Building Codes: Barriers to Green Innovation

Lead Author: Jennifer Garman

Publish date: 10.18.2011


Many architects and contractors want to pursue green building design, technologies and construction.  Green building promotes environmental stewardship through attention to building-site relationships, site management, energy and water efficiency, responsible material selection, minimization of CO2 emissions, and indoor environmental quality.  However, despite growing interest in changing the way that buildings are designed and built, a persistent barrier to green design and construction is getting innovative designs approved by building code officials.


Building codes ensure the health, safety and welfare of building users and the public.  Unfortunately, many of today’s codes are prescriptive and based on traditional industry standards, thereby precluding innovative approaches to environmentally responsible design. An additional problem is that design standards are evolving at a faster pace than building codes.  Therefore it is critical to supplement existing building codes with provisions for innovation in order to create opportunities to introduce technological and other improvements more rapidly.  This report explores the barriers to green building design approval and makes recommendations for streamlining approval processes. Two case studies illustrate the potential benefits.  Additionally, this report looks into the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) as a model and structured process to support updating of building codes.