Professional Practice Notes: Can the IgCC make Buildings Greener?

June 12, 2012

By Karen Blose, Esq.

Thomas Friedman, noted author, Pulitzer prize winner and NY Times columnist has said that when the government sets a deadline, like a level of renewable energy produced by 2025, the U.S. rises to the challenge with innovation; however until required, as a nation we resist having to change.  Perhaps recognizing that sociological phenomenon is one of the motivators leading to the creation of the International Green Construction Code (“IgCC”).  The IgCC which was issued in March 2012, was developed over the past several years by the International Code Council in a consensus driven process with a consortium of leading organizations throughout the design and construction industries, including the AIA, ASTM International, ASHRAE, the Illuminating Engineering Society and of course, the U.S. Green Building Council.

As part of AIA’s 2030 Commitment to facilitating carbon neutrality, the  AIA had significant participation in the process. The new code was  profiled in the March 2012 edition of AIA Architect and at this year’s national convention on May 17, 2012 AIA issued its new “Guide to the IgCC “ [downloadable for all AIA members ].

According to the International Code Council website, the new code’s regulatory framework applies to both new and existing buildings, establishing minimum “green” requirements while offering a customizable baseline that can be modified by enacting jurisdictions to adapt to local environmental conditions, construction practices and other community- based interests. Many have described the IgCC as “an overlay to the existing set of International Codes,” because it includes provisions of the International Energy Conservation Code and ICC-700, the National Green Building Standard, and incorporates ASHRAE Standard 189.1  which is offered as an alternate path to achieving IgCC code compliance. In its new guide, the AIA describes the IgCC noting:

“The new code is intended to provide “minimum requirements to safeguard the environment, ‘public health, safety and general welfare’ and reduce the negative impacts and increase positive impacts of the built environment on the natural environment and building occupants. As such, it covers natural resources, material water and energy conservation, operations and maintenance for new and existing buildings, building sites, building materials, and building components (including equipment and systems).”

Once adopted, the IgCC applies to new construction, existing building restoration and renovation, commercial and residential buildings over 3 stories. Topics addressed in the IgCC include:

  • Site development and land use [erosion control, transportation, heat island mitigation, graywater systems, habitat protection, and site restoration];
  • Material resource conservation and efficiency [50% of construction waste to be diverted from landfills, and at least 55% of building materials to be salvaged, recycled-content, recyclable,  or indigenous];
  • Energy conservation and earth atmospheric quality [judged by performance, buildings are to use not more than 51% of the energy allowed under the 2000 International Energy Code;  minimum mechanical system requirements, submetering, renewable energy systems and lighting];
  • Water conservation and efficiency [maximum flow rates for fixtures, limits for appliances, rainwater storage and graywater systems];
  • Indoor environmental quality and comfort [no smoking in buildings, radon, VOCs sound transmission, daylighting];
  • Commissioning, operation, and maintenance [pre and post occupancy commissioning, and training for operations].

Like the LEED certification process, the IgCC takes the lofty goal of improving the environmental performance of buildings through “sustainable” design and construction concepts and makes them project requirements. The LEED process essentially offers an aspirational performance measurement tool for owners, designers and constructors to identify and implement more “sustainable” processes, materials and technologies during design, construction, operations and maintenance. Because of the commercial success linked with LEED, as well as its philosophical and environmentally acceptable attributes, LEED has enhanced the level of industry awareness, product development and participation in more sustainable construction—but on a voluntary basis.

On the other hand,  code enforcement presents a different approach to improving the environmental performance of buildings because once adopted,  code requirements are mandatory, and compliance is essential to obtain use and occupancy rights. The IgCC provides another set of requirements for architects and engineers to understand and adhere to, in addition to the requirements of the applicable Building Code. And like other enacted building codes, failure to adhere to those requirements will subject the design industry to the same risk and potential liability as other instances of code non-compliance, namely negligence and in many jurisdictions, “negligence per se” .

Many of the IgCC requirements will not be new to actively practitioners since the LEED certification processes have already made these concepts familiar ground. Risk managers and professional liability insurers will start stepping up the education and training offerings as the IgCC becomes law in more locations because of concern that even in jurisdictions where the IgCC is not officially adopted, professional practices will adapt their delivery processes to comply with the IgCC, which may spread into the general practice of architecture or engineering on some level and affect what becomes the applicable standard of care.

“This will be the first time code officials, owners and designers will have an integrated regulatory framework to put into practice that meets the goal of greening the construction and design of new and existing buildings,” according to Code Council CEO Richard P. Weiland. “Only a code that is useable, enforceable and adoptable will have the capability of impacting our built environment in dramatic ways.”

The process of adopting the IgCC has had a slow start, and few States have enacted the IgCC on a mandatory basis. While Maryland, Rhode Island and Oregon  each have enacted some level of adherence to the IgCC to achieve compliance or “equivalence” with their laws on “green public” facilities, only Maryland has required the IgCC to apply to all commercial buildings and residential buildings with more than 3 stories. [The IgCC website provides those places with the IgCC in force].

Many notable design practice commentators are just beginning to read the IgCC and ponder how it will interact or potentially supplant LEED processes. While LEED enhanced the environmental awareness in an industry that is one of the largest contributors of various types of pollution, by applying to all mainstream construction, adoption of the IgCC will raise that floor. How high that floor rises will depend on the willingness in the current political climate to adopt new codes, but the IgCC is here and should be on the radar screen for those active in the design and construction industries.

Author: Karen Blose, past in-house counsel and commercial director at several national design practices is now providing consulting and in-house counsel on-call services through AEdvise LLC. She can be reached at:

A future continuing education program for the AIA NJ is currently under development by AEdvise to provide more substance in terms of the technical areas and risk management issues that occur by adoption of the IgCC on a mandatory basis. Watch upcoming issues of this newsletter for further information.

AIA Newark & Suburban Professional Practice Committee Chair:  

Ronald C. Weston, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, / / Email:

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