The push for green buildings is happening so fast and with such urgency that it is difficult to keep up with all the latest developments. Since the USGBC launched its green building rating systems, several more have cropped up and are in various stages of development. These systems include the GBI’s Green Globes, NAHB’s National Green Building Program, and ASHRAE 189 Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings. As if that were not enough, the International Code Council has entered the scene with its first draft of their International Green Construction Code (IgCC).

At the ICC’s Web site, there is a fact sheet stating the purpose of the organization as, “a membership association dedicated to building safety and fire prevention …” What do green buildings have to do with safety and fire prevention? Why does the ICC feel it necessary to challenge existing green building rating systems already well into their development and use? What impact will the creation of a green building code have on green building rating systems?

Answers to some of these questions can be found on the ICC site, beginning with this statement:

“The International Code Council announces its intent to initiate a ‘Green Building Code Development Project’ targeted at the commercial market. The objective of this new project is to develop a Green Building Code for traditional and high-performance buildings that is consistent and coordinated with the ICC family of Codes and Standards. The code will provide a new regulatory framework built with leading recognized rating systems in mind. The Code will provide criteria to drive green building into everyday practice.”

One of the main USGBC goals, found in its Foundations document, is to “Accelerate green building demand, delivery, and accessibility.” GBI’s mission, from its Web site, is to “accelerate the adoption of building practices that result in energy-efficient, healthier and environmentally sustainable buildings.” I like those goals. They’re laudable. Something we can all agree with. Participation optional. By contrast, the ICC’s goal to “drive green building into everyday practice” seems heavy handed, dictatorial, and mandatory. And that is exactly what it is meant to be. The ICC web site states that the IgCC will be “written in mandatory language that provides a regulatory framework.”

One of the Frequently Asked Questions on the ICC site is why the council promotes its Green Construction Code when other options exist. This is answered with the following statement:

“The development of a code occurs when there is a clear need indicated from regulators and others in the building safety industry. In the case of the IGCC, there has been an increasing call for an actual code that is clear and enforceable. We have heard this not only from our members in local and state government, but from stakeholders across the spectrum. This is why the AIA and the ASTM have joined the ICC as ‘cooperating partners.’ Architects want a code book that will guide their design activities just like the other I-Codes. Standards experts want a code that reflects the appropriate attention to consensus, enforceability, science and metrics.”

Not everyone agrees with this. Notably missing from the list of “cooperating partners” is Building Owners and Managers Association, which was asked to participate in the development of the IgCC but declined. A BOMA official interviewed for this article explained to me that the IgCC is nothing more than a copy of ASHRAE 189, which BOMA has worked very hard on.

You may recall that the effort to produce the ASHRAE 189 standard stopped after being disbanded, and was recently restarted. BOMA was very influential in arguing for the reorganization of the ASHREA 189 committee and in the development of the standard, now in its final stages. ASHRAE 189 was conceived as a standard written for adoption into building codes so that owners and designers would have a consensus-based document setting minimum green building criteria that is identical to the goal of the IgCC. The BOMA official contends that the real reason for the creation of the IgCC is that the AIA and ASTM felt snubbed by the ASHRAE 189 committee during that standard’s development.


There are striking parallels between development and use of multiple green building rating systems and standards in the United States and model building codes. Since the early 1900s, the United States had been using three regionally developed building codes; the Uniform Building Code used in the West Coast to most of the Midwest, the Building Officials Code Administrators International used in the East Coast and much of the Midwest, and Southern Building Code Congress International used in the Southeast. All of this changed with the formation in 1994 of the International Code Council, with the intention of combing these codes into a single, national building code. In 2000, the ICC published the first edition of the International Building Code, which has been adopted by all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Can the IgCC do for green building rating systems and standards what the ICC did for model building codes? Could the IgCC consolidate and eventually take the place of LEED, Green Globes, and ASHRAE 189? The ICC certainly has the experience and influence to make this a reality.


Version one of the first draft of the IgCC was posted in the IgCC Web site* on August 3, 2009. The introduction of the draft begins:

“The Sustainable Building Technology Committee is charged with the development of the First Draft of the International Green Construction Code. The First Draft is scheduled for completion and posting for comments by March 15, 2010. Interim versions of the First Draft, such as this Version 1, will be posted to reflect the progress made by the SBTC on the development of the First Draft.

“The SBTC held its first meeting on July 28 through 30, 2009. The SBTC reviewed the Resource Document, which was previously posted and made comments that are noted in italics. These comments will lead to further investigation and revision by the SBTC in the development process.”

The draft is a compilation of prescriptive requirements borrowed from existing ICC codes and green building rating systems. The document states that the purpose of the IgCC is to pick up where the ICC leaves off. The development committee stresses that the purpose of the IgCC is to provide measurable, enforceable code requirements for green buildings. This has proven to be most difficult with other green building rating systems and standards. What does the IgCC committee know that the rest of these rating systems and standards committees do not? In reviewing the draft, it is evident that the answer to this question is nothing.

The content of the draft will be very familiar to those that have used and worked with LEED, Green Globes and building codes. None of it is particularly innovative or ground breaking. The most interesting part of the draft is contained in the italicized committee comments, which will be part of each version posted, as the draft is developed. This reads like a meeting minutes and offers a unique fly-on-the wall perspective in understanding the committee’s thoughts and concerns throughout development of the draft. The comments are supposed to “lead to further investigation and revision by the SBTC [committee] in the development process.”

I found the following to be especially interesting:

We’re not here to make live (sic) easy for Building officials.

The role of this committee does not include negating any other ICC code-it’s to start where the other I-Codes have stopped.

This is not a marketing tool-it is intended to be adoptable, useable, enforceable, and affect real change.

Is LCA ready for prime time?

Addressing process & plug loads is the only way to get to +50 and net zero

Do we take certificate of occupancy away if they fail?

If we don’t like the rules, change them

Only so much you can squeeze out of a rock

Are we killing a fly with hammer?

Consider pig and chicken dung

Be cautious about any tobacco stuff-this will be a killer in the south

We need to be careful that we don’t make the code unmarketable


I have often wondered how the proliferation of multiple, competing green building rating systems and standards would eventually shake out in the marketplace. Would one rise to the top as definitively better and easier to use than the rest? Would they all harmoniously exist and be used by different market segments according to their preferences? Not enough time has elapsed for these questions to be answered. The emergence and eventual adoption of a green construction code may make these questions moot.

I predict that codifying green building requirements will prove to be extremely challenging to develop and even more difficult to enforce. Building code requirements for such things as exit stairs, safety glass, and fire resistive testing are very straightforward and universally accepted. Not so with many of the IgCC draft requirements. Things such as allowable green house gas emissions, building energy use, and LCA are difficult to quantify and prove and, as one italicized IgCC comment states, nothing but a grand experiment. W&C