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Status on Codes, Standards & Guidelines: Who is Greening Whom?

Dec 2014

There are many questions in the “land of green codes,” and being close to the development of sustainable guidelines, standards and codes, it occurred to me that a “primer” outline may be of assistance for those that are trying to understand the different organizations and related documents in relationship to green building.  In addition, I think manufacturer representatives could benefit from having the “short list” as a reference when speaking to the architectural and design community.

 Green Building Rating Systems

The organization with the most market familiarity is the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and their family of rating systems called LEED®, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  Note that some folks believe that USGBC is a government agency, which is not true, as it is a nonprofit organization that happens to be located in Washington, DC.  The LEED® rating systems including Building, Design + Construction (BD&C), Existing Buildings (EB), Commercial Interiors (CI), Neighborhood Development (ND) and Homes.  LEED® rating systems are not developed utilizing a standardized consensus process.   LEED® categories include Integrative Process, Location and Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation, and Regional Priority.  In regard to material and product selection, LEED® v.4 still includes a single attribute approach to credit, but is making some strides to utilize Environmental Product Declarations and some performance based information on life cycle analysis.  The introduction of Health Product Declarations has been included, but does not have a vetted process in place to evaluate products from a risk and threshold perspective.  This leads back to a ‘de-selection’ approach versus full product evaluation.

The Green Building Initiative® (GBI), a nonprofit organization located in Portland, Oregon, has both a family of green building rating systems called Green Globes®, as well as a green building standard, GBI/ANSI 01-2010 Green Building Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings.  Green Globes® includes an electronic survey process that also includes a third party assessment for New Construction (NC), Continual Improvement for Existing Buildings (CIEB), and CIEB specifically for Healthcare Facilities.  The notable point about Green Globes® is the New Construction module is being updated based upon information within the GBI/ANSI 01-2010 standard; meaning that the development of the revisions is based upon a consensus ANSI standard and process.  Green Globes® categories include Project Management, Site, Energy, Water, Resources, Building Materials and Solid Waste, Emissions, Effluents, and Other Impacts, and Indoor Environment.  CIEB also includes Environmental Management System as a category demonstrating continual improvement and benchmarking.  Green Globes®-NC is developing a more current guideline that includes product and material selections utilizing multiple attribute, life cycle analysis, and environmental product declarations. 

The International Living Future Institute,™ a non-governmental organization (NGO)has a rating system called the Living Building Challenge™, although referenced as a standard does not utilize a consensus based process for development.  The organization is intended to be an additional outlet to “promote the goals set by the USGBC” and has offices in Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, BC.  Project types include landscape and infrastructure projects, renovation and new building construction, and neighborhood, campus and community design.  The Living Building Challenge™ categories include Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity, and Beauty.  It should be noted that this rating system focuses on a “de-selection” or “red-listed” approach to product and material selections, instead of a life cycle or multiple attribute approach to specifications.

Green Building Standards

The Green Building Initiative® completed the GBI/ANSI 01-2010 Standard and is now utilizing this standard for updates to their Green Globes® portfolio.  ANSI/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1-2011 Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings was developed based upon similar information provided in LEED® 2009.  This is a continual maintenance standard and is due to be updated in 2014.  It currently appears that the update may include a re-evaluation of life cycle and multiple attribute paths for product and material selection, but may also include an alternative path that is still single attribute based.  The ASHE/ASHRAE Standard 189.3 is in development and addresses healthcare projects specifically. 

Green Building Codes

The International Code Council (ICC) has developed the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) 2012.  The sponsors for the code include the AIA, ASTM International, ASHRAE, USGBC, and IES.  The IgCC is the first model code to include sustainability measures.  Several states and local authorities have adopted the IgCC, but implementation on the local level for enforcement is in its infancy.  In addition, the IgCC has an agreement that allows the acceptance of the requirements in ASHRAE Standard 189.1 to be an alternative compliance path to the language included within the IgCC.  Both the IgCC and ASHRAE 189.1 have been developed utilizing a consensus process.  It is anticipated that in the next update to the IgCC that further evaluation shall be completed on criteria for the selection of products and materials.


The good news is that the future of green building rating systems, standards, and building codes is directed and moving toward a multiple attribute, life cycle approach to product and material selection.  As opportunities arise to be involved in comments and updates for rating systems, standards, and codes, it is recommended to “find your voice” and provide input to demonstrate a sustainable approach to product and material selection.