As the failing economy reigns supreme in the public arena, creating new energy standards has receded into the background. Five years ago, a wave of concern over climate change prompted an influx of federal regulations such as the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005. Today, the federal government has other issues on its mind.

“Energy policy has always been influenced significantly by politics and the economy. Now in this political climate, people are focusing on retaining the current regulations, like tax benefits, rather than on creating new opportunities,” said Bill Loveless editorial director at Platts, a leading energy global energy, petrochemicals and metals information provider and a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

It’s not all bad, however. In 2010, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers revised ASHRAE 90.1, a standard that provides minimum requirements for energy efficient designs for buildings except for low-rise buildings. States are taking their cues from the private sector and adopting industry standards into regulations. But, Lippiatt says, this means that it takes a lot longer for laws to come through, particularly in a climate when businesses view environmental innovations as more costly upfront. 

In response to state demand, a landmark code is on the horizon.  The International Green Construction Code, IgCC, will be published in March 2012. The IgCC will be the first model code to establish baseline regulations for new and existing buildings related to energy conservation, water efficiency, building owner responsibilities, site impacts, building waste, and materials and other considerations and it relies on states for enforcement.

“It represents a change in the standard of construction,” said Jessyca Henderson Director of Sustainability Advocacy at the American Institute of Architects. “It will effect everyone that touches buildings…it will be a big leap.”

IgCC represents a shift from building codes that emphasized health and structural provisions to green provisions. The adopting jurisdiction – either state or local governments – determines the final content of the code, and has the ability to calibrate the application of the code on a project-by-project basis. This way, Henderson says, each jurisdiction will no longer have to grow their own codes from scratch.

The major movers of the code include the American Institute of Architects and US Green Building Council the Green Building Initiative, and private companies such as ASHRAE. Henderson notes that the developing committee consisted of a cross-cut of professionals in the industry, including construction workers, material developers, and product manufacturers.

Henderson acknowledges that cost will be a major concern but she says that in the end, it will depend on the jurisdiction.

“Jurisdictions that have already dedicated funs to sustainable design like Seattle, Washington, cities in California…have already been dealing up front with these issues. It will be really tough for states who don’t have an eye on sustainability to adopt,” she said.

But, Henderson says, this is inevitable of any change. She points to the American Disability Act as another major code in the construction industry which, while was costly for many construction companies making the shift, is now absorbed into industry standards. Henderson says the same needs to happen for environmental initiatives.

While IgCC is a positive landmark for energy policy, it is seems to be a long figure. Compared to Europe, where the European Parliament (EP) has adopted a binding agreement calling for a 20 percent increase in energy efficiency by 2020, the United States is moving sluggishly.

Loveless believes that when the economy settles down and there is more willingness in Congress to build consensus, the federal government will hop back on the wagon. Which means that the real game changer is the next election.

Photo by uri.edu.