Green Buildings

In September 2008, the California Public Utilities Commission adopted the most aggressive energy efficiency goals in the nation through its Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan (CEESP).

The CEESP identified commercial buildings as the single largest users of energy in California, accounting for more than 38% of California’s electricity consumption and 25% of its natural gas use.  Office buildings account for 25% of all energy used by this sector.   

The CEESP established the following goals for commercial buildings:

  • Zero net energy performance for all new commercial construction by 2030
  • Fifty-percent (50%) of existing buildings achieve zero net energy performance by 2030

The California Sustainability Alliance assembled an expert group of professionals with substantial experience in commercial real estate to develop a pilot project designed to significantly accelerate development of green buildings in California.  Through a series of workshops, the Alliance’s Green Buildings Advisory Committee observed that in California, much more office space is leased (90%) than is owned (10%).  The Alliance’s Advisors strongly recommended focusing on greening the 90% of California’s existing office buildings that are leased.

The Alliance thus embarked upon a Green Leases Initiative that commenced with development of a Green Leases Toolkit that creates a template for landlords and tenants to integrate green elements into commercial office leases. And in 2017, the Alliance updated the Toolkit with the latest industry guidance.

In May 2009, the Alliance published a study exploring the opportunities and constraints in the greening of leased office space in California. Click here for the full report. In 2017, the Alliance published updates to the Green Leasing Report.  Click here for the report update.

Zero net purchases of energy, typically achieved by first making a building or system as energy efficient as possible, and then meeting its net energy requirements through self production of energy, usually through a distributed renewable or "clean" (zero emissions) resource.
  • Green Building Toolkits

  • Green Building Features

  • Green Leasing Report

  • Green Building Toolkits

    The California Sustainability Alliance has developed several toolkits and other resources that aid local governments in planning and implementing sustainable initiatives. These include:

    • Green Leases Toolkit
    • Energy Efficient Financing Calculator
    • Class B Office Improvement Toolkit

  • 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.

    2017 Update

    The 2017 update serves as an addendum to the 2009 report, with special focus on the mixed-use sector and recommendations for achieving natural gas savings via green leasing. It contains a discussion of several important topics in 2017, including the rise of corporate sustainability policies driving green leases, the prevalence of green building certifications and standards, examples of tenant engagement strategies, the impact of new reporting standards such as the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), and the increase in energy disclosure laws, among other topics. The update also continues the ongoing conversation on the split incentives challenge. To download the 2017 update, click here.

    Image source: Thomas Properties Group

    Office space maximizing natural daylighting
    Office space maximizing natural daylighting