Buildings and communities are at the frontline of tackling climate change
Buildings are central to society, underlying the provision of essential needs, including housing, healthcare, education and business. When designed and constructed properly, they protect us from the elements of nature and allow us to withstand hazards. At the same time, buildings have an environmental impact. According to the International Energy Agency, buildings and construction consume 36 percent of global energy and, through the materials they use and their ongoing operations, buildings contribute almost 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, all of which have a significant impact on the planet.
As the world comes together to chart a path forward on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving the energy efficiency of buildings is critical. The International Code Council plays an essential role in tackling both climate adaptation and mitigation by providing tools and solutions that will create a more efficient and sustainable built environment. As the developer of model codes that support energy efficiency and green construction and protect occupants from natural hazards and solutions that support their effective use, the Code Council provides the following summary of activities demonstrating its commitment to governments, citizens and the building industry to deliver the solutions needed to meet National Determined Contributions through zero-energy buildings and greenhouse gas reductions.
Climate mitigation solutions
The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and International Green Construction Code (IgCC) have been at the core of delivering energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reductions in buildings. Since 2006, the IECC has increased its efficiency requirements by about 40 percent, or an average of eight percent per cycle. The 2021 IECC is only 10 percent away from net-zero for residential buildings. The IgCC powered by ASHRAE Standard 189.1 provides a whole systems approach to the design, construction and operation of buildings including measures that result in better indoor environments, lower impact on natural resources, better neighborhood connections and improved walkability.
Resources supporting the adoption of and compliance with the IECC plus resources and model policies for zero-energy buildings and decarbonization are featured on updated webpages. Many of the resources have been compiled by a task force of the Sustainability Membership Council and additional resources will continue to be added.
Last month, the Code Council Board of Directors released a new framework to assure that the Code Council continues to deliver the resources communities need to meet their energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction goals. Under the framework, the IECC will continue to deliver increased efficiency including new commitments to include pathways for zero-energy buildings. Additionally, the Code Council will produce resources on electric vehicle charging, electrification, grid interactivity and other decarbonization strategies.
The call for nominations to serve on the committees developing the 2024 IECC is now open but closes on April 23.
The Code Council is also partnering with leading organizations in support of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funded initiatives to advance the use of distributed energy resources. The Sustainable Energy Advisory Committee (SEAC) administered by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council is focused on developing solutions to advance the deployment of solar energy systems, energy storage systems, demand response and energy efficiency. The Code Council is a member of the SEAC Steering Committee.
The DOE also recently named recipients of Education Materials for Professional Organizations Working on Efficiency and Renewable Energy Developments (EMPOWERED) grants that support multi-year projects to provide education and training for building safety professionals on solar, storage, efficiency and alternative-fuel vehicle technologies. The Code Council is a member of all three teams receiving funding and work is just getting underway.
The Code Council also contributed technical expertise to the development of SolarAPP+, a DOE and solar industry effort to support expedited permitting processes for certain solar photovoltaic systems. And the Code Council supports the work of DOE at the International Energy Agency, particularly in their leadership of the Building Energy Codes Working Group of the Energy in Buildings and Communities Programme.
Collaborating with peers
Enhancing the resilience of buildings to evolving climate risk is a challenge faced by communities across the globe. Code development and research organizations around the world share a common mission to help reduce the impacts of hazards — as risks evolve, codes and standards must adapt to address those risks. In 2019, the Code Council brought together code development and research organizations from Canada, Australia and New Zealand to identify potential common paths forward to address changing risks. The initial gathering, which also included climate scientists, design professionals, disaster management specialists and standards developers from the represented countries, led to the formation of the Global Resiliency Dialogue and the issuance of Findings on Changing Risk and Building Codes.
Earlier this year, the dialogue released its first report on a pathway to developing an International Resilience Guideline. The Use of Climate Data and Assessment of Extreme Weather Event Risks in Building Codes Around the World includes information on how the signatory countries plus Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Japan currently use climate data. Later this year, a second report will be released reflecting feedback from key stakeholders in each of the countries on avenues to address climate risk in codes and standards. These papers will inform the development of the International Resilience Guideline.
Furthering its global activities, the Code Council is the newest member of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), the leading global platform for governments, the private sector, civil society, and intergovernmental and international organizations to increase action towards a zero-emission, efficient and resilient buildings and construction sector. Established as an outcome of the 2015 United Nations climate conference, GlobalABC’s flagship contribution to the international discussion of energy efficiency and resiliency is the Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction (BuildingsGSR), published annually. The BuildingsGSR is a reference document providing a snapshot of the progress made by the buildings and construction sector on a global basis towards the achievement of international commitments related to reductions of carbon dioxide emissions and energy demand.
As an active member of GlobalABC predominantly representing its U.S.-based activity, the Code Council will be engaging with government and industry stakeholders to ensure that the BuildingsGSR includes relevant data from the U.S., as well as to promote its use as a tool to help achieve the Nationally Determined Contribution on greenhouse gas emissions reductions set forth by the Biden administration.
In addition to international level collaborations, the Code Council is leading the formation of a Codes and Standards Climate Dialogue to bring together representatives of leading U.S.-based codes and standards development organizations and climate science organizations to share best practices and identify opportunities to support a consistent approach to addressing climate adaptation and mitigation. Participants in the initial meeting of the dialogue will include ASHRAE, ASTM International, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Geophysical Union.
The Code Council and the Alliance for National & Community Resilience (ANCR) are also signatories to the Industry Statement on Resilience and participate in the Resilient Building Coalition, formed by the signatories to help realize their joint goals. The coalition brings together representatives from over 50 organizations to identify common approaches to support resilience — including the impacts of climate change.
Advancing community-level resilience
A member of the ICC family of solutions, ANCR recognizes the importance of a holistic approach to resilience — a community is only as resilient as its weakest link. ANCR identified 19 community functions that support the long-term resilience of communities and is developing Community Resilience Benchmarks (CRB) for each of those functions. Climate change is increasing the vulnerability of many social and infrastructural systems in communities. The CRBs include requirements focused on identifying and responding to future risks.
The Code Council has also undertaken the development of a series of white papers on the resilience contributions of specific codes. The first three papers in the series cover the International Building Code, IECC and the International Wildland Urban Interface Code (IWUIC). In particular, The Important Role of Energy Codes in Achieving Resilience examines how energy codes can assist communities in better responses to extreme heat or extreme cold events, which may become more prevalent in the future. The Code Council is also serving as a member of a technical advisory group for a U.S. Department of Energy project focused on Valuation of Energy Efficiency for Energy Resilience.
Evaluation and accreditation for sustainability
As efforts ramp up across the economy to reduce greenhouse gases and other sustainability initiatives, the verification of claims and the implementation of effective management systems are essential. The ICC Evaluation Service (ICC-ES) and International Accreditation Service (IAS) provide these valuable verification tools.
ICC-ES provides evaluation and certification of a product’s sustainability claims. These include environmental reports and environmental product declarations (EPDs) to meet requirements in the IgCC, National Green Building Standard (ICC 700), Green Globes, LEED and other green building programs. ICC-ES serves as an independent program operator for internationally recognized EPDs. These EPDs provide a comprehensive disclosure of a product’s environmental impact — including associated greenhouse gases.
IAS accredits organizations that contribute to the achievement of sustainability goals. From product certification laboratories to inspection agencies to training providers, IAS accreditation assures that the organizations follow good management practices, building confidence and trust. For example, IAS serves as an accreditation body for the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification for sustainable forest management and chain of custody.
Supporting policies to advance progress
While the Code Council and its partners in the building industry can work to produce technical solutions to drive progress, governments must implement policies that help drive the use of these solutions and support their technical basis. To this end, the Code Council has been active in supporting policies to advance progress. Current legislative priorities include:
- Assuring that all federally funded construction projects have up-to-date minimum design requirements that reflect resilience and sustainability goals and protect taxpayer investments;
- Supporting building code department modernization and training to assure they have the resources to achieve resilience and sustainability goals;
- The Built to Last Act introduced by Senators Baldwin and Rubio and Representative Cartwright to provide authoritative federal climate science data to codes and standards developers and others;
- The E-QUIP Act, providing increased depreciation for building retrofits that are tied to the 2018 IgCC;
- The Disaster Savings and Resilient Construction Act of 2021 which provides tax credits for retrofits that meet requirements in the IWUIC, ICC 600: Standard for Residential Construction in High Wind Regions, and other resilience standards;
- Funding to support retrofits to the 2018 IWUIC under the CLEAN Future Act;
- Appropriations requests for essential federal programs that advance resilience and sustainability including $100 million for DOE’s Building Energy Codes Program, $80 million for ENERGY STAR and $5M for WaterSense; and
- Additional priorities including promotion of investment in skilled trades/workers, resilient/sustainable construction standards for infrastructure, reauthorization and extending tax credits for efficient new homes and retrofits, and extended tax incentives for solar thermal and small wind.
Leading the way
As society charts a path forward to address climate change — both adaptation and mitigation — the International Code Council and its family of solutions are committed to providing the tools and services needed by governments and the building industry. Whether advancing building codes and standards that are responsive to changing risks or reducing the energy and greenhouse gas impacts of buildings or engaging with key partners to chart a common path forward, the need is clear and the Code Council will continue to advance its vision of “Creating safe, affordable, and sustainable buildings and communities.”