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Guest Thinkers

Can New Green Building Codes Clear Up the Confusion?

With billions of dollars already invested in clean-energy jobs and manufacturing, the green revolution remains a work-in-progress. But while plenty of tax credits appear to be going to the right place, the lack of cohesive green regulations is making the whole concept a little elusive. But a new series of green building codes could finally be ushering in the kind of change many people have been waiting for.

The international green building codes just announced by the International Code Council, ASHRAE, the U.S. Green Building Council, and Illuminating Engineering Society of North America are an interesting precedent regarding the LEED standard of green building. The major inclusion in the regulations is Standard 189.1, which involves criteria including water-use efficiency, indoor environmental quality, energy efficiency, material and resource use, and the building’s impact on the community. These types of regulations have been building for some time, in some cases creating problems as well as solutions.

Almost two years ago, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom signed into law what he called the nation’s strictest green building codes. At that time, eight states had already adopted green building codes. By last year, cities like Santa Fe were enforcing residential green building codes and New York had assembled a green codes task force. In 2010, the city of Portland, state of California, and even the emirate of Dubai have enacted specific green building guidelines. But with these regulations have come criticisms, including environmentalists’ claims that California’s statewide regulations don’t meet the standard set by other state jurisdictions, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. The USGBC Northern California chapter even brought up the possibility that conflicting regulations could cause market confusion.

This type of conflict isn’t unprecedented. In 2008, a federal judge stalled Albuquerque’s green building codes after a lawsuit was filed by contractors citing federal statutes. Meanwhile, Boulder County in Colorado is considering changes to their green building codes.  On the heels of Wyoming’s governor deciding that his state didn’t require green building codes and with an emerging series of conflicts in regulation, the hope is that these new universal guidelines could provide some much-needed clarity in the industry.

With the new regulations still so fresh, there hasn’t been any real verdict passed by advocates yet. But considering the money is already being invested in green, we may finally have some good sense to govern all these good intentions.


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