Streamlining Building Codes to Achieve Green Building Certification

Widespread green building codes will help fulfill the local and state goals, as well as our mission to achieve green buildings for all


In 1978, California became the first state to include an energy conservation requirement in its building code. Since 2010, the code has also included green building requirements for virtually all buildings in the state. The California Green Building Standards Code became mandatory statewide in January 2011. Today, the code (otherwise known as “CALGreen”) remains the nation’s only statewide code to tackle such a range of green building priorities directly within its building standards used by all communities.

The evolution of building codes has followed the evolution of green building innovations, and with that, the founding of organizations like the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which works to ensure that all buildings are sustainable and healthy for everyone. The outcomes USGBC envisions cannot be achieved without building codes taking on fundamental green building strategies on a wide scale.

USGBC is perhaps best known for its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system and certification. The LEED Certification is the most widely used green building certification in the world, and can be found in every state in the U.S., and 167 countries and territories. In California alone, 48,083 residential units are LEED certified, totaling more than 60,798,000 square feet of space. While new residential buildings constructed after 2011 in California will have incorporated fundamental green criteria as part of CALGreen requirements, imagine how much greater that could be if sustainable building codes were applied to residential spaces, as well as commercial, all over the country.

Although the growth of green buildings and LEED has achieved impressive success, it’s clear that the green building industry has helped create space for a strong green code foundation. LEED has critically evolved expectations in major markets and in unlikely places across the globe whereby, today, building owners, occupants and communities know that they deserve better buildings and that they shouldn’t have to cost more. Green building codes create local market demand for professional services, products and industry expertise that help LEED become a reality for many more projects. USGBC’s mission supports the role of building codes to promote public safety and resilience. Given all of the progressive work in California, a fuller integration and harmonization of building codes and LEED compliance will be an ongoing project.

Outside of crossing over building code policy with LEED, in recent years, USGBC has partnered with the International Code Council, ASHRAE, the American Institute of Architecture, and the Illuminating Engineering Society to help co-develop the International Green Construction Code (IgCC). By collaborating on developing the IgCC, these organizations envision a new era of building design and construction that includes environmental health and safety as code minimums.

In addition to supporting the IgCC, USGBC is actively working to better recognize green building codes and requirements at the local level. LEED is recognizing jurisdictions that have taken a lead in codifying the benefits of fundamental green construction practices. USGBC also wants to encourage more uptake in green codes by providing connections to LEED in ways that are meaningful and reduce friction between codes and rating systems, and reduces barriers to achieving certification.

Earlier this year, USGBC announced exciting news about LEED in California: New commercial projects built to California’s robust building codes are pre-approved for significant streamlining of fundamental LEED Building Design and Construction (BD+C) requirements. Qualifying projects will be able use code compliance documentation in order to satisfy all LEED v4 B+C prerequisites and earn 6 points toward their LEED certification. While the streamlining is only for nonresidential projects right now, USGBC is actively working on similar alignment for the LEED for Homes rating system and California’s residential green codes.

A more direct connection between codes and LEED represents an evolution by USGBC to better support and encourage green building code adoptions across the country. When green building codes and LEED work in harmony, we create strong foundations that enable more widespread use of fundamental practices that were once carried solely by LEED. As codes ratchet-up and get more widespread, green codes offer greater assurance that essential LEED measures will be followed on more and more projects, creating new onramps to LEED while simultaneously bringing core green building benefits within reach for many more projects. Furthermore, when green codes flourish, it creates a supportive local infrastructure that can unleash LEED and USGBC programs to reach for new heights.

We hope that widespread green building codes will help fulfill the local and state goals as well as our mission to achieve green buildings for all.

Wes Sullens is Director of Codes Technical Development for U.S. Green Building Council. He may be reached at

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