Are Green Building Codes The Only Answer?

There has been significant discussion over the past few months over the need for green building codes to achieve major green building goals.  The International Green Construction Code Version 2.0 was published in November 2010, and CalGreen, California's mandatory green construction code went into effect in January 2011.

A developer friend asked me what I thought of CalGreen, and it got me to thinking:

Could you achieve the same environmental results by implementing regulations that did not require an overhaul of the building code? 

Last week, San Francisco passed a regulation requiring owners of nonresidential buildings to
conduct Energy Efficiency Audits of their properties every five years, and file Annual Energy Benchmark Summaries for their buildings. The regulation is available here. San Francisco is following the lead of Washington DC and other municipalities mandating disclosure of energy performance.

Could mandatory energy, water use and indoor air quality disclosure, along with rigorous benchmarking be the foundation of an alternative green regulatory approach?  An interesting thing that San Francisco did is not only to make the disclosures mandatory, but also to file them with the city, allowing public access to the records. Thus, they can be used by anyone looking to purchase or value the buildings.  By mandating disclosure, it incentivizes building efficiency measures, and lets the market do most of the work to force the highest levels of efficiency. 

The next piece would be to provide major incentives for infill development, brownfield redevelopment and trandevelopment around mass transit--and charge a premium for infrastructure improvements outside developed areas

Another component would be to reduce parking requirements, and create parking maximums.  The reduced parking capacity would reduce building costs, incentivize public transit usage and make properies built in strong transit hubs more attractive.

Finally, mandate recycling of construction and demolition waste.   C & D waste is easy to track and waste management is already highly regulated. 

These efforts address most of the green building focus areas--water, waste, energy, site, and indoor air quality.  The question is whether this combination of market transparency, incentives and mandates would be as effective in reaching environmental goals as a drafting and implementing a new green building code.

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Gina Bisaillon - February 16, 2011 8:40 AM

The only answer? Perhaps not, but a very good one. We have to start somewhere, and people can't be trusted to do it voluntarily, so laws are often necessary.

Bravo, San Francisco, for this initiative!

Frank Sherman - February 16, 2011 11:04 AM

Public Enlightenment may be a combination of both approaches. Codes are a backstop defining non-compliance. Market incentives though can induce even the most stubborn mule to move.

Joe Stampone - February 18, 2011 1:29 PM

Shari, you make a lot of good points here. Certainly, I think you could absolutely achieve similar results by implementing various green building regulations, forms of which many municipalities across the country already have.

A couple quick comments. I have to commend San Fran and other cities for mandatory benchmarking, but that information should be public. Not only will it help with the valuation of properties, but it will encourage owners to increase energy efficiency. The real motivation behind going green is peer-pressure, if owners see other owners doing it, they'll be forced to try and catch up.

Also, I think DC is considering implementing a parking maximum. The key here is not kill the economics of a deal. Some projects need parking based on the area, use, or what the consumer demands. It's all about being smart with the various regulations.

Keep up the great work!

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