February 1998

Volume 7, Number 2

Bringing Building Codes into Compliance with Sustainability

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A late January meeting in Hesparia, California brought together a large and diverse group of building professionals working to remove regulatory barriers to more sustainable buildings. The “Planning Summit for Sustainable Building Codes” is an important milestone in an ongoing effort spearheaded by contractor and activist David Eisenberg, codirector of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology. Eisenberg has long argued that building codes are myopic and out of touch with the broader context in which they exist: “Building codes are meant to protect people from the built environment,” he notes. In effect, however, they jeopardize the health and safety of people everywhere by mandating practices that damage the natural systems upon which we all depend for our survival. Eisenberg’s goal is to redesign the codes with this larger perspective in mind.

After struggling with codes and building officials in his efforts to build straw-bale houses, Eisenberg has taken his message to audiences across North America for several years with the goal of organizing a working meeting on the topic of sustainability and the building codes. The City of Hesparia, having embraced the alternative “superadobe” construction methods of Nader Khalili and his Cal-Earth Institute, provided a supportive setting for the gathering. Eisenberg has a strong ally in a past chairman of the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), Bob Fowler, FAIA, who is currently the building official for Pasadena, California. “I believe that a sustainable context for building codes is an idea whose time has arrived,” Fowler says.

The three-day summit was only long enough to scratch the surface of this huge undertaking. At intensive work sessions, summit participants examined the current impacts of buildings and the history and present status of building codes. They then focused on developing principles for sustainable building, defining strategies, and forming working groups that will continue the process.

Ongoing efforts will focus both on working within the existing systems, and on creating new models for building regulation that could provide more sustainable options for building. Specifically, the tasks include:

•developing code provisions for a number of alternative and low-impact building materials;

•developing strategies to fund and carry out testing for low-impact materials and building systems;

•education and outreach;

•participation in the ongoing development of the new national building code; and

•drafting a model sustainable building code which could serve internationally as a guide for building sustainable structures and communities.

For more information:

Joelee Joyce

Development Center for Appropriate Technology

P.O. Box 27513

Tucson, AZ 85726-7513


520/798-3701 (fax)

dcat@azstarnet.com (e-mail)


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February 1, 1998