Central Business District
Central Business District

California has the largest and most diverse commercial office market in the U.S. with 1.3 billion ft2 of commercial office space. Of this space, 10% is owner-occupied. The remaining 90% - about 1.17 billion ft2 - is leased.1 California’s market is comprised of several distinct sub-sectors.

  • Central Business Districts (CBDs) are characterized by large Class A office towers and occur principally in the large urban areas of Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego.

  • Suburban Office Parks. Outside of the main CBDs are dense clusters of suburban office parks, usually comprised of ”mid-rise” offices (5 to 10 story buildings) or “flex” buildings (a hybrid of research and development and office space). Silicon Valley, Orange County and the northern markets of San Diego are examples of these markets.

  • Fragmented Markets. Outside CBDs and their surrounding markets, the office market is highly fragmented, consisting of various product types of all classifications.

Most Class A office space in California is clustered in large CBD markets. Lower quality or aging building stock is more prevalent in secondary and tertiary markets.

Commercial Office Space Distribution in California

Source: CoStar Market Data, April 20092

Less than 10% of California’s office buildings are presently certified “green”. Those that are either LEED® or ENERGY STAR certified are typically premium Class A buildings concentrated in the major real estate markets. There is a severe scarcity of Class B certified buildings in secondary markets and Class C green certified buildings in all markets. This lack of inventory creates significant challenges to green-minded businesses that are not candidates for Class A buildings.

Green Office Space Distribution in California

Source: CoStar Market Data, April 20092

1. Navigant Consulting using CoStar market data

2. 'Other' denotes smaller commercial office markets in California including Marin/Sonoma, Salinas, Bakersfield, San Luis Obispo/Paso Robles, Stockton/Modesto, Santa Barbara/Santa Maria/Goleta, Fresno, and Santa Cruz/Watsonville.

Class A office towers

Investment-grade properties built after 1980 and typically greater than 10 stories that command the highest rents or sale prices compared to other buildings in the same market. Such buildings are well located and provide efficient tenant layouts as well as high quality one-of-a-kind floor plans. These buildings contain modern mechanical systems, and have above-average maintenance and management as well as the best quality materials and workmanship in their trim and interior fittings. They are generally the most attractive and eagerly sought by investors willing to pay a premium for quality.

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Greenhouse Growers Sustainability Forum

On November 6, 2013 the California Sustainability Alliance held a forum for the Southern California Gas Company’s (SCG) greenhouse, floriculture and horticulture customers in Santa Barbara, CA. Fourteen participants from twelve growing operations participated at the forum. The half-day forum included a presentation on the science of sustainable soil, three best practices presentations by growers, and break-out discussion sessions.

The primary goal of the forum was to “listen” to the growers to A) determine what is their current level of use and acceptance of energy efficient practices, and B) assess which of their needs are opportunities that SCG could address.

The Alliance report entitled Sustainability Forum for Greenhouse, Floriculture and Horticulture Customers documents the presentations, discussion and general conclusions of the forum. The report documents key recommendations from participants regarding potential improvements to utility programs. These recommendations include:

  • Streamline the paper work and reduce the processing time needed to qualify for and receive utility rebates and incentives
  • Provide more technical and design information, including pre-engineering support, and increase financial support for advanced energy and water efficiency technologies
  • Provide more support to qualify cogeneration and alternative energy projects
  • Increase utility support of agriculture customers by increasing account executive support and offering regular grower forums
  • Team up pump and irrigation specialists with utility account executives to conduct more audits and field operation reviews
  • Provide help to perform financial analysis for energy efficiency projects

Download the full report for more recommendations and additional details.

EE Financing Risk Assessment

Financing Risk Assessment

In December 2012, the Alliance completed a Class B office building whitepaper on energy efficiency financing performance risk. This whitepaper documents information for lenders and building owners to assess performance risks associated with energy efficiency retrofit projects, the current types of commercial energy efficiency financing vehicles, performance risk assessment frameworks, data requirements, procedures, and best practices. The whitepaper also includes a case study for an energy efficiency retrofit project in a Class B office building located in the SoCalGas® service territory.

Widespread interest of commercial energy efficiency lending from financial institutions is currently limited by undefined risks associated with energy efficiency projects. The lack of data and information on energy efficiency retrofit project performance risk remains as one of the biggest challenges with loan underwriting. Improvements in presenting data that captures the level of uncertainty in energy performance is a critical step towards stimulating greater deal flows in the commercial energy efficiency financing field.

Class B office buildings retrofit projects represent solid investment opportunities for lenders due to:

  • Project sizes, on average, are large enough to capture the interest of lenders
  • Building owners tend to be more financially constrained and many do not have enough capital or liquidity to fully fund their own projects
  • Many projects have attractive return on investment (ROI) or payback period.

However, Class B building owners often have limited resources and knowledge regarding their financing options. The whitepaper provides specific guidance for Class B building owners on developing a project specific cash flow analysis and financial report that sufficiently captures performance risk. The five general steps are:

  1. Benchmarking
  2. Conduct an onsite audit
  3. Develop baseline and project savings estimates
  4. Prepare a financial report
  5. Measurement and verification.

Key study conclusions include:

  • Industry standards are available to help guide the data collection and analysis process to ensure the validity of the energy savings projections
  • Once project data is collected and analyzed, the range of expected savings should be estimated through building simulation modeling to capture performance uncertainty
  • Cash flow analysis should be performed on the high, expected, and low energy savings scenarios to capture financial risk associated with the retrofit project.

As part of the study, the Alliance developed an Energy Efficiency Calculator – a tool designed to provide the cash flow analysis and financial reports that capture the performance risk of a proposed energy efficiency retrofit project.  The financial reports are formatted such that they can be easily printed as supporting documentation for a loan application.  Download the whitepaper and Energy Efficiency Financial calculator.

Green Tenant Guide

More and more, property managers and owners are seeking green building certification for their leased office spaces.  But making an investment in sustainability without considering a tenant’s behavior can undo some of the benefits of a green building. How do property managers and organizations ensure that their tenants and employees make the most of their green space? 

One of the most challenging aspects of a sustainability program is encouraging good employee behavior. This challenge is often related to poor communication, lack of motivation, and barriers within the employee environment. In order to overcome these issues, property managers and organizations can implement a few best practices to encourage their tenants and employees to embrace green actions.

The Alliance has developed a set of tools to help guide organizations through the process of greening their operations and staff behaviors. Intended to be an ongoing reference, the Green Tenant Guide aims to walk organizations through planning and implementing their sustainability program. Readers will learn how to work with organization leadership, property managers, and staff to set clear and feasible goals, establish buy-in and excitement among employees, define metrics, and measure and communicate results.

Click to explore the Green Tenant Guide.


The commercial sector in California presently consumes a whopping 38% of the state’s total electricity and 25% of its natural gas resources.  Office buildings alone consume 10% and 6% of the state's electricity and natural gas resources respectively.

California has set some of the most aggressive green building policies in the nation, and to help track the state’s progress the Alliance has launched a Green Building Barometer, which will report the percentage of rentable building area certified green through LEED® or ENERGY STAR®.  California is already making substantial progress: in April 2009, 35% of Class A commercial buildings were certified some level of “green” – whether LEED® or ENERGY STAR® – in CoStar Group’s real estate market database. One year later, this number jumped to 43%, meaning nearly 188 million square feet of rentable building area (RBA) in Class A commercial buildings in California is now certified “green”. Progress was substantial in Class B and C properties as well; but, there is much more to be done in those sectors, as less than 5% of the state’s 916 million square feet of RBA in Class B and C properties was certified green as of April 2010.

gb barometer gb barometer gb barometer

Some energy industry practitioners point to Assembly Bill 1103, which triggers the disclosure of a building’s energy performance under certain circumstances, as the catalyst for some of this increase in activity.

Check back here for periodic updates on the Green Building Barometer, as well as for information about policies and programs that appear to be driving green building growth in various regions of the state. In addition, watch out for timely marketing insights from the Alliance’s Advisory Committees and other key market participants.

Green Building Features


Explore the drawing below to find out what features make this building green -
and to view resources on how to green your own building.

Illustration by Fuscoe Engineering, 2008




Green Leases Toolkit

Green Leases Toolkit 2.0

The Green Leases Toolkit 2.0 is a comprehensive package of tools designed to help building owners and tenants develop approaches for minimizing the energy, water and waste impacts of existing commercial building space.

Developed by the Alliance in consultation with the Alliance’s Green Building Advisory Committee, a key objective of the Green Leases Toolkit 2.0 is to create a meaningful dialogue between tenants and landlords that ultimately leads to implementing cost-effective green building measures.

The Toolkit contains a suite of leasing guidelines and templates designed to facilitate an effective dialogue between owners and tenants to better define each party’s goals and objectives around environmental sustainability, as well as create more transparency throughout the process.

These tools and templates incorporate all aspects of the leasing process, from establishment of leasing criteria to final lease terms, and include sample policies, goals, checklists, tools and techniques to help owners and tenants establish a strong dialogue and commence the path to green leasing.

Click to explore the Green Leases Toolkit 2.0.

Office space maximizing natural daylighting
Office space maximizing natural daylighting
Green Leasing Report

In May 2009, the Alliance released the results of a study examining the current state of green commercial buildings in California and challenges and opportunities for the accelerated adoption of green leasing in California’s existing office space.

Titled Greening California’s Leased Office Space: Challenges and Opportunities, the report provides information to policymakers and market participants about the pivotal role green leasing plays in achieving the resource efficiency, environmental, and societal benefits of green buildings. The report outlines the constraints on green leasing and recommends changes that need to be made to policies, programs, and practices in order to establish green leasing as standard practice in California.


90% of California’s commercial office space is leased, and the greening of this space is constrained by several challenges, notably:

  • Real estate owners not economically motivated to invest in building retrofits as the financial benefits flow to tenants;
  • Tenants may be less inclined to adopt conservation measures as financial benefits can accrue to other tenants and/or the building owner;
  • Imbalanced benefit distribution or ‘split incentives’ on core and shell retrofits, between the building owner and tenant. These retrofits (usually the responsibility of the owner) often have long financial payback periods. These costs, if they cannot be passed to tenants, discourage the building owner from making such capital investments; and
  • The ever-growing range of standards, concepts and protocols requires negotiating a unique balance of benefits and burdens for each leased property, which consequently adds time and complexity to the lease transaction.


Green leasing can be a key strategy for greening existing office space. In order to boost the market adoption of green leasing, the report concludes that owners and tenants who are motivated to find mutual benefits can collaborate to significantly improve the resource and environmental performance of California’s existing building stock.

The Alliance, in consultation with its Green Building Advisory Committee, recommends a broad range of strategies for accelerating green leasing in California – from establishing consistent statewide standards and definitions of “green”, to documenting and publicizing the costs and benefits of green buildings (also known as the green building value proposition), implementing building labeling, and modifying state and local policies, ordinances and utility programs to recognize the different needs and interests of landlords and tenants under various types of lease structures.

Green buildings are a growing segment of California’s overall building stock. In late 2008, LEED® and ENERGY STAR rated buildings accounted for 10% of California’s total office space. 6 months later, they comprised 13% of the state’s total office space – a 30% increase. They feature prominently in class A buildings (35% of all class A buildings in California), but implementation in lower grade properties is more limited (class B and C, at 3.6% and 0.2% respectively).

To download the full report, click here.

Image source: Thomas Properties Group


The Competitive Edge: Commercial Green Building in California

The Alliance’s Green Building program has created several videos explaining issues surrounding green building in California and demonstrating the green building value proposition. Select one of the videos below to start watching:

green building in california video
The Competitive Edge
The Competitive Edge: Commercial Green Building in California – Featuring case studies from Adobe Systems and Thomas Properties Group, this video explains green building concepts, highlights the types of green building measures that are most effective in California, and illustrates the green building value proposition.

Alliance Advisors
Alliance Advisors Discuss Green Building – In this video, members of the Alliance's Green Building Advisory Committee share their thoughts and perspectives on green building.

Rosario Marin
The California Green Building Initiative – At the 2008 Sustainability Showcase Awards, Keynote Speaker Rosario Marin, former Secretary of the California State and Consumer Services Agency, chair of Governor Schwarzenegger’s Green Action Team, and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, discusses transforming the market through implementation of California's Green Building Initiative.