Question and Answer
QUESTION: How and where can I reduce CO2 emissions?
ANSWER: Start at home! You may want to sink into the couch to hear this one:  the biggest CO2 producer in your life isn’t your car; it’s your digs. The building and powering of homes, offices and other buildings creates almost half (48%) of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and globally.

Are you still sitting down? Your home and office building are not only leading contestants in the electricity pie-eating contest, they’re way ahead; three-quarters (76%) of all electrical energy produced in this country is gulped down by the operation of buildings. (Industry uses 23% and transportation only 1%.)

But whether these facts make you leap up to install compact fluorescents or sink deeper into the cushions to cast a suspicious eye on your dwelling, wait to hear the good news: Buildings can become the heroes in this story, because designing more efficient buildings can reduce energy use by at least 50%, save billions of dollars, and eliminate the need for operating coal-burning plants. Green buildings are energy efficient, water efficient, low-toxicity structures. You don’t have to start from scratch – you can take some easy steps right now, and even renovate “green”. Check out National Geographic’s Green Guide for your home.

Here in Napa, forward-thinking people are reducing energy waste by improving older buildings and designing new buildings with energy efficiency in mind. A few years ago County leaders made sure the Napa County Sheriff’s building was created using the highest level of green building standards. They also added green innovations to the Juvenile Justice facility – the use of solar energy has reduced the building’s emissions by 82% annually. The new parking garage under construction downtown, a joint project of Napa City and County, includes solar panels that will run the building and eventually provide juice for government fleets to plug-in and recharge.

Private organizations are in the movement, too. The Gasser Foundation has done a thorough retrofitting of its Soscal Avenue building, and has plans to add solar. The Gaia Hotel on Hwy 29 south of Napa is a green building poster child.

Beyond Napa, industry leaders including architect Ed Mazria and his group, Architecture 2030, are challenging the building sector to design and renovate buildings to use half as much energy as the average. They’ve laid out a plan for all new buildings to be carbon neutral (get all of their energy from renewable, zero emissions sources) by 2030.

The City of Napa hopes to finalize a green building ordinance by the summer of 2009. They’re laying out voluntary standards this year, and gearing up to adopt mandatory standards as early as next year. San Francisco recently adopted one of the strictest green building codes in the nation. The codes are being phased in over the course of the next four years and apply to all residential projects, new commercial projects over a certain size, and renovations of large commercial spaces. The focus is on improving water and energy efficiency and reducing emissions.