In many parts of the U.S., LEED has been law for years, particularly for public buildings—but that’s starting to change, and LEED’s creator, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is one of the first to celebrate. A new partnership among five major U.S. standard developers in the U.S. will harmonize ASHRAE 189.1, the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), and the LEED rating systems with the aim of simplifying implementation of local green building regulations and incentive programs. Although the organizations and their development processes will remain separate, the three systems will effectively become parts of one system in the U.S.

Standards and codes and rating systems

Under the new agreement, ASHRAE, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), the International Code Council (ICC), and USGBC will cooperate to create the new three-part system.

  • An updated version of ASHRAE 189.1 (full name: ANSI/ASHRAE/IES/USGBC Standard 189.1, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings) will provide baseline metrics and other technical requirements that align with LEED prerequisites and the IgCC. The standard will likely draw some technical requirements from LEED, but it will maintain its own consensus process under ANSI.
  • The IgCC (for which 189.1 is already an alternative compliance path) will cease being developed as an independent system and will instead become an adoptable, code-enforceable version of 189.1.
  • LEED, while remaining a voluntary rating system, will interface with the new code in two ways: IgCC will serve as an alternative system of prerequisites for LEED, making it easier for project teams to move from the baseline green code toward LEED certification; and selected LEED requirements will likely be cycled back into 189.1 as new versions of each are developed and approved. LEED credits will still be developed independently, but certification will readily serve as a stretch goal for projects in jurisdictions where the IgCC has been adopted.

To help ensure seamless integration, ASHRAE, USGBC, and IES will become sponsors of IgCC, and ICC and the AIA will become sponsors of 189.1. A steering committee will oversee the integrated development process.

After years of market confusion and de facto competition among these three systems, this new partnership “helps everybody,” ASHRAE president Tom Phoenix tells EBN. “Had we continued down the separate paths, there is always a chance that someone eventually is going to lose in that game. I think this is a win-win for everybody.”

For ASHRAE, the agreement means “189 is basically at the center of the green-standard world,” which benefits his organization, but everyone has to give up something as well, he notes. “It becomes a partnership. Now we’re not the sole control like we have been in the past—but that’s OK. These are the recognized leaders in this world, and the fact that we’re all coming together is very exciting.”

More green buildings, easier documentation

The new framework could result in a greater number of green buildings as jurisdictions find it easier to adopt green building codes, says Brendan Owens, P.E., vice president for LEED technical development at USGBC. What’s more, he says, it could mean more LEED buildings as well.

“If a [U.S.] jurisdiction adopts the IgCC, any building in that jurisdiction is going to be in compliance with the LEED prerequisites,” he explains, adding that the groups are also working on streamlined documentation, meaning that once the building demonstrates that it meets the green code, the same documentation will count toward LEED certification “with no duplication of effort.”

In addition, he contends, since IgCC is an open-source system, it’s available for use by other rating systems as well—so this streamlined framework isn’t limited to LEED and could serve as a model for other green building certification programs. “If this makes it easier for all the ships in the harbor to rise, that’s an outcome that we would welcome,” he told EBN.

If we had a hammer

Owens also argues that the new system will put better tools in the hands of local regulators. “Progressive jurisdictions across the United States were rummaging through their toolbox for a hammer (a regulation) and only found a screwdriver (a rating system),” he writes in a blog post explaining the partnership. “You can hammer in nails with a screwdriver…but it’s hugely inefficient and, when you have a bunch of nails to drive, frustrating as hell.”

“This agreement should lead to more rapid adoption of responsible approaches by designers, builders, developers, and a host of other building industry groups,” added AIA CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA, in a press release.

The agreement does not extend to the low-rise residential sector for the time being, but Owens says preliminary talks have already begun to address housing as well. First, though, they want to see some successes, he says—and given the size of the five organizations involved and the diversity of their stakeholder groups, it could be another year or more before a solid work plan is available for the nonresidential sectors.

By merging IgCC and Standard 189.1, this agreement aims to put wind in the sails of green codes, which have seen little adoption to date (except in California, where CalGreen is mandatory statewide). And by formally linking LEED to both the 189 development process and green codes, the partnership reinforces USGBC’s position in the U.S., where it has been under attack by chemical and timber industry opposition. (In addition, notes Phoenix, basing LEED technical content on Standard 189.1, which is developed through ANSI, could take the teeth out of attacks on LEED’s consensus process; see Chemical Industry Attacks LEED: BuildingGreen Checks the Facts.)

It also represents a major milestone in the process of replacing LEED, where it is currently being used for regulatory purposes, with codes. Since updates of ASHRAE 189.1 and IgCC will be released in the near future, the new agreement will likely take effect in 2017 at the earliest, but Phoenix hints it will be worth the wait. “It isn’t an overnight process, and it shouldn’t be. We need to do this right.”

Nadav Malin contributed reporting.