Can Green Building Regulations Keep Up?

The Energy Star program, responsible for certifying energy efficient products, is about to undergo some major changes. Recently, the program, run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), has come under fire from a number of groups:

"Various stakeholder groups, such as manufacturers, utilities and even Consumer Reports , the monthly magazine published by the Consumers Union, have complained in recent years that Energy Star . . . is too inclusive. An internal audit of the program by the Department of Energy found that there is inadequate tracking of whether the appliances have actually met the required specifications for energy efficiency."

The New York Times article lists three primary complaints with the Energy Star program:

1. Too many products are achieving the Energy Star rating, casting doubt on whether evaluations have been properly performed.
2. The program has been slow to keep up with technical advancements.
3. The program has been hamstrung by jurisdictional disputes between EPA and DOE.

The complaint that the Energy Star Program has failed to keep up with technical advancements was of particular interest to me, as it may foreshadow problems with green building regulations that incorporate rating systems. Like green products and appliances, the green building industry and building rating systems are constantly evolving through technical advancements. For example, with the launch of LEED 2009 (which replaces LEED 2.2), the United States Green Building Council's LEED rating system will now be revised every two years.

Here's my concern: as I have written about numerous times, many green building regulations require LEED or other green building certification. Many jurisdictions have created green building regulations that incorporate the previous version of the USGBC's LEED rating system, LEED 2.2.

How will these jurisdictions keep up with advancements in green building rating system?

Related Links:

Congress and Agencies Debate an Overhaul to the Federal Energy Star Program (New York Times)

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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Rich - November 9, 2009 6:42 PM


My wife and I went to the Solar Decathlon ( a few weeks ago in DC and I was amazed at some of the technology that the teams implemented in their houses. For example, the German team had photovoltaic cells that could collect indirect light energy and covered every side of their home (including the north side).

The USGBC, Earth Craft, and others will have to continually update their rating systems to be cutting edge and fit what’s available on the market. My concern is that fewer buildings will use the rating systems because they are so confusing and always changing. It is good to hire a consultant to prepare the paperwork, but it shouldn’t be required. However, the constant changing of the rating systems is going to make a consultant a de facto requirement.

Timothy R. Hughes - November 10, 2009 11:09 AM

Really interesting post. On one very real level, this is not a new issue. Codes have always trailed building practices. The difference is that the codes here are placing foundations potentially on quicksand because the underlying standard (LEED or Energy Star here) is changing substantively, substantially, and rapidly.

This points out the problems of tying an aspirational voluntary standard to code enforcement ... they can always update what they are tying to, but they will likely face repetitions of these issues every few years or even months!

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