LEED v4 was recently approved by the USGBC membership. Interface is excited about this evolution in assessing what it takes to be a green building.
Shift in Approach – Materials & Resources Credits
Significant changes to the Materials & Resources section in LEED v4 demonstrate a more holistic look at building materials and a big shift toward encouraging transparency. While single attributes (e.g. recycled content) now contribute less, indoor air quality requirements (Green Label Plus) remain largely unchanged. Three new Materials & Resources credits target building product disclosure and optimization and share a two part structure: in each, Option 1 (1 credit) rewards transparency and Option 2 (1 credit) rewards optimization or actual performance.
Other important changes in the Materials and Resources credits include:
- Shift to life cycle focus, with new credits rewarding products with Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and reduced environmental impacts compared to industry average
- Increased reporting requirements for raw materials, including extraction locations and environmental commitments from suppliers
- Extended Producer Responsibility is rewarded.
- Enhanced material ingredient reporting to 1000 ppm (0.1%) and assessments for hazards
Rewarding Transparency and Performance
In order to get closer to the goal of buildings with lower total environmental impacts, the impacts associated with individual building materials must also be understood. The creation of the Disclosure and Optimization credits for building products are a logical next step towards transparency and choosing materials with lower environmental footprints and fewer potential human health impacts. With product transparency, more robust assessments can be made to select products with better environmental profiles and lower impacts.
Recycled, reused and biobased content have long been used as proxies for lower environmental impact. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a much better tool for evaluating the environmental impacts associated with the entire life cycle of a product, cradle-to-grave. Interface has been a huge proponent of life cycle assessment as it gives a much more complete picture of a product. “LCA doesn’t do everything, but it does the things it’s intended to do very well,” says Connie Hensler, Interface’s global director of LCA programs and a certified LCA professional. (For more information on the appropriate use of LCA, check out our blog on GreenBiz.)
Advancement of Disclosure Tools
Environmental Product Declarations provide disclosure of a product’s ingredients and life cycle environmental impacts. EPDs must follow ISO guidelines and Product Category Rules, which allows for comparisons between products. Inclusion of EPDs in LEED v4 is a huge step forward. For example, the water footprint or global warming potential of two products can be directly compared. A building’s design goals could incorporate reduced embodied energy of building materials, and the EPD will provide the data needed to assess competing products.
Human health impacts of building products have been attracting increased attention. Building off a flurry of individual requests for product ingredient information, the Health Product Declaration Collaborative developed a common reporting format for product ingredients and associated hazard warnings called the Health Product Declaration, which is included in the ingredient disclosure credit.
GreenScreen is a new tool for identifying chemicals of high concern and safer alternatives and has been introduced into LEED as a tool for material ingredient disclosure and optimization.
For a great discussion on the differences between the various disclosure tools, including LCA, EPDs, HPDs, PCRs, and Declare, I recommend “4 myths about green product declarations”.
Unfortunately, disclosing material ingredients and impacts doesn’t necessarily mean people will actually choose products with better profiles. For example, the nutrition facts label for food was launched in 1994 under a controversial federal requirement, and even with increased access to product information, obesity rates have increased, indicating that a portion of the population is not using the data to guide decision-making. Therefore, it is critical that the USGBC not only included credits for transparency and disclosure (Option 1), but also credits for optimization (Option 2).
Complexity and Documentation
Some architects and designers are worried about the increased complexity of documentation. I agree that it will take manufacturers some time to gather the new information required in the new credits and for design teams to learn the new requirements, but it’s not rocket science. And we should remember that we’ve all done it before.
When LEED was first introduced, few manufacturers had the documentation handy to meet the credits. Manufacturers had to learn how to calculate recycled content and measure VOC emissions. Some were leaders and some were laggards. But the market forces created by the LEED rating systems drove many manufacturers to collect the paperwork, reformulate, or create new products that would offer higher contributions to LEED. There was a business benefit to contributing toward a LEED certification.
I envision the same will happen with LEED v4. Some manufacturers, like Interface, already have Environmental Product Declarations and ingredient disclosure. It will take us some time to collect statements from our suppliers regarding their environmental commitments. It will take time for the creation of an industry average EPD in order to demonstrate environmental impact reduction in Option 2 of the EPD credit.
With USGBC’s decision to overlap v2009 with v4 until June 2015, manufacturers and design teams have ample time to adapt to the new credits.
Interface is already participating in a number of LEED v4 beta projects around the world, which is giving us a great opportunity to determine exactly how each of our product lines will meet the new credits and where there is work to be done.
Beyond LEED v4
LEED v4 makes some important new additions to the mainstream definition of green building, but it’s not the final destination. It’s clear from the robust dialogue heard during the six public comment periods that LEED needs to continue to evolve and expand. For example, we hope to see future versions of the standard address social impacts beyond direct human health hazards.
Both inside our buildings and in the communities involved in the supply chain of the building industry, we have only begun to measure the positive and negative impacts our industry has on people. From promoting biophilic design that improves human wellness indoors to projects like Interface’s Net-Works that create sustainable livelihoods in the developing world, Interface is exploring what it will take to make our social impacts positive in every way.
Just as LEED has evolved to recognize our transparency efforts, we expect that one day it will recognize our efforts to have a restorative social impact as well.