• Molly Jones

History of Guiding Principles


In the realm of sustainability, there are currently three executive orders being tracked:

  • Executive Order 14030, on climate-related financial risk

  • Executive Order 14008, on tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad

  • Executive Order 13990, on protecting public health and the environment and restoring science to tackle the climate crisis.

In addition, some of the enacted statutes that support sustainability in the federal sector are:

  • The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976

  • The National Energy Conservation Act of 1978

  • The Energy Policy Act of 92

  • The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002

  • The Energy Policy Act of 2005

  • The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007

These acts and executive orders have laid the groundwork for the evolution of the guiding principles, which were actually started in 2006. In that year, the EPA and 21 other agencies signed a memorandum of understanding which spawned the Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings

The Memorandum of Understanding

In professional circles, this memorandum has often been referred to as the MoU. And that first 2006 agreement spawned five guiding principles across five categories. These would be updated in 2016, and a sixth guiding principle would be added. The most recent version of the memorandum on guiding principles is from December 2020.

In the original 2006 version, there were 23 different agencies as signatories. At first, the Guiding Principles were one document, and their implementation instructions were a separate one. However, the 2020 version now contains both documents.

And these implementation instructions are useful not only for new construction and modernization, but are also applicable to existing buildings. Interestingly enough, they also address third-party certification systems that can be used. The document also contains criteria and checklists, and instructions for tracking and reporting compliance.

Six Categories of the Guiding Principles

As we’ve previously mentioned, there are six different guiding principles:

  • Employ integrated design principles

  • Optimize energy performance

  • Protect and conserve water

  • Enhance the indoor environmental quality

  • Reduce the environmental impact of materials

  • Assess and consider building resilience

The overarching purpose of these principles is to establish minimum sustainability requirements — they can be viewed as code minimums in the federal sustainability sector.

Every agency takes these guiding principles and enhances or increases them — by identifying preferable third-party rating systems, or adding additional requirements based on their specific needs.

There are two assessment pathways — the first one being to go through the associated instructions that have the guiding principles outlined within them. In this case, there’s a varying number of options per each principle. These are prescriptive criteria that you should meet to remain in compliance — or you can meet a specific chapter and verse of the International Green Construction Code.

Accomplishing a building that’s in compliance with the guiding principles requires achieving 30 of these criteria — split into core and non-core instructions. The core criteria contains 18 items that need to be met on any project subject to the guiding principles. When it comes to the non-core criteria, you can select which 12 ones your project can achieve among all the non-core ones to reach that 30 mark. Naturally, any building that can achieve more, should achieve more.

Are you ready to embark on the journey of constructing a sustainable building? We’re happy to help guide you along the way!

What changes can you make to your home? Are you ready to begin your energy-efficiency journey? We can help you along the way!

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