongoing $6.7 million a year energy efficiency partnership with PG&E, and working with private partners to create a San Francisco Clean Energy Fund. Each of these efforts creates hundreds of green jobs retrofitting our existing building stock, and in the process reduces utility costs and environmental impacts, making San Francisco a more competitive place to locate a company and raise a family.
Listen to Mayor Newsom’s Green 960 radio show online or subscribe to his weekly policy discussions on iTunes. Join Mayor Newsom on Facebook. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Gavin Newsom, 41, is the youngest San Francisco mayor in over a century. After only 36 days as mayor, Newsom gained worldwide attention when he directed city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This bold move set the tone for Newsom's first term. Under his energetic leadership, the economy grew and jobs were created. He brought universal health care to all of the city's uninsured residents. The city became a center for biotech and clean tech. And Newsom aggressively pursued local solutions to global climate change. In 2007, Newsom was re-elected with over 73% of the vote. Since then he has built upon the success of his first term, launching new environmental initiatives and a comprehensive strategy to transform the city's most troubled neighborhood into a life sciences, digital media, and clean tech center.

15 responses

  1. I work in San Francisco providing lighting efficiency audits and project management through the SF Energy watch program. There are still many buildings in San Francisco that are using outdated, inefficient lighting technology. This is the lowest of low hanging fruit, with the opportunity to drop energy use 50% on many types of fixtures. The rebate program is great, often keeping the facility’s payback period to under 1 year (with the rebate program covering 50%-100% of the job cost). Still, many businesses are cash strapped and have a hard time committing to their portion of the co-pay. How about using stimulus funds to create a program where the city covers the customer’s co-pay (making it a $0 upfront cost) and they re-pay through a low interest loan?

  2. The other hurdle to retrofitting all applicable commercial lighting in San Francisco is the abundance of small retail stores that just have a handful of lights (but add up in aggregate). As a commission based sales person, working with these small shops equates to a very low net dollar per hour, as they take the same paperwork and time than larger jobs. Further, it isn’t cost effective for my company to send an installation crew to do the job. Perhaps the city could somehow support block-by-block sweeps where a contractor can bid retrofitting the whole block or zone at once? Some food for thought. Thanks Mayor Newsom for recognizing where we can and need to make a difference fast!

  3. This is great news, but I’m curious about the details. For example – let’s talk hotels, a major part of the building in SF, especially downtown – will we see the kind of simple solutions you see in Europe that require you to put your key in a slot inside the door to get the lights to go on? That way no one ever leaves with the lights on! Probably pays for itself too.

  4. Not to rain on the parade, but SF has it easy being so temperate. No one uses air conditioning here, and you rarely need heat. Does anyone have advice or examples of how major progress like this can happen in places where it would be much more costly, like Minneapolis or Phoenix?

  5. This is good. Might I guess that the PG&E arrangement has something to do with decoupling? I’m curious how much of the funds required to get people to be more efficient can be recouped from the utility in this way. Is PG&E being totally cooperative about it?

  6. Diversity of challenges is right. I hope the task force takes on commercial remodeling standards, as well. I was dismayed when my neighborhood corner store upgraded their chilled food display cases to completely open chillers – no doors at all. The old ones were getting troublesome, but at least they had doors! I’m sure the expense of going to higher-quality green technology would have been a challenge for them, but maybe the task force can help identify an integrated-bottom-line approach that generates local employment, reduces energy use and helps small businesses be able to afford the upgrades.

  7. What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “task force?” Delay and inaction, for me personally. We’ve all seen the news. We’ve all seen or heard about An Inconvenient Truth. What is there left to talk about? The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the unemployment rate at 8.4% for the Bay Area. We need *green* jobs today.
    Let’s get to work.

  8. Mayor Newsom,
    Regarding residential buildings, particularly rental units: I would really like to see incentive programs for landlords to effectively weatherize their tenants’ homes. I don’t know what kind of structure “Phoenician” lives in, but my roommates and I shiver away most nights and wear many layers to keep comfortable in our drafty drafty drafty, non-central-heated first-floor Victorian flat: “rarely need heat” does not apply!
    Thank you for all you do to green San Francisco.

  9. I love it! The 3 amigos– oops, make that pundits– tell Secretary of Energy, who has an extensive engineering background, that he ought to “just shut up”– while the readership swoons over the naive patter of that divine prognosticator, Gavin Newsome. While the “green energy hogs” quickly line up at the federal trough, eagerly anticipating their promised billions of taxpayer dollars. Go figure

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