Green Building/Sustainable Building Design

San Francisco's Resource-Efficient Building Ordinance

by Beryl Magilavy

published August, 2006

Sustainable building design1, or green building, considers a building's long-term impact and the health and productivity of its occupants.

Costs2 can be comparable to conventional design on a first-cost basis, and savings are significant when operating and the full environmental costs3 are included.

This quick reference uses as a template San Francisco's Resource Efficient Building Ordinance4 for municipal buildings, developed by the author as director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, with other city officials, and enacted in 2000 as SF Admin. Code sections 82.1-82.8,


This legislation's mandates include:

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General Goals

The legislation creates a pilot program, now being undertaken by the San Francisco Bureau of Architecture in conjunction with the Department of the Environment's green building program. That program seeks to maximize:

The legislation also requires that proper operation of the building's systems be ensured through building commissioning24, a collaborative process in which systems' designers, builders, and eventual users test to ensure that the systems operate according to specification and intent.

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Sustainable architecture practice has become mature enough that there are now formal systems of performance25, guidelines26, sample contract specifications27, and guidelines for evaluating architect and engineer practitioners28. Numerous case studies29 are available to demonstrate how the strategies fit together.

The generation of planners and developers working today have a critical responsibility at a time when the natural resource base teeters on the brink of irreparable harm and when social disengagement is at history's highest levels. A sea change of development practices around the country toward sustainable development will have an enormous positive impact on the quality-of-life legacy our generation leaves for the future.



  • 1 for an article on the benefits of green building:
  • 2 for a discussion of costs:
  • 3 for a complete overview of the ISO 14000 standards, which provide a framework for including full environmental costs into business practice (ISO is not an abbreviation; it is the Greek prefix for "the same". The organization's name is the International Organization for Standards, which makes many people think ISO is a scrambled version.):
  • 4 for the text of San Francisco's ordinance:
  • 5 for specifications and studies of low-flow sanitary fixtures:
  • 6 for information on energy-efficient fixtures:
  • 7 for information on recycling and disposal of fluorescent lamps:
  • 8 for EPA's Office Building Occupant's Guide to Indoor Air Quality:
  • 9 for a thorough discussion of sick building syndrome, one of the causes of which is the biological pollutants that can grow in damp insulating material or accumulate on exposed fibrous insulating material:
  • 10 for a thorough discussion of sick building syndrome, one of the causes of which is the biological pollutants that can grow in damp insulating material or accumulate on exposed fibrous insulating material:
  • 11 for very hard-to-find space allocation guide for trash and recycling for new and remodeled construction:
  • 12 for the California Integrated Waste Management Board's construction and demolition debris recycling program and related information:
  • 13 for links to the Energy Efficient Building Association's set of goals, objectives, criteria and discussion:
  • 14 for extensive information on energy efficiency and renewable energy from the US Department of Energy:
  • 15 for a discussion of water conservation techniques used around the country, with case studies:
  • 16 for a description of indoor air quality and a thorough discussion of the topic:
  • 17 for a paper on best indoor air quality practice:
  • 18 for a brief description of some of the aspects that make up beneficial landscaping:
  • 19 for a US Air Force memorandum on environmentally and economically beneficial landscape practice:
  • 20 Links to numerous sources of green building materials:
  • 21 for EPA's Urban Storm Water Best Management Practices Study:
  • 22 for information from EPA on non-point source (NPS) water pollution:
  • 23 for a fact sheet on wastewater recycling systems:
  • 24 for the US Department of Energy's definition and how-to on building commissioning:
  • 25 for New York City's guidelines (Acrobat file):
  • 26 for the LEED system guidelines:
  • 27 for some sample specifications for residential development:
  • 28 for the US Navy's standards:
  • 29 for a number green building projects in California: