Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Science in Civil Engineering


Civil Engineering

Major Advisor

Bhaskar Chittoori, Ph.D.


Ana Maria Dimand, Ph.D.


Mojtaba Sadegh, Ph.D.


The buildings and construction sector is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to vast list of negative impacts humans have on the environment through material production, natural resource usage, and waste. While many organizations like the United Nations (UN), OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), and Architecture 2030 have been advocating for a shift to sustainability within the sector for decades, there is still a major disconnect between countries that have and haven’t implemented sustainability into all practices. This research focuses on analyzing the content of national building codes for their level of sustainability and what aspects within those codes relate to sustainability. The top five, most sustainable countries ranked by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN) are analyzed in addition to the United States (ranked at 32).

The purpose of this study is to identify policy recommendations for improving the U.S. building codes to lead a more sustainable buildings and construction sector. A sustainability policy analysis framework was adapted specifically for the buildings and construction sector. The framework was developed based on the practices of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and extant literature. The framework contains four indices that include the three pillars of sustainability (environment, economic, and social), as well as feasibility due to its importance to policy success. Four volunteers of different backgrounds assisted in the analysis in addition to the author to reduce result biases. The results showed that of the six countries compared, Belgium was given the highest building construction sustainability score (2.5/3) and the United States was given the lowest score (1.65/3). The scores were directly related to the number of sustainable indicators mentioned within the building codes as well as the level of detail provided in the codes. The policy recommendations for the U.S. include implementing all economic indicators into the code as there was no direct mention of the economic aspect at all. Another recommendation is to include the missing social indicators as well as provide further details on the ones currently existing. Finally, the U.S. was given the highest sustainability score for the environment index, so the only recommendation for this area is to make the requirements in this section more stringent. With these additions and adjustments, the U.S. building code will be more balanced in terms of sustainability and therefore should result in the assurance of implementation and feasibility.

Prior to researching the international context to identify policy recommendations to enhance the sustainability of the U.S. building and construction codes, preliminary research was conducted on local building codes to obtain insight on a smaller scale and provide our community (Ada County, Idaho) policy recommendations to improve their building and construction codes to be more sustainable. Ada County was analyzed in conjunction with Alameda County in California, one of the top sustainable counties in the U.S, ranked by the UNSDSN. Results show Ada County and Alameda County’s building codes both root from the 2018 International Building Code (IBC) but differ in major ways when it comes to sustainability. Ada’s building code contains less topics related to the three pillars of sustainability in comparison to Alameda’s. Finally, it was found that Alameda County has a Green Building Standards Code that targets the implementation of sustainability into their practices and covers all three pillars. Ada County has a Green Building Resolution that was established in 2003 which encourages new construction projects to become LEED certified; however, their resolution is not a code, and does not target the three pillars of sustainability. Ada County was given an overall sustainability score of 1.67 out of 3 while Alameda County was given a score of 2.67 out of 3.

This was due to the number of topics covered within their building codes that were related to the three pillars of sustainability. The policy recommendation for Ada County is to expand their Green Building Resolution to a dedicated code similar to the Green Building Standards Code to increase the number of sustainability-related topics and improve the sector’s sustainability. It should be noted that this recommendation is not to simply take the code Alameda uses and apply that in Idaho, but to adapt a similar code that targets the three pillars of sustainability and fits the needs of Ada County.

Research limitations include a lack of reputable, comparable data to support analysis results as well as time constraints to expand research to more countries, or to include related programs and initiatives. The amount of policy analyzers could also be increased to obtain more perspectives and attempt to find a correlation between career backgrounds and analysis results.