No Better Time to Talk Energy Codes

The remarkable events of the last few weeks, from a heated presidential election to “Superstorm” Sandy that left unanticipated destruction in its wake, brought with them new questions and much-needed debate about our nation’s energy challenges. Last week saw an end to a campaign that, for many, continuously sidestepped discussions about energy independence, efficiency, and conservation on the heels of a storm that swept those very issues back onto the tongues of politicians and policy-makers alike. Not to mention green building and energy sector players. Fitting then, that Greenbuild 2012 is in full swing this week to explore solutions rooted in these very topics. Yesterday opened with the Codes Summit, a first-of-its-kind conversation on green building and energy codes. Now center stage in discussions on energy efficiency policy, energy codes are recognized as one of the simplest, most effective tools available to reduce building energy use. Energy codes, in the right framework and in the right hands, have the potential to move new and even many existing buildings into the realm of extremely low or zero net energy. That said, questions abound as to the “right” structure, implementation and enforcement strategies that will ensure success. Many of these questions were introduced both directly and indirectly at yesterday’s Summit: Does actual energy performance reflect energy savings targets? How can we ensure that prescribed measures are financially feasible? Are the right incentive mechanisms in place? What is the best role for utility programs? What can we learn from what individual states and cities are doing? The Summit sessions were broken into tracks that followed code work in California, model codes (green, water, international), efforts by cities & states, and building performance. Subjects ranging from rating systems to code compliance were tackled by more than 50 speakers. The potential impact of energy codes was explored in the Opening Session, “The Big Picture on Codes – A Few Provocative Questions” presented by NBI Executive Director, Dave Hewitt, Anthony Bernheim (Principal, Sustainable Built Environment), Ken Alex (Senior Advisor to the Governor and Director, Office of Planning and Research, Office of the Governor of California) and host Steve Nadel (Executive Director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy). Each presenter touched on important questions about what’s working, what needs to change and whether we’re on target to meet or exceed the goals we’ve set. NBI Technical Director, Mark Frankel was joined by David Ramslie (Senior Sustainability Programs Manager for the City of Vancouver, BC), Dimitri Contoyannis (Director of Codes and Standards for the Architectural Energy Corporation), Alecia Ward (Director of Government Relations and Business Development for The Weidt Group) and Lane Burt (Policy Director for the USGBC) for the education session “Codes and Rating Systems in Outcome-based Policy,” which explored next-generation regulatory efforts to regulate building outcomes beyond as-built conditions and certificate of occupancy. The session reviewed such questions as: What role can codes play in regulating building outcomes over time? How might rating systems help policymakers achieve their goals of greener building outcomes? What are cities and states currently doing? In answer to these questions, NBI is in the process of finalizing its latest white paper, “Establishing a Pathway to Outcome-Based Codes and Policies.” More information and a link to request a copy when it’s released can be found at can be a complicated topic, particularly in terms of relating them to inevitable discussions about the destruction in the wake of Sandy. But yesterday’s Summit touched on the need for true resiliency—not just efficiency—in our buildings and communities. And while resiliency isn’t something that terms like rating system or code compliance immediately bring to mind, they’re an essential part of codes, which help to lay the foundation for realizing widespread advances in performance. And we, as a nation, are going to need that. While much conversation over the remaining days of Greenbuild will inevitably revolve around sexier topics like LEED V4 and design innovation, it’s encouraging that the nuanced world of codes may have set the tone for these conversations. The code conversation will continue to unfold. To follow discussions about the Codes Summit on Twitter, search #GBcodesCheck back soon for more on key takeaways from the 2012 Codes SummitRead more on Greenbuild 2012. For more on NBI’s code-related work, visit: