A New Tool for Navigating Green Building Codes and Rating Systems

EPA’s new Green Building Standards page provides helpful, easily understandable information about six major model building codes and rating systems (including IgCC, ASHRAE Standard 189.1-2011, and LEED) that communities can use to develop green building programs.

Why does it matter? Because our everyday actions — like how we use buildings — have significant environmental consequences. For example, according to the 2013 New York City Local Law 84 Benchmarking Report, New York City’s buildings accounted for nearly 75% of the City’s total greenhouse gas emissions, 94% of the City’s electrical consumption and 85% of its water usage. As a result, local land use planning and development controls, like building codes and rating systems, offer one of the most powerful tools for adapting to and mitigating against climate change.

As EPA observes:

“American communities have more options than ever for encouraging greener building and development. Many organizations have developed model codes or rating systems that communities may use to develop green building programs or revise building ordinances.”

Indeed, options range from green building ordinances that apply only to municipal construction or renovation projects, to those that apply to private projects that receive public funding, to those that apply to both public and private projects. Further options exist within each of these schemes, including application of requirements based on project size or type of building. With respect to rating systems, some municipalities use LEED rating systems, others use different third-party rating systems, and still others create their own rating systems. Some municipalities permit developers to meet LEED “equivalents” or comply with LEED guidelines without requiring receipt of LEED certification.Even among those that mandate LEED certification (or “equivalents”), different municipalities require different levels of LEED certification and allow waivers under different scenarios. Finally, some ordinances mandate that developers meet certain standards, while others create various incentive schemes. For example, some municipalities have created incentive programs for privately owned green building construction that include the use of direct subsidies, density bonuses and expedited permitting. Additionally, many states, including New York, require LEED for state-owned buildings. The State of New York also provides tax credits for buildings that meet certain green building criteria and requires state agencies to reduce energy use and carbon dioxide emissions and utilize green building principles.

But, with all the options available, it can be difficult to understand the differences between different codes and standards and how the codes and standards work together (or don’t work together). EPA’s new Green Building Standards page provides concise summaries of each code and rating system and, significantly, allows users to compare the individual codes and rating systems.