Pushing Sustainability in 2020

Cities like Santa Monica are changing the way they design, develop, and build to reduce the built environment’s carbon footprint at a large scale


April 2020 will mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, founded as a day of education and action around environmental issues, and presented as an important opportunity to achieve environmental protection, economic vitality, and social equity. As we look towards 2020, we see cities establishing clear frameworks to guide action around climate change to reach the critical goals prescribed at the Paris Climate Summit. A primary focus is optimizing the use of energy and water, minimize waste, improving the quality of materials, and increasing equity.

The US homebuilding industry will be on the front lines of innovation and implementation in this effort. Let’s take a closer look at some of the themes emerging at the nexus of cities and buildings, using Santa Monica as a model.

Santa Monica has long held ambitious sustainability goals and took early actions to meet them. We are committed to becoming water self-sufficient by 2023, zero waste by 2030, and carbon neutral by 2050 or sooner. Since 1990 we have seen a 29 percent reduction in our carbon emissions, and increased local employment by over 50 percent, demonstrating that a clean and prosperous economy is possible.

Emerging themes for 2020:

Electrifying and Decarbonizing Buildings: For 2018, 33 percent of our community’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions came from buildings (40 percent of that is residential). In order to address this, we are delivering 100 percent renewable grid electricity by participating in our local community choice aggregation program, and we expect the percentage for all buildings to drop significantly for 2019. We are committed to installing 100 MW of local solar and reducing fossil fuel use by 20 percent in existing buildings. Since 2017, we have required zero net energy and mandatory solar for new residential construction. Starting in 2020 all new residential construction will need to be net zero energy and our building code will prioritize electrification. The trend throughout California is building decarbonization and the electrification of all mechanical systems and appliances. For the first time, Title 24 has compliance pathways for allelectric construction and cities are encouraging or requiring this all-electric pathway because it is a cost-effective way to achieve energy savings and lower emissions.

Electrifying and Decarbonizing Vehicles: Vehicle transportation accounts for 64 percent of our community GHG emissions. We plan to convert: 50 percent of local trips to foot, bike, and skateboard; 25 percent of commuter trips to transit; and 50 percent of vehicles to zero emission. Safe access to walking, biking, and transit are priorities. That said, electric vehicles are quickly increasing, and Santa Monica is expanding the public charging infrastructure to 300 chargers by the end of 2020, with a longterm goal of 1,000 chargers by 2025. We aim to increase the percentage of electric vehicles on the road from 2 percent to 15 percent by 2025, and save 26,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. The 2019 California Building Code increased the electric vehicle requirements for multifamily new construction to 10 percent of total parking spaces, and builders can expect to see changes in electric infrastructure needs in single-family construction as well.

Prioritizing Local Water: Southern California imports almost 90 percent of its water. But Santa Monica is on track to become independent from imported water by 2023, currently utilizing 70 percent local groundwater and 30 percent imported. Self-sufficiency requires using water produced from local sources and reducing demand through conservation and efficiency. In 2017, the City implemented a water neutrality requirement on new construction projects, limiting new water demand from projects that use more water than previous ones.

Moving Towards Zero Waste: Cities are rethinking the way we consume and manage materials and goods throughout their lifecycle. Santa Monica aims to reduce landfilled waste— currently accounting for 3 percent of our GHG emissions¬—by reducing the amount of waste generated and increasing recycling and composting. Local regulations, like the City’s construction and demolition debris requirement, are changing behaviors and shifting markets. A strong interest is emerging to study and reduce embedded carbon, and Santa Monica is focused on infrastructure, buildings, and construction. The manufacture of building materials makes up 11 percent of total global GHG emissions, according to the UNEP.

Integrating Equity: Equity and empowerment are central to climate action efforts. Santa Monica has established equity as a core component in both its Sustainable City Plan and the Wellbeing Index. Cities across the country are committed to minimizing the impacts of climate change and the burdens associated with climate action often felt most significantly by low income families and communities of color.

We can rise to the challenges of climate change through coordinated action and transformation of business as usual. Together, the building community and local jurisdictions are responding to this challenge. Here in Santa Monica, our local Earth Day 2020 celebration will highlight the City Hall Annex that is designed to achieve full Living Building certification.

Shannon Parry is the Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of Santa Monica where she works at the nexus of environmental protection, economic vitality, and social equity.

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