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Transforming Building Regulatory Systems to Address Climate Change

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David A. Eisenberg
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This commentary explores the challenge of climate change for building regulation based on long-term, personal observations of U.S. building regulatory systems intended to safeguard the public. According to the author, systemic problems and patterns have allowed significant large-scale hazards (e.g., those related to climate change) to be excluded from consideration in regulatory systems. Regulatory systems are typically not comprehensive, designed, integrated systems. Instead, they are silos of regulatory responsibility with gaps in authority. The system lacks formal processes to address emergent hazards. There is an absence of formal processes to assess and balance risks across hazard types, locations, timeframes and scales. The author compares the current regulatory goal of preventing or limiting known harm is compared with the positive outcome goals of the Living Building Challenge (LBC). The more comprehensive scope of the LBC and its goals surpass the existing code, but LBC projects often struggle to gain regulatory approval due to its use of innovative approaches. Potential avenues to create more comprehensive and effective regulatory systems are suggested. And, the author proposes that the purpose of the regulatory role is expanded from policing the arbitrary boundary between what is legal and illegal to one that includes enabling the most regenerative and positive outcomes.