With extensive changes in the Materials and Resources category, the newest evolution of LEED focuses on performance. By Dee Spiro and Rachel J. Zsembery
This past June, LEED v4, the newest iteration of the LEED rating systems, was approved by U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) members in a landslide vote. After three years of development and an unprecedented six public comment periods generating more than 22,000 comments, LEED v4 will officially launch at the Greenbuild conference in Philadelphia, November 20 to 22. The new version will be phased in, with project teams able to register for either LEED 2009 or LEED v4 until June 1, 2015, after which only LEED v4 will be available.
WHAT’S BEHIND THE NEW VERSION?
The first-generation LEED rating system, launched in 1998, was considered a game changer in the building industry. It provided a standardized framework to focus design and implementation strategies for the reduction of energy usage and material waste in the design, construction, and operation of new buildings. Owners, architects, engineers, manufacturers, and builders alike waited for a few brave souls to dip their toes into the water to see whether this new rating system was possible to navigate and what it would mean for the building industry. LEED soon became the benchmark by which green building performance is recognized.
Over the years, however, the evolution of other formalized metrics pushed energy and materials conservation requirements beyond those of the USGBC’s rating system. The widespread adoption of the LEED rating system had driven the market
to change so completely that its requirements had in many cases become business as usual. LEED v4 was designed to drive a deeper market transformation and evolve the rating systems in a holistic and performance-oriented direction. While LEED v4 builds on previous versions of the rating systems, it implements across-the-board changes to credit categories, including the creation of new credit categories for Integrative Process and Location and Transportation.
BIG CHANGES IN MR CATEGORIES
The most extensive and controversial changes, however, are within the Materials and Resources (MR) category. Almost completely reworked, the category emphasizes transparency and the disclosure and optimization of product ingredients. Updates to the MR category have been contentious since the first comment period back in 2010. Criticism pointed to a lack of definition, increased complexity, and potential unintended consequences in the marketplace. Although the MR credits as they stand today are significantly modified from the first draft of LEED v4, they are still a bit confusing to many LEED professionals.
The most extensive and controversial changes to LEED are within the Materials and Resources (MR) category. Almost completely reworked, the category emphasizes transparency and the disclosure and optimization of product ingredients.
The most significant change to the MR category is that it has evolved from a series of credits focused on the single attributes of products to one that embraces life-cycle thinking at both the product and whole-building levels. To increase transparency in the marketplace, three new credits involve the disclosure and optimization of building products. The new credits encourage project teams to choose products with readily available life-cycle information and with environmentally, economically, and socially preferable life-cycle impacts.
SO WHAT IS DIFFERENT?
As a result of the restructuring of the MR category, product manufacturers will need to become familiar with new terminology related to building product disclosure. LEED now rewards the use of products with Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), a standardized way of providing information about a product’s ingredients and environmental impacts throughout the life of the product. To create an EPD for a product, the manufacturer must use universally accepted Product Category Rules
(PCRs) to produce a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). A Life Cycle Assessment is a method used to assess environmental impacts associated with all stages of a product’s life.
A number of manufacturers of carpets, ceiling and suspension systems, and countertops have proactively developed EPDs for their products. Much like when the first version of LEED arrived on the scene, product manufacturers will need to educate themselves on these new requirements or risk being surpassed by the early adopters. Designers and retailers will need to educate themselves as well, not only for their LEED projects, but also for an understanding of marketplace changes.
LEED also now rewards project teams that use products that:
• Are from manufacturers who have publicly released a report from their raw material suppliers, and/or
• Meet the responsible extraction criteria listed in the LEED guidelines for various types of products, including those that are bio-based, wood, reused, or contain recycled content.
Reporting must include information regarding human and ecological impacts, specifically extraction and land-use practices and other sourcing-related impacts. Additional recognition is provided for products that limit or eliminate the extraction of new resources or that use best extraction practices.
In a new Material Ingredient Reporting credit, project teams are given credit for selecting products that:
• Have a chemical ingredients inventory produced using an accepted methodology and/or
• Are verified to minimize the use and generation of harmful substances.
Health Product Declarations (HPDs) and Cradle to Cradle certification figure prominently in this credit. A relatively new industry initiative, an HPD is standard format for providing information about product content and potential health impacts. It is intended to provide a human
health context for information disclosed in an EPD. A pilot program of the Health Product Declaration Collaborative in mid- 2012 involved 30 leading manufacturers, including suppliers of flooring, furniture, and decorative surfaces.
The essence of Cradle to Cradle is the importance of a closed loop, focusing on products that use healthy and sustainable materials that can be disassembled and recycled at the end of their life cycle. Products are evaluated in five categories: Material Health, Material Reutilization, Renewable Energy and Carbon Management, Water Stewardship, and Social Fairness. A product can achieve one of five levels of certification: Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum.
WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN TO YOU?
Aside from learning a few new acronyms, manufacturers will need to gather new data while retail specifiers will start asking new questions when sourcing. If the information you need isn’t available, find out when it will be available. Spend some time educating yourself on the new requirements, conducting a little more research, and pushing further when answers aren’t readily available. You’ll become re-energized about being part of a movement that is once again leading our industry toward a healthier future, one green store at a time.