This month, the final version on the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) is scheduled to be published, ending over two years of dedicated work by volunteer stakeholders. The new green code comes with a lot of promise and the goal of increasing environmental and healthy building practices.
But many questions still remain as to how the IgCC will be implemented and to what extent it is supported by local code officials. And, perhaps most important, it is still unknown how the green code will fit into the work already being done to promote green building by groups such as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Green Building Initiative (GBI), and ASHRAE, among others.
LEED & IgCC: Complementary or Competitive?
Over the years, the USGBC’s LEED green-building rating system has emerged as the de facto standard for green building. The tool and its four levels of certification (Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum) have traditionally served as the arbiter on whether a building is, in fact, green. LEED is a voluntary rating system, though, that has relatively few prerequisites, allowing builders and architects to pick and choose the green attributes they incorporate into a given building. While this approach allows for greater flexibility, it also means that there will be trade-offs in any certified building.
For example, it has been widely reported that many highly rated LEED buildings end up having poor indoor air quality (IAQ). This is often due to project teams skipping over the IAQ credits (which are fairly complicated and worth fewer points) in favor of more easily attainable credits that yield a greater number of points. Of course, it should be noted that this weakness is not unique to LEED; rather, it is true for all point-based green-building rating systems, including the GBI’s Green Globes and the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS).
The IgCC, on the other hand, is written in code language and requires minimum achievements in all building areas (i.e., site, water, energy, IAQ, and materials). It also allows for project electives—criteria that are not included in the code requirements but that can be used on a given project (e.g., limiting the levels of total volatile organic compounds present in a building). Thus, a building that conforms to the IgCC is guaranteed to have a minimum number of green attributes in each of the relevant areas—including IAQ.
The IgCC and LEED are therefore complementary. The IgCC acts to raise the baseline of a green building, ensuring that a minimum number of environmentally preferable attributes are realized. LEED can then build upon that baseline, incentivizing builders and architects to achieve additional health and environmental attributes. This is the ideal scenario, of course—and one that would help push the green building movement forward.
It’s All About Adoption
There has already been a fair amount of interest in adopting the IgCC, and a few states have already passed new legislation referencing the green code. Unfortunately, these early adopters may be unintentionally creating confusion in the marketplace because their legislative references do not adopt the code as originally intended.
For example, before the IgCC was finalized, the state of Florida passed legislation in 2011 that added the IgCC to the state’s existing definition of a high-performance building. This is significant because, in Florida, certain publicly funded buildings are required to be high performance—which, prior to the introduction of the IgCC, meant that the buildings had to be either LEED certified or Green Globes certified. Now, a state agency need only meet the requirements of the IgCC to comply with the law.
This is problematic because green-rating tools, such as LEED, and green-building codes, such as the IgCC, are not the same thing. As a result, LEED and the IgCC are pitted against each other as direct competitors, blurring the line between a code and a rating system and threatening their ability to work together. The IgCC was never intended to be adopted in its entirety; instead, local code officials were supposed to adopt the criteria that are relevant to their specific region and jurisdiction.
As of this writing, the USGBC is undertaking a massive initiative to update LEED. In fact, most, if not all, credits will be substantially different when the new version (LEED 2012) is released in November. And if the results of the first two public comment periods are any indication of what’s to come, LEED certification will soon be much more complex and difficult to achieve than it was with previous versions of the rating system.
While it’s impossible to predict how this increased complexity will be received in the marketplace, it’s likely that builders and architects will look to other green-building options more favorably than they had in the past. This, in turn, could present an enormous opportunity for the IgCC and its supporters. If the IgCC is adopted as it was intended to be adopted (that is, incorporated into the actual building code language), then building owners may be less inclined to pursue LEED certification. This is particularly true of publicly funded buildings, as the increased complexity of LEED may make achieving certification too cost-prohibitive.
Ultimately, the success of the IgCC depends on whether it gets adopted and implemented appropriately. If it is merely included as an alternative compliance path to LEED, then it will likely not serve its intended purpose of raising the green-building baseline. Instead, it could create a confusing and contradictory marketplace where green codes and green standards are wrongly considered the same.
Mark Rossolo is the Director of Public Affairs for UL Environment, where he works on policy-related sustainability issues for UL Environment and is actively involved in the shaping of green-building codes, standards, and programs. This article is for general information purposes only and is not intended to convey legal or other professional advice.
More information on the IgCC is online at iccsafe.org.