Green Building Law Update Service

Center for Climate Change Law

In June 2010, EPA Region 4 released the Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for Local Governments.  The 83 page toolkit was  developed in response to local governments’ requests for assistance to help them identify and remove permitting barriers to sustainable design and green building practices.  It provides a resource for municipalities that are interested in conducting their own internal evaluation of how local codes and ordinances either facilitate or impede sustainable design.

For example, one barrier identified by EPA is when developers interested in green technologies or techniques have to obtain variances from codes or ordinances to implement sustainable design practices, which can be costly and time consuming.  Another barrier identified by EPA is when a code or ordinance requires a conventional system alongside the green infrastructure practice.  For example, builders installing permeable pavers, which allow the ground to absorb the stormwater instead of letting it run offsite, may still be required to install curbs and pipes because the community’s codes or ordinances do not provide allowances for new technologies, techniques, or systems.

The toolkit includes an assessment tool, a resource guide, an an action plan for making changes to the municipal permitting process.  The assessment tool has green, yellow and red process indicators:  green indicates that the municipality is doing well in encouraging sustainable design, yellow indicates that there is room for improvement, and red indicates that a municipality should identify the cause of the barrier and remove it.

The assessment tool is designed for local governments to review their permitting process and identify barriers to sustainable design.  The methodology will help communities identify sustainable construction practices that are permissible but nevertheless face resistance within the current permitting process.  The tool is divided into five categories, which were chosen because they have the greatest potential to reduce a building’s environmental impact and remove the most commonly encountered code or ordinance barriers to sustainable design:  (1) sustainable sites and responsible land use development; (2) materials and resource conservation; (3) energy conservation and atmospheric quality;  (4) water efficiency, conservation, and management; and (5)  indoor environmental air quality.

The resource guide comes after each of the five categories and contains links to resources that will help communities learn more about each category in the Assessment Tool.  Additionally, the guide provides users with information that can aid in making codes or ordinances more compatible or supportive of sustainable design and green building.

The action plan helps municipalities implement necessary regulatory and permitting changes to allow for more sustainable design.  It has six steps:  (1) establishing priorities, (2) conducting an internal situation assessment, (3) conducting an external situation assessment, (4) designing the plan, (5) implementing the plan, and (6) conducting an evaluation.

The toolkit also contains links to existing organizations and documents that will assist municipalities in learning about each category.  It also provides municipalities with information to make codes and ordinances more compatible with sustainable design.

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