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  What to Expect in the New LEED v4 Materials and Resources Credits
By Paul Nutcher, CSI CDT, USGBC, AIA Allied

The U.S. Green Building Council promised a new version of the LEED® Green Building Rating System would require more transparency and disclosure from building material and product manufacturers and that’s exactly what is coming.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system was approved by a consensus of the USGBC members this summer and during GreenBuild 2013 this November the release of LEED v4 is anticipated.

The USGBC continues to place more and more emphasis in the specifying of sustainable produced building products with green attributes because 3 billion tons of raw materials each year go into making them and they represent 40 percent of total global use of resources.

Green products are important to green buildings because as structures are designed to be more energy efficient they have become more air tight; and the off-gassing chemicals in materials used to design and construct interiors can create a poor indoor environmental quality in which occupants live, work and play.

However, architects and contractors often are more interested in the warranty versus specifying green product because of their green claims, and frankly, the Materials and Resources category in LEED does not offer all that many points compared to a single credit in the Energy and Atmosphere category - AE Credit 1: Optimized Energy Performance, which can award more than 20 LEED points for the most energy efficient buildings. Still, without building materials that can assist project teams in meeting the requirements of LEED, it would be more difficult if not impossible to produce certified green buildings. And, manufacturers of green products see the green building market as an opportunity for sales and rightfully so because this market segment is not only projected to grow for decades to come but it was the only market segment to continue to grow in the construction industry during the recession.

Seeing this, the USGBC wants to move project teams away from any guesswork in determining building products for meeting the requirements in the LEED Materials and Resources category and instead require then to take a more scientific-based method that verifies sustainable products.

In what is considered the seven sins of greenwashing, you have hidden tradeoffs, little or no proof, vagueness, irrelevance, lesser of two evils, fibbing and false labels. The new version of LEED v4 Materials and Resources category should eliminate greenwashing. Still, asking project teams to interpret complex chemistry of products for buildings will be challenging and the learning curve may be longer than in the past updates to the rating system.

This article will not attempt to cover every new change, but will focus on a two of the new credits including MR Credit 1: Building Life Cycle Impact Reduction and MR Credit 2: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Product Declarations.

The Changes to Materials
and Resources

The revised Materials and Resources category will gain new prerequisites and new credits, which have in effect absorbed many of the credits in past versions of LEED. The new prerequisites are MR Prerequisite 2, Construction Demolition Debris Management Planning, and, for healthcare projects, MR Prerequisite 3, PBT Source Reduction-Mercury, which requires project teams to eliminate medical devices containing heavy metals.

Indeed, Materials and Resources is the most overhauled category, especially from a building materials and product manufacturer’s perspective. Design professionals will have to relearn the requirements for credit compliance in order to gain points toward certification. Several credits are new and others have been eliminated in an attempt to reward LEED project teams for specifying materials on a lifecycle basis rather than just a single sustainable attribute. In fact, products that once contributed to single LEED credits—such as recycled content and regional content—their green attributes will contribute to options within the new materials and resources credits.

Of the Materials and Resources credits, these are the most relevant to product manufacturers. Those credits include:

  • MR Credit 1: Building Life Cycle Impact Reduction
  • MR Credit 2: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Product Declarations
  • MR Credit 3: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Sourcing of Raw Materials
  • MR Credit 4: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Material Ingredients

All four of these credits are seeking what the USGBC has stated in its three years of development of LEED v4; the new rating system requires greater transparency from materials and product manufacturers selected for LEED projects and requires a life-cycle approach by the project team to develop a more sustainable building. This includes using a more holistic approach with consideration of a building’s components and materials, paying special attention to their energy and water usage, and overall environmental impacts.

The new MR Credits address this holistic, life-cycle thinking by tasking project teams to reduce the following environmental impacts:

  • global warming potential (greenhouse gases), in CO2e;
  • depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, in kg CFC-11;
  • acidification of land and water sources, in moles H+ or kg SO2;
  • eutrophication, in kg nitrogen or kg phosphate;
  • formation of tropospheric ozone, in kg NOx or kg ethane; and
  • depletion of nonrenewable energy resources, in MJ.

Two New Materials
and Resources Credits

MR Credit 1: Building Life Cycle Impact Reduction (1-6 Points)

This credit for Building Life Cycle Impact Reduction is available to project teams working on LEED NC projects. In previous versions of LEED, this credit was achieved through adaptive reuse of an existing building and the reuse of a significant portion of existing building materials and assemblies. There are several OPTIONS for meeting the requirements of the new MR Credit 1.

Embodied in these OPTIONS are rewards for incorporating single product attributes, such as recycled content, regional materials and other common green product attributes into the project; however, unlike LEED v3, single product attributes are not rewarded with points. Again, this is the way LEED v4 rewards holistic approaches to sourcing and installing sustainable products.

To satisfy the requirements for obtaining points toward LEED v4 certification, there are four OPTIONS within LEED v4 MR Credit 1 to examine.

OPTION 1, Historic Building Reuse (5 points BD&C, 6 points Core and Shell)

LEED v4 MR Credit 1 has several options for meeting the requirements, including the reuse or renovation to historic buildings in OPTION 1. The requirements are to maintain the existing structure, envelope and interior nonstructural elements of a historic building listed in a register of historic places.

OPTION 2, Renovation of Abandoned or Blighted Building (5 points BD&C, 6 points Core and Shell)

While OPTION 1 requires preservation of the entire building, OPTION 2 addresses abandoned buildings without the historic designation and requires preservation of at least 50 percent by surface area of the existing building structure, enclosure and interior structural elements. This OPTION also requires that the building to be renovated must meet local criteria of abandoned or blighted.

OPTION 3, Building and Material Reuse (1-4 points BD&C, 1-5 points Core and Shell)

OPTION 3 requires a financial transaction for used or salvaged building materials and products that come from off site.


OPTION 4, Whole Building LCA

In OPTION 4, the credit seeks to reward project teams willing to conduct a Whole Building LCA to determine its reduced impact on the environment. The project team must demonstrate a 10 percent reduction in at least three of six potential environmental impacts through an LCA of the building’s structural and enclosure assemblies. None of the environmental impacts are permitted to increase by more than 5 percent compared with the reference building.

While full information on the requirements for earning point(s) in OPTION 4 are still pending, it is expected this credit will rely on the Athena Eco-Calculator for calculating and comparing the various material assemblies from a life cycle assessment
(LCA) perspective.

To meet the requirements of this credit, the design team produces an impact score sheet for the assemblies assessed and those results are plugged into the LEED LCA Credit Calculator to generate the potential LCA score and meet the credit requirements.

To comply with this OPTION, the project team must assess three of the following impact measures for reduction:
global warming potential (greenhouse gases), in CO2e;
depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, in kg CFC-11;
acidification of land and water sources, in moles H+ or kg SO2;
eutrophication, in kg nitrogen or kg phosphate;
formation of tropospheric ozone, in kg NOx or kg ethane; and
depletion of nonrenewable energy resources, in MJ.

The Global Warming Potential (GWP) has to be one of the impacts measured. The most well-known cost-effective LCA calculator for building assemblies for AEC professionals is the Athena Institute’s Impact Calculator. How the Athena Calculator (http://www.athenasmi.org/our-software-data/impact-estimator/ ) will be brought into LEED 2012 is still unclear until the LEED Reference Guide for the new version of the rating system is published.

MR Credit 2: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Product Declarations

The USGBC wants to reward project teams that have sourced products and materials that have undergone an LCA and have been determined to have environmentally, economically and socially preferable life-cycle impacts and this is yet another credit in which LEED requires such sourcing.

OPTION 1, Environmental Product Declarations (1 point)

The project team must use at least 20 different permanently installed products sourced from at least five different manufacturers that meet specific disclosure criteria as determined by the USGBC to earn this credit.

Very few manufacturers of the building products have produced Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) at this time; however, many of the ingredients assessed for their energy conservation characteristics and environmental impacts would likely show a reduced impact in the areas reported in the EPD.

Similar to MR Credit 1: Building Life Cycle Impact Reduction, this next credit requires project teams to source products that have undergone a life-cycle assessment. Unlike whole building LCAs, product manufacturers are to follow the guidelines for product-specific EPDs in ISO 14044 from a minimum cradle-to-gate scope as ¼ of a product for the purposes of credit achievement calculation. The EPD must also have been third-party verified by approved programs.

A second type of EPD, which conforms to ISO 14025, 14040, 14044, and EN 15804 or ISO 21930 and have at least a cradle-to-gate scope, must be submitted by project teams. They can be produced by an industry group (or generic EPD) for products with third-party certification (Type III), including external verification, in which the manufacturer is explicitly recognized as a participant by the program operation are valued as 1/2 of a product for purposes of credit achievement calculation.

The USGBC is also set to publish approved programs for compliance with this credit for products that comply with other USGBC approved environmental product declaration frameworks.

OPTION 2, Multi-Attribute Optimization (1 point)

Products must be sourced with one of the criteria below for 50%, by cost of the total value of all the permanently installed products in the project. The value of the product is based on the following:

Third-party certified products that reduce impacts in three of the impact measures below compared to the industry average are valued at 100 percent of their cost for credit achievement calculations.
- global warming potential (greenhouse gases), in CO2e;
- depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, in kg CFC-11;
- acidification of land and water sources, in moles H+ or kg SO2;
- eutrophication, in kg nitrogen or kg phosphate;
- formation of tropospheric ozone, in kg NOx or kg ethane; and
- depletion of nonrenewable energy resources, in MJ.

Again, the USGBC is also set to publish approved programs for compliance with this credit, for products that comply with other USGBC approved environmental product declaration frameworks.

Just as project teams were rewarded for sourcing products via a Regional Materials credit in LEED v3-2009, this OPTION within the new version encourages local sourcing. However, the radius from the construction site for extraction, manufacturing and purchasing of the product has been reduced to within a 100 mile radius of the construction site. And lastly, the structure and enclosure assemblies cannot constitute more than 30 percent of the value of the compliant building products.

Raw Material Sourcing and Product Ingredients

There are two more product focused Materials and Resources LEED Credits and they depart from the Life Cycle theme of the above credits as they change the metrics for assessing the energy and environmental impacts. Essentially, the MR Credits 1 and Credit 2 task the project team to determine the global warming potential (GWP) of a building and a product as well as other impacts such as a their potential impact on air and water pollution and ozone depletion, among others.

The overall similarities are the transparency and reporting values product manufacturers will be asked for by project teams. These two other Credits are MR Credit 3: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Sourcing of Raw Materials; and MR Credit 4: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Material Ingredients.

Because these changes to LEED v4 represent a lot to understand in one read, next month we will explain these two Credits further and dig deeper into the meanings and implications of the language contained in each Credit’s requirements.

About the author: Paul Nutcher, CSI CDT, is the president of Green Apple Group, LLC, a marketing and sustainability consulting firm for building product manufacturers. He is a speaker, technical writer, and consultant to manufacturers on architectural specifications, education programs, sustainable design and construction, and marketing. He has a decade of building industry experience including leadership roles with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). He has residential and commercial LEED project experience and holds the Construction Document Technologist (CDT) credential from CSI. He can be contacted at 407-579-8683, or pnutcher@greenappleconsult.com.

CLICK HERE FOR PART 2


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