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November/December 2009

A Path Forward for Green

Creating a Code for Sustainable Buildings

The International Code Council, ASTM International and the American Institute of Architects are collaborating to develop the International Green Construction Code.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, buildings consume approximately 40 percent of energy used and produce about the same amount of the nation’s carbon emissions. In recent years, rating systems such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (better known as LEED) and the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes have been designed to transform the market and support construction industry efforts to achieve sustainable goals. While systems such as these have produced great results, construction industry experts and regulators have discovered that where market forces are not adequate to produce change, building codes and standards are needed to complement rating systems, push the sustainability envelope and assure that fire and building safety measures are not lost.

As part of this effort, ASTM International has joined forces with the International Code Council and the American Institute of Architects to develop the first International Green Construction Code or “IGCC: Safe and Sustainable by the Book.” The mission of this partnership is to develop a model code focused on new and existing commercial buildings through consultation on standards and best practices. The code will focus on building design and performance.

When the International Green Construction Code rolls off the press, the ASTM International and ICC relationship will have provided the necessary mechanisms and criteria so that jurisdictions can have both a framework for sustainable design and development as well as specific criteria that will measure compliance and drive green building into everyday practice. The end result will be safer and more energy-efficient commercial buildings leading the path to a sustainable future. That result will also mark the next chapter in international code development.

Developing the New Code: The Role of ASTM International

Due to growing public demand, an aggressive timeline is necessary to provide a code that will further support and encourage future green construction efforts. In response, ASTM International has engaged multiple committees to work on recommendations for the IGCC. Leading this effort is Committee E60 on Sustainability, which also represents ASTM on the Sustainable Building Technical Committee, a joint committee comprising AIA, ASTM and other third-party industry experts. By the end of the program, ASTM could have more than 100 members from multiple committees involved in developing the first IGCC draft, which is due out in April 2010.

“ASTM International is a trusted source for standards, specifications, practices and test methods that meet international code requirements and that serve as important tools to improve the design and performance of buildings,” says ASTM President James A. Thomas. “ASTM standards committees continue to respond to market demands and regulatory drivers by developing energy efficiency and sustainability related standards, design practices and material specifications that lead to new and innovative building products and systems. We welcome the opportunity to work with the International Code Council and the American Institute of Architects to launch the International Green Construction Code.”

More than 450 ASTM International standards are currently referenced by the International Codes or the Federal Green Construction Guide for Specifiers; more than 1,300 ASTM standards for the design, construction and maintenance of buildings are referenced in these and additional codes.

Building Codes: The Anatomy of an Industry

For hundreds of years, building codes and regulations have protected the public from fires and faulty structures. While the United States has had building construction regulations since the 1700s, building codes came into their own by the early part of the last century, when precursor organizations to ICC began to form. The first model building code gained widespread popularity among legislative authorities and provided an accessible source of comprehensive technical requirements without the difficulties and expense of investigation, research and drafting of individual local codes.

Three regional model code organizations established ICC in 1994 as a nonprofit membership association dedicated to building safety, fire prevention and energy efficiency. ICC is committed to developing a single set of comprehensive and coordinated national model construction codes known as the International Codes, or I-Codes. These codes benefit public safety and support the industry’s need for one set of codes without regional limitations. Most U.S. cities, counties and states choose the international codes and building safety codes developed by ICC.

Internationally, ICC works with Mexico to develop residential construction standards and supports code development efforts in several Caribbean nations. ICC is sharing building safety knowledge and technical expertise with Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan is improving earthquake-related requirements in its building safety codes with the help of ICC. ICC has hosted seminars in Ecuador to improve building safety in Latin America and reduce economic losses. The ICC codes also are used to guide the construction of U.S. facilities around the world.

The Alphabet Soup of Green Construction: Standards, Ratings and Codes

The language of green construction often can be confusing to the layperson. Gaining clarity around the difference between ratings and codes is essential to understanding IGCC. In recent years, the public has increasingly been aware of green construction and rating systems such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED. While ratings are useful tools to establish performance requirements or criteria, codes offer detailed guidelines for the development of structures. Building codes are an enforceable body of rules that govern the design, construction, alteration and repair of buildings while building rating systems remain primarily voluntary and describe acceptable minimum requirements for materials or systems in a building.

A code establishes minimum regulations for the performance of building systems while standards establish minimum performance and prescriptive requirements for building system components such as I-beams, cement flooring, piping and roofing. Standards provide foundational support to codes by providing the technical details necessary for architects and contractors to meet code requirements, which have the force of law once they have been adopted by national, state and local governments.

The IGCC: The Future of Green Construction

So how will the ICC and its partners ASTM International and AIA develop a final IGCC? ICC has formed the Sustainable Building Technology Committee, comprising recognized industry leaders from architecture and fire safety and standards setting organizations, to develop the first draft.

The SBTC has agreed that the IGCC must be:

  • Comprehensive — The IGCC will apply to the construction of traditional and high performance commercial buildings, structures and systems, including alterations and additions.
  • Integrated — The IGCC will be designed to coordinate and integrate with the health and safety features of existing I-Codes and will also be fully compatible and support existing rating systems such as LEED.
  • Consensus Based — ICC’s open, inclusive code development process ensures that key stakeholder voices will be heard throughout the process.
  • Adaptable — The IGCC will be a “model” code, requiring adoption by a governing jurisdiction before it becomes law.
  • Enforceable — The IGCC creates a regulatory framework for new and existing commercial and high performance buildings.

With the industry moving at a fast pace toward greener construction in a variety of markets from major cities to small towns, a draft code is eagerly anticipated. The first IGCC draft code will be available in March 2010; it can be used as resource tool for jurisdictions seeking to develop 2010 legislation. After the draft appears, there will be a period of public comment and hearings that will run throughout next summer. A revised draft will be addressed at development and final action hearings in 2011, with publication in 2012.

“Now is the time to move forward from this foundation of current codes and the important early work of the sustainability community into a new era of codes that specifically focus on green buildings,” says ICC Chief Executive Officer Richard P. Weiland. “We are now at a place in the evolution of the sustainability movement that requires the specificity, the reliability and enforceability that only a code can bring.”

The cooperation of ASTM International in the IGCC initiative, Weiland says, “signals the collaboration behind this project and the science that will drive it. ASTM’s cooperation with us will ensure we pursue a development process that is based on recognized and verifiable approaches to standards.”

For more information about the International Code Council and the International Green Construction Code, please click here.


Dominic Sims is chief operating officer of the International Code Council, Washington, D.C.