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What to Expect in the New LEED v4 Materials and Resources Credits
Part 2
By Paul Nutcher, CSI CDT, USGBC, AIA Allied

The new Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design version 4 (LEED v4) will incorporate some of the most significant changes in the LEED® Green Building Rating System® since it was first released by the U.S. Green Building Council in 1999. The latest LEED v4 was released in November with new categories, prerequisites and credits during GreenBuild 2013 in Philadelphia. The rating system requires unprecedented product ingredient scrutiny and transparency requirements, and a previously unrequired life-cycle perspective, especially, in regards to building products and their energy and environmental impacts. The new rating system continues to offer project teams standards, acceptable third-party certifiers and identifies science-based measurement tools for assessing and verifying the sustainable attributes of building products. Manufacturers that assess their products against the standards and requirements in the LEED credits can potentially use that assessment to go to market with a "green" marketing position and messaging. Those that don’t bother to make the effort, which may necessitate product innovations, may risk obsolescence.

LEED v4 will task project teams to select products and materials which have undergone third-party testing and other processes to document the life-cycle environmental impacts of their materials and products. To transform the current process of product selection to the new process in LEED v4, the USGBC has completely "gutted" the Materials and Resources category (which has always been the most product-oriented category in LEED). The MR Credits in LEED v4 have been renamed and the language within them contains new requirements. Generally, single product attributes such as recycled content and regional materials will remain important to LEED v4 project teams, however, for this new version they also will be tasked with selecting products from a life-cycle perspective, not just products with single sustainable attributes. This significant shift in the assessment of green products in LEED v4 changes how building products will be measured for their energy and environmental impacts and will be covered in this article.

In the last issue of DCD Magazine two of four new LEED v4 Material Resources (MR) Credits of relevance to products were covered. This issue will cover the remaining credits of special interest to building product manufacturers and their customers that will be tasked to source materials and products for LEED v4 projects. It should be noted that there is another new credit in the Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ) category of LEED v4 that would be of particular interest to manufacturers and AEC professionals but would be beyond the scope of this article. This credit tasks project teams with sourcing Low-Emitting Materials. But for now, the focus is on the Materials and Resources category.

For the sake of review, we covered two MR credits in the last issue, which were:

  • MR Credit 1: Building Life Cycle Impact Reduction
  • MR Credit 2: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization –
    Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)

The MR Credit 1: Building Life Cycle Impact Reduction would impact the project team on major renovations to an existing building. The MR Credit 2: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization - EPD is more product-specific and addresses Environmental Product Declarations; generally, the credit provides direction on the requirements and standards a manufacturer needs to follow to prepare an EPD.

The two remaining MR credits to cover are:

  • MR Credit 3: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Sourcing of Raw Materials
  • MR Credit 4: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Material Ingredients

As mentioned last issue, 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 them to apply a more scientific-based approach to verifying sustainable products. We have already covered the new MR prerequisites so those will not be repeated.

Overall Changes to Materials and Resources

In the revised Materials and Resources category, the new prerequisites and credits have in effect absorbed many of the single product attribute credits in past versions of LEED, such as recycled content, locally sourced materials, and bio-based products, among others. This means design professionals will have to relearn the requirements for credit compliance in order to gain points toward certification through product specifications. Several credits are new and others have been eliminated in an attempt to reward LEED project teams for specifying materials on a life-cycle, which means products that come with an EPD will contribute more points toward the project’s certification.

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.

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.

MR Credit 3: Building Product Disclosure
and Optimization – Sourcing of Raw Materials

This new credit in LEED v4 is again asking project teams to source products with life-cycle data that has been third-party verified or self-declared reports from the manufacturer. Unlike the previous LEED v4 MR credits, this credit seeks products with ingredients that have been mined, extracted or sourced in an environmentally and socially responsible way.

Option 1. Raw Material Source and Extraction Reporting (1 point)

The project team must install a minimum of 20 products from at least five different manufacturers that have public documentation identifying their raw material suppliers that include:

"raw material supplier extraction locations, a commitment to long-term ecologically responsible land use, a commitment to reducing environmental harms from extraction and/or manufacturing processes, and a commitment to meeting applicable standards or programs voluntarily that address responsible sourcing criteria." (Source: LEED v4 for Building Design and Construction)

While third-party verified corporate sustainability reports (CSR) which include environmental impacts of extraction operations and activities associated with the manufacturer’s product and the product’s supply chain, are valued as one whole product for credit achievement calculation. The USGBC will also accept the following CSR frameworks:

  • Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Report
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
  • UN Global Compact: Communication of Progress
  • ISO 26000: 2010 Guidance on Social Responsibility
  • USGBC approved program: Other USGBC approved programs meeting the CSR criteria.

Option 2. Leadership Extraction Practices (1 point)

Use products that meet at least one of the responsible extraction criteria below for at least 25%, by cost of the total value of permanently installed building products in the project.

Extended producer responsibility. Product purchased from a manufacturer (producer) that participates in an extended producer responsibility program or is directly responsible for extended producer responsibility. Products meeting extended producer responsibility criteria are valued at 50% of their cost for the purpose of credit achievement calculation.

Bio-based materials. Bio-based product must meet the Sustainable Agriculture Network’s Sustainable Agriculture Standard. Bio-based raw materials must be tested using ASTM Test Method D6866 and be legally harvested, as defined by the exporting and receiving country. Exclude hide products, such as leather and other animal skin material. Products meeting bio-based materials criteria are valued at 10% of their cost for the purposes of credit achievement.

Wood Products. Wood Products must be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or USGBC-approved equivalent. Products meeting wood product criteria are valued at 100% of their cost for the purposes of credit achievement calculation.

Materials reuse. Reuse includes salvaged, refurbished, or reused products. Products meeting materials reuse criteria are valued at 100% of their cost for the purposes of credit achievement calculation.

Recycled content. Recycled content is the sum of postconsumer recycled content plus one-half the pre-consumer recycled content, based on cost. Products meeting recycled content criteria are valued at 100% of their cost for the purposed of credit achievement calculation.

USGBC approved program. Other USGBC approved programs meeting leadership extraction criteria.

For credit achievement calculation, products sourced (extracted, manufactured, purchased) within 100 miles (160 km) of the project site are valued at 200% of their base contributing cost. For credit achievement calculation, the base contributing cost of individual products compliant with multiple responsible extraction criteria is not permitted to exceed 100% its total actual cost (before regional multipliers) and double counting of single product components compliant with multiple responsible extraction criteria is not permitted and in no case is a product permitted to contribute more than 200% of its total actual cost.

Structure and enclosure materials may not constitute more than 30% of the value of compliant building products.

MR Credit 4: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Material Ingredients, 1-2 points

This credit attempts "to reward project teams for selecting products for which the chemical ingredients in the product are inventoried using an accepted methodology and for selecting products verified to minimize the use and generation of harmful substances." Further reward is available to manufacturers who product third-party verified life-cycle impact documentation.

OPTION 1: Material Ingredient Reporting (1 point)

The project team must select at least 20 different permanently installed products from at least five different manufacturers that use any of the following programs to demonstrate the chemical inventory of the product to at least 0.1 percent (1,000 ppm).

Manufacturer Inventory. The manufacturer has published complete content inventory for the product following these guidelines:

  • A publicly available inventory of all ingredients identified by name and Chemical Abstract Service Registration Number (CASRN)
  • Materials defined as trade secrete or intellectual property may withhold the name and/or CASRN but must disclose role, amount and GreenScreen benchmark, as defined in GreenScreen v1.2.
  • Health Product Declaration. The end use product has a published, complete Health Product Declaration open Standard.
  • Cradle to Cradle. The end use product has been certified at the Cradle to Cradle v2 Basic level or Cradle to Cradle v3 Bronze level.
  • USGBC approved program. Other USGBC approved programs meeting the material ingredient reporting criteria.


OPTION 2: Material Ingredient Optimization (1 point)

Use products that document their material ingredient optimization using the paths below for at least 25 percent by cost, of the total value of permanently installed products in the project.

GreenScreen v1.2 Benchmark. Products that have fully inventoried chemical ingredients to 100 ppm that have no Benchmark 1 hazards:

  • If any ingredients are assessed with the GreenScreen List Translator, value these products at 100 percent of cost.
  • If all ingredients have undergone a full GreenScreen Assessment, value these products at 150 percent of cost.
  • Cradle to Cradle Certified. End use products are certified Cradle to Cradle. Products will be valued as follows:
    • Cradle to Cradle v2 Gold: 100 percent of cost
    • Cradle to Cradle v2 Platinum: 150 percent of cost
    • Cradle to Cradle v3 Silver: 100% of cost
    • Cradle to Cradle v3 Gold or Platinum: 150% of cost
    • International Alternative Compliance Path – REACH Optimization. End use products and materials that do not contain substances that meet REACH criteria for substances of very high concern. If the product contains no ingredients listed on the REACH Authorization or Candidate list, value at 100% of cost.
    • USGBC approved program. Products that comply with USGBC approved building product optimization criteria.


OPTION 3: Product Manufacturer Supply Chain Optimization (1 point)

Use building products for at least 25 percent by cost, of the total value of permanently installed products in the project that:

  • Are sourced from product manufacturers who engage in validated and robust safety, health hazard and risk programs which at a minimum document at least 99% (by weight) of the ingredients used to make the building product or building materials, and
  • Are sourced from product manufacturers with independent third party verification of their supply chain that at a minimum verifies:
  • Processes are in place to communicate and transparently prioritize chemical ingredients along the supply chain according to available hazard, exposure and use information to identify those that require more detailed
  • Processes are in place to identify, document, and communicate information on health, safety and environmental characteristics of chemical ingredients
  • Processes are in place to implement measures to manage the health, safety and environmental hazard and risk of chemical ingredients.


Generally, project teams will need to source 20 products sourced from 5 different manufacturers that all have EPDs and other environmental documentation in order to gain points in the new MR Credits. By contrast, the LEED v3 rating system required sourcing products based on a percentage of the total cost of all the materials in the LEED project. Furthermore, regional materials must be extracted, manufactured and installed all within 100 miles for the project team to gain any benefit. This required only a 500 mile radius for points toward achieving locally sourced materials credits in past versions of LEED. And, overall there are many more standards and requirements to follow including some that will potentially task project teams to have at least a working knowledge of chemistry and understand chemical interactions of chemical compounds. LEED v3 focused on single product attributes, materials costs and there was not a limit on the product-type quantity, but LEED v4 seeks life-cycle thinking, ingredient transparency, the number of products are weighted by criteria, material cost and there are some limits on material quantity.

While it might seem easy to ignore the new requirements in this latest update to LEED, the rating system is too important to ignore, because many of the changes in LEED v4 have already been or will be captured in new versions of other rating systems, such as the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), Green Globes, The Living Building Challenge, and Energy Star, as well as some building codes including the California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen). Since the LEED rating system is very similar to these other programs, which are both voluntary and mandated programs, knowing how to meet the requirements in LEED v4 will pay-off down the road.

While it is also very easy to focus on LEED categories such as the Energy and Atmosphere category and avoid going for the MR credits because these other categories contain a large amount of points toward certification of a green building, it will be difficult to gain higher levels of certification at the Gold and Platinum levels without points in the MR categories. Therefore, the project teams that focus on getting LEED v4 right in terms of sourcing green products and materials will thrive in the coming years as more as more emphasis is placed on reducing the energy and overall environmental impacts of buildings.

Part 1 of What to Expect in the New LEED v4 Materials and Resources Credits by Paul Nutcher appeared in the November/December Design Cost Data page 12.

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.

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