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An Uphill Battle Against LEED-Based Codes

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The International Green Construction Code (IgCC) recently celebrated its first anniversary, and it has already been adopted by state and/or local jurisdictions in at least nine states. I believe this year will be crucial for IgCC because while the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system is raising its minimum thresholds, the appeal to governments of a building code rather than a rating system could become clearer.

The jurisdictions that have adopted the IgCC—Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington—for the most part have adopted it as a voluntary standard or an optional compliance path to meeting the applicable green building code for that jurisdiction. For example, Rhode Island and Keene, New Hampshire adopted IgCC as one of several compliance standards for meeting green building requirements.

In other jurisdictions, sections of the IgCC have been adopted as part of existing mandatory codes. For example, North Carolina adopted the Rain Water Collection and Distribution Systems of IgCC Public Version 1.0 as an appendix to state plumbing code.  Fort Collins, Colorado adopted portions of the IgCC into its existing building, plumbing and energy codes.

But no matter how jurisdictions have chosen to adopt the IgCC—in whole or in part, mandatory or optional—the important thing is that it is being adopted.  If you consider that the IgCC effectively seeks to set minimum code standards for sustainability and environmental benefits rather than life-safety features of design and construction and that it raises the floor of sustainability for all buildings, then it was a pretty successful first year.

After all, change comes slowly. When implementing a paradigm change of this nature, you need to have the acceptance and cooperation of key stakeholders and end-users.

The developers of the IgCC knew change would come slowly and foresaw that voluntary adoptions of the code would likely be the first step toward full implementation, which would eventually lead to mandatory adoptions.

IgCC v. LEED

Many green building codes that have existed to date incorporate the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system into the code in some way, either requiring a minimum LEED certification or referencing measures from the LEED point system as the guide for the code.

In the short term, IgCC will face an uphill battle competing against LEED where both LEED and IgCC are alternative paths to compliance in a green building code.  On the one hand, LEED certification is an award or trophy for doing something special.

On the other hand, meeting code is like passing a baseline competency test; even if you ace the test there is no recognition or reward. An owner faced with choosing to simply "meet code" by complying with IgCC or being able to promote its LEED certification is more likely to choose the good publicity and intangible benefits that come with the LEED "brand."  But that won't be the case forever.

 

The LEED rating system continues to evolve and expand to include higher goals and to reward more innovative solutions that will push sustainability and energy efficiency beyond the newly redefined minimum standards for buildings that the IgCC will set. If this happens, then eventually there will be a much greater disparity between the requirements to meet the IgCC and the requirements to attain a LEED certification.  LEED will continue to reward and recognize "Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design," but the bar will be raised above the levels that we recognize today.

The next year will be telling.

The USGBC's next version of LEED, known as LEEDv4, is set for a ballot in the summer of 2013 and could be released by the end of the year. A review of the public comment drafts of the new version shows that the USGBC is raising the minimum thresholds for LEED certification levels and making big changes to the point distribution and credit weighting. As LEED makes those advances, the practicality and predictability of a mandatory base code makes more sense to governmental agencies and becomes a more reasonable and effective way to carry out their public policy toward sustainable building w

As the IgCC moves from infancy to toddlerhood, I look for more jurisdictions to adopt the IgCC as a voluntary green building standard.  In its second year, awareness will continue to grow and the industry will begin to see more serious discussions about the vital role IgCC is playing in changing the policy for sustainability while balancing the interests of the development and construction community.

Gina M. Vitiello is a construction law and litigation attorney in the Atlanta office of Chamberlain Hrdlicka and a contributing author to the firm’s Construction and Green Building Law blog.

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