Op-ed: Berkeley should improve the energy efficiency and sustainability of buildings

Berkeley could once again become a national leader if it adopts the Berkeley Deep Green Building plan.

Berkeley has a worldwide reputation for innovation and progress. From the ban against smoking in 1977 to the continuing fresh food revolution to the soda tax in 2015 to the federal adoption of Berkeley’s PACE financial solution for improving the energy performance of your home, the City of Berkeley and it’s residents have consistently helped spark responsible and appropriate change.

It is no accident that Berkeley may, once again, lead the nation; this time in responsible, energy efficient building.

Berkeley’s new proposal to implement a more far-reaching response to the challenge of climate change, titled Berkeley Deep Green Building (BDGB), was formulated over 20 months by some of Berkeley’s leading builders, architects, and energy efficiency experts.  (The City Council will discuss it Feb. 27.) They include Cate Leger, Leger Wanaselja Architecture, Gary Gerber, Sun Light & Power, Nabih Tahan, Bau Technologies and architect Greg VanMechelen, among others. They consulted with leading national experts in energy efficient building; Ann Edminster, Design AVEnues and the Net-Zero Energy Coalition, Bronwyn Barry, Passive House California, Amy Dryden, Build It Green and builder/inventor William Malpas, among others.

BDGB is a voluntary program that would make Berkeley one of the greenest cities in the world. With the implementation of BDGB, people living in Berkeley, in both existing and new housing, will use less fossil fuel, produce less carbon and live more comfortably.

BDGB puts into practice, locally, best practices in proven building science techniques and products. It is designed as a collaborative, deliberative process involving Berkeley’s building and planning departments, commissions, and other stakeholders to implement policies that transform the City’s building and energy use. BDGB will expand and enhance Berkeley’s existing Climate Action Plan and Building Energy Savings Ordinance (BESO).

Presently building operations contribute close to half of Berkeley’s GHG emissions with more than 60% of energy use derived from fossil fuels. One of the key components of the plan is a move away from natural gas to 100% electric energy. This will enable BDGB to maximize the benefits to Berkeley of the many aligned state and local programs, like the pending East Bay Community Energy Program, that are designed to forward the move to renewable energy resources.

In addition to calling for increased energy efficiency standards, the comprehensive program addresses toxicity and embodied energy in building materials, on-site and community solar, gray water use and other critical green building issues. BDGB measures are designed to be appropriately adapted to different building types and sizes, both new and existing.

BDGB represents bold change; change necessary to meet the many threats posed by climate change. Change is sometimes difficult at first and there is bound to be some resistance to the rigorous and, in some ways, fundamental changes to building and development practices called for by BDGB.

However, Berkeley has long been at the forefront of taking responsibility for the health and well-being of its citizens, making critical changes that will eventually benefit people throughout California and the Nation.

The Berkeley Deep Green Building is on the Berkeley City Council meeting agenda for February 28. If approved by the City Council, BDGB will be sent to the City Manager and the Energy Commission for view and recommendations for implementation.

Brian C. Harris is a founder of the Zero Net Energy Working Group. He is a leader in the movement to establish energy efficient building as an expression of human resourcefulness and a response to climate change. He lives in San Francisco.