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Cx Monitor: Green Building Codes: A New Unifying Standard

| Eric Sheffer

The design and construction industry has made great strides in the past decade towards creating more sustainable and higher performing buildings. Building owners pursue green buildings for many reasons: operational cost effectiveness, marketing, ethics, occupant health, natural resource conservation, among others. Several industry organizations have formulated standards or rating systems to guide the development of sustainable facilities. In 2000, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) created the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system (LEED®). The USGBC partnered with the American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), in 2005, to develop ASHRAE Standard 189.1, “Standard for the Design of High-Performance and Green Buildings.” Finally, in 2009 the International Code Council (ICC) started developing the International Green Construction Code (IgCC). These standards hold many similarities in their definition of a high performance building. All three have common categories of green building criteria: Site Sustainability, Water Use, Energy and its Impact on the Atmosphere, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Building Materials and Resources. ASHRAE 189.1 and the IgCC also have a category for Construction and Plans for Operations, while LEED includes a category for Project Innovation.

Since their inception, these documents have been recognized and adopted to varying degree in many jurisdictions around the U.S. Specifically, over 20 states in the U.S. require some level of LEED certification for state-owned or state-funded buildings (such as Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, and South Carolina).   However, LEED was designed as a voluntary rating system to pull the building construction market to higher levels of performance and not as a regulatory compliance tool. Building codes, such as the IgCC, which are written in mandatory, enforceable language are better suited to be adopted by local building code jurisdictions. The parallel development processes of the IgCC and ASHRAE 189.1 in the mid-2000’s created confusion in the market place about the application of these two standards. To help address this issue, ASHRAE 189.1 was approved as an alternate compliance path to the IgCC in 2010. Finally, even though LEED’s development process includes public review, comment periods, and requires a 66% affirmative vote among USGBC’s member organizations, it has seen its fair share of industry scrutiny due to the lack of an American National Standards Institute (ANSI), consensus-based approval process. As a result, many jurisdictions have been left struggling to find the appropriate tool to meet the need for green, high performance buildings.

Recent developments will bring unity across several of these primary green building standards and industry organizations. In August, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), ASHRAE, IESNA, the ICC, and USGBC announced their collaboration to align IgCC, ASHRAE 189.1, and LEED into a single development process. IgCC will cease to develop its own content, instead utilizing the technical requirements developed by ASHRAE 189.1. The IgCC will provide a consistent yet flexible code framework that local code jurisdictions can adopt and easily enforce. ASHRAE 189.1 will continue to develop technical building performance requirements using its ANSI, consensus-based approval process, but will take additional core concepts from the LEED rating system.    Finally, since IgCC is intended to represent a minimally compliant green building, the prerequisites in the LEED rating system will refer to IgCC criteria for performance minimums, streamlining the LEED certification process for those projects already having to comply with IgCC.

Some states have developed their own green building requirements, such as CalGreen in California and the Sustainable Design Guidelines for state-owned buildings in Tennessee, aligned with regional performance priorities. Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. have begun to align their state-owned green building requirements around the framework of requiring IgCC. Though the process of integration won’t be complete for at least three more years, we at SSRCx feel that the alignment of a green building code option is a great opportunity for our industry and many jurisdictions in the U.S. While each of the collaborating organizations has to relinquish some of its independence in this partnership, a single code development process which provides consistent minimum green building requirements, will likely make it easier for many jurisdictions to require more high performance buildings. In addition, for owners wanting to go further and build facilities in the top 25% of the market, the voluntary LEED rating system will likely remain the tool of choice, pulling building owners and designers to higher levels of achievement and providing the core green building concepts for future iterations of ASHRAE 189.1 and the IgCC.