A swath of new standards for green building may soon make sustainable construction and energy efficiency retrofits in the United States more predictable. The standards coming to the market include three sets of building rules and an improved version of the longstanding Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines.

Designed to enhance clarity and provide more specific performance objectives, the new reference works include:

• The National Green Building Standard, approved in February by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). This residential green standard also covers multifamily properties.

• GBI 01-200XP, a commercial reference scheduled for release this summer by the Green Building Initiative.

• Standard 189, under development by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and the U.S. Green Building Council. This commercial green building standard is slated for completion in 2010.

• LEED 2009 will be rolled out this spring by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Driving all of the new guidelines is the desire to assist property owners and managers in meeting a groundswell of statutes and ordinances regulating energy consumption. At the same time, the standards will help local and state governments tap a common set of benchmarks to measure compliance with the construction and renovation goals that they adopt.

“What standards give is certainty to the industry,” says Jiri Skopek, managing director of energy and sustainability services for global real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle. “There is a certain hurdle which has to be met, and that’s a very good thing, to say everybody has to reach that goal.”

More than a dozen states and many more municipalities already require some degree of energy efficiency and sustainable design in new construction and major property renovations, and the list of green locales is growing. At the federal level, the White House is calling for a rule this year to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, which will add another level of compliance to the list of environmental laws affecting property owners.

Rather than spell out detailed requirements, most of the local governments that have adopted green building standards call for compliance with a specific level of LEED or with a comparable method of performance measurement. Yet LEED is designed to recognize the top 25% of market performers and wasn’t intended to be a minimal, universal standard, proponents say.

That’s where the National Green Building Standard and other reference works will come in, providing an alternative to LEED in measuring green performance for buildings on a market-wide basis.

Drafted by the National Association of Home Builders, the International Code Council and the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC), the National Green Building Standard is a residential document with provisions specifically aimed at apartment complexes, according to Paula Cino, director of energy and environmental policy at NMHC.

“Everybody recognizes that LEED has been a leader in this area,” Cino says. “Our issue is that it was never intended to be a mandatory standard.”

The National Green Building Standard is written to be compatible with building codes and is more specific than LEED, Cino says. “The standard is written in mandatory language that’s easily verifiable,” she says. “You don’t need that LEED Accredited Professional or consultant looking over your shoulder, telling you what you need to do.”

The document purposely omits product brand names, instead requiring that mechanical units or building materials meet certain performance criteria, such as insulation values or limited energy usage. “At the first level, the standard is designed to be achievable by 100% of the buildings out there,” Cino says.

“[The National Green Building Standard] was designed so that we were not requiring technologies that are untested or not commercially available,” she says. “We made sure all builders would have the opportunity to comply with the standard and there wouldn’t be issues with product availability, technical feasibility or things like that.”

Multifamily landlords can use the National Green Building Standard immediately, but owners of other commercial property types will have to wait a few months for the arrival of new standards applicable to their assets.

The Green Building Initiative has been working on sustainable building guidelines for commercial properties since 2005 under the auspices of the American National Standards Institute. GBI 01-200XP will interface with Green Globes, an online tool that measures a building’s sustainable features and operations. Skopek of Jones Lang LaSalle was the CEO of ECD Energy, which developed the technology underlying Green Globes. Jones Lang LaSalle acquired ECD Energy last year.

The remaining reference, Standard 189, is expected to reach completion next year.

For landlords and developers who want to push the envelope in green building performance, the U.S. Green Building Council plans to launch LEED 2009 by the end of April. Intended to be more user friendly than existing LEED requirements, LEED 2009 will consolidate building ratings into just three categories — Green
Building Design & Construction, Green Interior Design & Construction, and Green Building Operations & Maintenance — while converting to a simpler, 100-point scale.

Some proponents of sustainable design argue that tax breaks, assistance grants and other incentives are more effective than mandates for achieving meaningful reductions in energy consumption and deterring harmful effects on the environment. Standards tend to encourage minimal compliance, while rewards spur property owners to seek higher degrees of performance, according to Skopek.

It’s up to states and local governments to decide whether code elements will be implemented with the stick of penalties for non-compliance or the carrot of incentives for meeting performance goals. Both approaches have merit, Skopek says. “While I recognize that the stick is necessary – that’s the standards approach – if you want to achieve high performance or optimal performance, you still need the carrot.”