Materials transparency in practice: Earning LEED v4 points
Disclosing and optimizing the materials chosen for a project can earn you LEED v4 points; here's how
Product selection is a critical piece of an architect’s job. The more we learn about what is contained within the products we choose for our buildings, the more we understand how important product selection can be. With the increasing emphasis on materials transparency, we have access to many tools that can give us a fuller comprehension of material content and impacts on environment and health, allowing us to make better choices.
These tools also are key to earning points in LEED v4’s Materials and Resources category. Understanding the tools available, where they are found, and how to use them gives us the ability to not only meet the demand for LEED-certified projects but to significantly enhance our built environment.
In LEED v4, there are three Materials and Resources credits under the Building Product Disclosure and Optimization section. In each category, there is one point available for disclosure and another point available for optimization of product selection. The two credits listed below are specifically about finding products with disclosure documentation:
- Environmental Product Declarations
- Material Ingredients
Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)
The EPD credit covers environmental impacts, which look at effects in three categories: atmosphere, water, and earth. These are disclosed via life-cycle analysis. Manufacturers must report the environmental impacts of their products with a USGBC-approved disclosure document. EPDs can be found in many places online, including manufacturers’ websites. There are many EPDs available now, with more available every day. Find 20 products with a USGBC-compliant EPD and you earn 1 point for the disclosure portion of the credit. Find 40 qualifying products from five manufacturers and earn an additional “exemplary performance point” in the innovation category.
Looking for EPDs? Here are three good places to start:
- UL Spot
- Program Operator Consortium EPD / Transparency Report Catalog
- Origin Collaborative Material Data Hub
The Material Ingredients credit is focused on the negative effects that building materials can have on our health. For instance, according to environmental researcher Michael Braungart, close to 50 percent of the chemicals found in breast milk are linked to building materials. This is just one example of the pervasive ties between human health and the built environment. A better understanding of what goes into our buildings is a critical first step in minimizing or preventing potentially harmful exposures.
As with the EPD category, the point for disclosure is earned through identifying 20 different products from at least five manufacturers with USGBC-compliant disclosure documentation. And if you can find 40 qualifying products from five manufacturers, you can earn an additional point in the innovation category for exemplary performance.
There are a number of different LEED v4-acceptable disclosure documents covering health impacts. It important to remember that you only need one of these documents for each product to meet the requirements of the disclosure credit:
- Manufacturer’s inventory (often found on manufacturer websites)
- Health Product Declarations
- Cradle to Cradle-certified products at the Bronze level or above
- Declare product labels, disclosed down to 1000ppm
- ANSI/BIFMA e3 Furniture sustainability standard (for interiors products)
- Cradle to Cradle Material Health Certificate at Bronze level or above
- Product Lens certification
- Sustainability Assessment for Commercial Furnishings Fabric at any certification level
Earning the credits
There are several straightforward steps to take to earn these points for any given project:
- Find these documents during the design and documentation phases of the project
- Ask for disclosure documentation in both your submittal requests and the performance requirement portion of the applicable spec sections
- As these are construction submittal credits, provide the information in your document set so the contractor can track this information during the submittal process (using this chart), in the same way they track recycled and regional percentages
Finally, keep in mind that the USGBC Materials and Resources Technical Advisory Group is active on this topic, and these requirements are updated quarterly. Bookmark the LEED credit library to stay up-to-date on the latest LEED v4 requirements.
Anne Hicks Harney, FAIA, is the president and founder of Long Green Specs and a member of the AIA Materials Knowledge Working Group.