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3 Sustainability News Updates for Q1 2024

These three developments from the last few months are critical knowledge for anyone interested in sustainable architecture and interior design.

#1: Embodied Carbon Enshrined in Code

New Code Says Buildings in California Must Reduce Embodied Carbon Emissions

Last August, as a direct result of advocacy efforts by architects and building industry experts, California became the first state in the USA to mandate reductions in embodied carbon emissions as part of its building code. The updates to the California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen) Part 11, Title 24 will be effective July 1, 2024. Any commercial buildings projects over 100,000 square feet and any school projects over 50,000 square feet that fall under the purview of the Division of the State Architect (DSA) that apply for building permits after July 1 will have to demonstrate reductions in embodied carbon in one of three ways:

  1. Reuse at least 45% of an existing building’s structure and exterior. Any new construction cannot be more than double the area of the existing structure.
  2. Demonstrate 10% reduction in embodied carbon emissions compared to a baseline design project, using a Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment.
  3. Use steel, glass, mineral wool, or concrete that has 175% lower global warming potential than the industry average for those materials, as shown on documented EPDs.

A number of A&D industry professionals were involved in advocating for this landmark decarbonization policy, including  Michael Malinowski, Applied Architecture Inc.; Ida Antoniolli, California Department of General Services; Simone Barth, Mithun; Suyama Bodhinayake, BAUER Architects; Webley Bowles, New Building Institute; Hafsa Burt, hb+a Architects; Nicki Dennis-Stephens and Sarah Vasquez, AIA California; Rachelle Habchi, Glotman Simpson Consulting Engineers; Avideh Haghighi, ZGF; Meghan Lewis, Carbon Leadership Forum; Martin Hammer, Martin Hammer Architect; Bruce King, BuildWell Media; Miya Kitahara, StopWaste; William Leddy, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects; Luke Lombardi, Buro Happold; Auri Mas and Anish Tilak, Rocky Mountain Institute; Scott Morris, Marisol Malibu; Scott Shell, Climate Works Foundation; Larry Strain, Siegel & Strain Architects; Wes Sullens, USGBC; Ted Tiffany, Building Decarbonization Coalition; Christopher Uraine, Energy Solutions; and others.

Read more about the updates to CALGreen here

#2 First Ever Policy on Scope 3 Emissions

Manufacturers Doing Business with Large Clients in California, Start Working on Your Carbon Emissions

A new bill signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom in October 2023 requires all large public and private companies doing business in California to disclose Scope 1 and 2 emissions starting in 2026, and Scope 3 emissions starting in 2027. The bill, authored by State Senator Scott Weiner and known as SB 253 or the Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act, applies to all companies with a total revenue of $1 billion in the prior fiscal year. 

This is the first legislation to require complete reporting on Scope 3 emissions—which are a company’s “indirect emissions” and include any greenhouse gas emissions associated with the extraction and production of any purchased materials—like office furniture or building materials for their properties. (Other proposed legislations or federal regulations either don’t mandate scope 3 disclosure or only require it for contracts above $50 million in value.)

SB253 will therefore be hugely significant to the architecture and interior design industry, since it will apply to a good portion of the Fortune 500, including coveted clients like Google, Meta, Apple, Disney, and Kaiser Permanente. When those clients start to look at their Scope 3 emissions, they might in turn require carbon reporting from all their suppliers and vendors—which would include A&D firms as well as product manufacturers—for any products and services supplied.

Read more about SB 253 here

#3 Big News for Sustainable Specification

Gensler Announces Its Product Sustainability Standards

Released in August 2023 and effective from January 2024, the GPS is Gensler’s first public effort to create alignment on sustainable product specification across their projects.

Applicable to projects in the USA, UK, and Europe, the GPS defines two levels—Gensler Standards and Market Differentiators—for transparency and certification in twelve product categories. All products specified by Gensler in those categories must meet the Gensler Standards level, with products that reach the Market Differentiator level being recognized for sustainability-focused projects.

David Briefel, sustainability director, climate action & sustainability leader, and principal, and Mallory Taub, sustainability director and senior associate, were part of the team that authored the GPS after intensive internal consultation as well as conversations with manufacturers across the product categories. “We needed to work very closely at that point with our technical experts to make sure that they were comfortable with every last part of it,” Taub says, “And we needed to know that at least three manufacturers could meet our Gensler standard so as not to prevent competitive bidding.”

Some of the standout requirements within the Gensler Standards are:

  • Global Warming Potential limits for Batt Insulation, Board Insulation, Carpet Tile, Gypsum Board, and Luxury Vinyl Tile
  • Manufacturer take-back programs are required for Acoustic Ceiling Tiles and Panels, Carpet Tile, and Resilient Flooring & Base
  • Ingredient disclosure is required in 11 out of the 12 product categories
  • The aluminum components of glass demountable partitions must have 50% or more pre- or post-consumer recycled content; while Non-structural Metal Framing must have 25% or more pre- or post-consumer recycled content. 
  • Both Acoustic Ceiling Suspension Systems and Non-structural Metal Framing must be fully recyclable.

Dive into the full Standards here

Every quarter, METROPOLIS editor in chief Avinash Rajagopal selects the most consequential recent developments in policy, regulation, legislation, and standards for a sustainable built environment. If you have questions for him or want to suggest news items for inclusion, please email him at [email protected]

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