Big change requires big action. Proponents of the new energy revolution know that progress is often incremental, but sometimes the moment calls for greater ambition.

In a rare sign of cooperation and consensus, the makers of local and state building codes approved a series of changes to the commercial section of the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) that will take efficiency standards to unprecedented levels. The changes are being lauded as the largest single-step efficiency increase in the history of the national model energy code.

Attendees at a conference in North Carolina in late October voted almost unanimously in favor of the proposal, which was submitted jointly by the New Buildings Institute (NBI), the American Institute of Architects and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The 2012 IECC addresses such measures as cooling, lighting, quality assurance and renewable-energy standards. It contains many first-ever, important technical features, including a new section on commissioning, pathways to use daylighting, and options for the use of on-site renewable energy.

It is worth noting that the ultimate goal of one of the sponsors, the Washington State-based NBI, is net-zero energy buildings—those that meet all power needs through renewable resources. However, the organization has set its sights on the more achievable goal of a 50 percent improvement in efficiency from current code requirements.

The new codes may come up short of even that ambitious standard, but the progress will be no less impressive. According to computer modeling, the changes are expected to result in a 30 percent reduction from current levels in commercial energy use by new and renovated buildings constructed under the guidelines. The effect of this reduction will be significant. According to the DOE, buildings account for 40 percent of all energy use in the United States.

The 2012 IECC will be published in April 2011 for adoption by state and local agencies.