They are at times confused and often misapplied, but Michael Schmeida says that green building systems, codes and standards each have a role to play in making America more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly.

Schmeida, the vice chair for the ASTM International E60 Sustainability program and Oatey’s corporate manager for stewardship with compliance and regulatory oversight, used Tuesday’s hour-long webinar to explain green codes’ different roles in working toward the day when the nation’s buildings have little to no effect on the environment.

“The systems are the guides, codes to be law and standards are the basics with no enforcement,” Schmeida said. “Over time, what is in [the systems and codes] today will trickle down to the standards of tomorrow. All the systems are driving the codes, eventually leading to zero impact on the environment.”

Reaching that goal will become all the more critical in the future, Schmeida said, given a global population that is expected to increase by 2 to 3 billion by 2050. The greater numbers will lead to an increased demand for both energy and food, meaning that sustainable development – meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future to meet its needs – is critical.

Nowhere will that battleground be more critical than in the United States, which currently accounts for 70 percent of the world’s electric consumption, nearly 40 percent of the world’s total energy and material use and 30 percent of the world’s commercial wastes, according to Schmeida.

Schmeida cited the newest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system as a welcome step toward the desired end. Passed in June, LEED v4 is the most comprehensive to date and goes into effect during November’s Greenbuild Expo in Philadelphia.

LEED v4 is among a number of systems that require third-party reviews and define achievement through a complex ratings system. Others include Green Globes and Energy Star.

Codes, which are set laws with little flexibility, often are driven by the systems and can be very effective when implemented properly. One example, according to Schmeida, is ASHRAE 189.1, which exempts low-rise residential buildings. He said the code is designed to provide a “total building sustainability package” for those who strive to design, build and operate green buildings. The statute addresses site sustainability, energy efficiency indoor environmental quality, the building’s impact on the atmosphere, materials and resources.

Other green codes include the California Green Building Standards Code (CGBSC) and the International Green Construction Code (IGCC). Better known as CalGreen, CGBSC was the nation’s first mandatory green building code. It provided strict guidelines for energy efficiency, water efficiency and conservation, material conservation and resource efficiency, environmental quality and more. Its provisions applied to an array of new buildings, including commercial, low-rise residential and public schools.

The IGCC became the first code to include sustainability measures for the entire construction project and its site – from design through construction, certification of occupancy and beyond, according to the webinar. The new code is expected to make buildings more efficient, reduce waste and have a positive impact on health, safety and community welfare.

“It seeks to drive green practice into everyday construction,” Schmeida said. “It requires decisions be made by the jurisdiction and owner.”

Schmeida said there are more than 220 different standards, all of which serve just a rudimentary baseline with no possibility of enforcement or inspection to give them any real teeth. He was adamant, however, that current green building systems and codes would not exist without ASTM standards, most of which have been adopted in many federal state and municipal government regulations by either incorporation or by reference.

Schmeida said educating the public about the need for sustainability and high costs still pose challenges, but he sounded optimistic.

“Eventually, we want to minimize and reverse the effects of buildings on the environment,” he said.