Is Indiana Ready for a Green Building Code?

By: William E. Kelley, Jr., LEED AP BD+C.

The International Code Council (ICC) has been developing its International Green Construction Code (IgCC) for some time now, with the intent of rolling out the final version in March 2012.  Despite the fact that the “final” version of the IgCC has not yet been released, several states and local jurisdictions (including Rhode Island, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, Scottsdale (AZ), and Richland (WA)) have adopted portions of the early versions of the IgCC for their own regulatory purposes.  Similarly, California adopted its own green building code, called CALGreen, which went into effect on January 1 of this year.

In their most basic form, green building or construction codes provide minimum development standards for public and/or private projects.  These codes differ from green building rating systems (such as LEED, Green Globes, and Energy Star), in that they are mandatory and establish a minimum threshold for compliance for all projects, as opposed to being voluntary and rewarding projects that achieve targeted levels for certification.  These codes share some similarities to green building rating systems, though, in that many of the requirements allow owners some flexibility in which “credits” to pursue in order to achieve compliance.

One reason that green building codes appear to have gained momentum is in response to federal, state, and local jurisdictions that have mandated that certain types of projects achieve certification under third-party green building rating systems.  Rightly or wrongly, some criticism has been levied on such legislation based upon the fact that such mandates result in the jurisdictions ceding control of the regulations and requirements for achieving certification to a third-party entity.  If a City requires public or private projects to be LEED Silver certified, there can be an element of ambiguity for all project participants if the USGBC and/or GBCI materially changed the requirements for what is required to achieve LEED Silver certification, not to mention situations where third-party entities provide discretionary credit interpretations that may materially affect the level of certification awarded.  Green building codes result in returning some of the power (i.e., control) back to the jurisdictions where the projects are being built.

So is Indiana primed to make the leap into the world of green building codes?  Recent legislative history suggests that Indiana is not quite ready.  In 2008, Governor Mitch Daniels issued Executive Order 08-14, which provided that state buildings should be designed and constructed to achieve “energy efficiency”, which was defined as LEED Silver certification, a two-globe rating under Green Globes, Energy Star compliance, or an equivalent rating under the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).  Despite this executive-level initiative, Indiana’s legislators have considered, but not passed, multiple bills relating to green building and sustainable mandates and incentives for both public and private projects.

However, the IgCC is also a tool that can be utilized by local jurisdictions, such as counties, cities, and towns.  In terms of sustainable legislation, Indiana has been somewhat more progressive on the local level than on the state level, with the cities of Bloomington and Indianapolis enacting voluntary green building incentive programs for private developments.  Consequently, if Indiana is to join the green building code movement, it seems feasible that the initiative could originate at the local level.

This much is clear: It appears to be a question of “when” and not “if” states will ultimately adopt some form of a green building code.  All eyes will be on California and the other jurisdictions that move forward with green building codes, so that states and local jurisdictions (including Indiana) can determine how and when adoption of similar codes should be pursued.