by Allan M. Bilka
International Code Council Staff Architect
Green is the mantra of the day and might be for many years to come.
Could it be that we are witnessing the
beginning of a new era in which humans truly recognize their environmental impact and actually take responsibility?
Green evaluation systems, codes, and standards are being created to implement environmental stewardship. But is the architectural community content to sit on the sidelines and watch as others prepare criteria that instruct them on how to make their buildings green? Consider this: Architects may well have the most training and ability of anyone to address green concerns in the built environment.
Worldwide, over the last few years, we have seen a paradigm shift of realization that environmental stewardship is the responsibility of the human race. These concepts are no longer voiced solely by a few fringe thinkers. From the inhabitants of primitive villages to the most sophisticated urbanite, there appears to be a sense that things are environmentally amiss; that humans, as a successful species, have overwhelmed the planet and must take responsibility or face dire consequences. The Earth cannot continue to absorb the waste products of our technologies … at least not if we continue to manage those technologies with current methodologies. We must implement new methodologies to manage our environment. And we have begun to implement new methods of managing our environment through the implementation of green building evaluation systems and green codes and standards.
Intense political pressures have resulted in a proliferation of many different types of green and sustainable programs across the United States. Some are home-grown, invented by local jurisdictions. Other jurisdictions may have adopted one of the popular green evaluation methodologies. There are national, state, and local programs, both mandatory and voluntary. Some concentrate on a single but urgent local concern, such as a shortage of water resources. Others may require elaborate measures for certification. And there are many hybrid programs between. But even in light of these disparities, all green building programs deem conforming buildings to be green, or certify that they attain a certain relative level of green. To complicate the scenario further, some uncertified buildings, when designed with an environmental consciousness and insight, may actually be more environmentally responsible than certified green buildings.
Caught up in this web, architects are forced to look at the unique requirements of specific green building programs as adopted in each respective project location. Some look at the cost involved to attain points required by the evaluation system. Some apply common sense, environmental education, and experience; read between the lines; and go beyond written green and sustainable guidelines. For balance, architects must discern the intent and conformance requirements of each section of the each adopted green building evaluation system, which can require a great deal of time and a different environmental perspective for each project.
The specific requirements of evaluation systems often vary dramatically among jurisdictions, although there may be general commonalities. In the past, it was difficult enough to comply with three model building codes, as was the case before the International Code Council was formed. Now, an even more complex scenario appears on the horizon. And this may be further complicated by the architect’s personal understanding of environmentally responsible building concepts and practices. Although often trained in environmentally responsible design, architects must comply with evaluation systems that are fairly recent inventions and therefore have not yet withstood the tests of time—years of field testing and language refinement—that would reveal inconsistencies, conflicts, and ineffective criteria. To become more involved and address this situation, the architectural community needs to play primary, significant roles in the creation of evaluation-system requirements.
The International Building Codes, as well as some codes and standards developed by others, are promulgated by means of a government consensus process, which brings together voting members appointed to a consensus committee with input from the general public—including architects—to formulate codes and standards. Public comments are not necessarily adopted, but they are always considered. Moreover, comments with suggested solutions have increased odds of being incorporated into a code or standard. This is especially true if groups, architects for instance, work in concert to address their environmental concerns. Note, however, that not all codes, standards, and green building evaluation systems employee a government consensus process.
It may be difficult for a sole practitioner to devote time to green codes and standards development. But many have, and midsize to large firms with a green specialization should certainly be active in this arena. The same is true of individual architects with personal burning environmental agendas. Anyone can do this online in his or her spare time through the consensus process. Many of the green standards currently in development will have public comment periods at various times during this calendar year. To learn more, visit the sites of the International Code Council, Green Building Initiative, National Association of Home Builders, U.S. Green Building Council, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers. Each has standards in development right now.
This is the time when public comments may have the most potential impact. If, as an involved architect, you are truly concerned, apply your talents and become involved. Otherwise, the architectural community will have no real basis for complaint.