What You Need to know about Building Materials Under LEED v4.1


What You Need to know about Building Materials Under LEED v4.1

The newest update to the LEED standards (version 4.1) offers insight into the future direction of the building materials industry. Whether you are actively working on a LEED project or not, these updates to the LEED standard are indicative of a shift in the overall industry of which anyone in the built environment should be aware.


Why you need to understand LEED if you are ….


As a manufacturer, it has become pertinent to understand the types of material documentation and certifications in order to have your products considered for green building projects.  Understanding the credits is critical - and making the claim that one product can “get you” one or more LEED points has always been untrue and is even more so in the latest version of LEED. Understanding the credit criteria that your products meet and what new credit options are attainable will help you frame your products in the context of LEED v4.1 in a way that is easy for architects and designers to understand.

Designers and Architects

As a designer or architect, you may not necessarily need to get into the nitty gritty of every criteria required to generate points towards every credit, but for the Materials and Resources section, it is important that you understand what is being rewarded and valued more heavily by LEED v4.1, so you can specify materials for your projects accordingly.


The relevant changes to Materials and Resources (M&R) in LEED Version 4.1 are…

Overall - Addition of Optimization Paths

The goal of LEED M&R is to specify products that reduce the environmental impacts of the building as a whole and also reduce their impacts during creation, transportation, and installation. The biggest change in v4.1 is the addition of points available for optimization plans. This means that products that not only meet existing environmental and health certification standards, but are committed to further reducing their impacts, can earn even more points. This is how manufacturers are rewarded for committing to reducing their emissions and bettering their product ingredients. 

The following credit changes refer to the overall building, not specific products but, of course, the materials chosen will contribute to the buildings overall performance.

Building Life Cycle Impact Reduction (1-6 possible points) - This credit is focused on ensuring that the building has taken into account its impact on its surrounding environment by optimizing its footprint considering its placement and functions. The biggest change to the credit is that it has been consolidated from 4 options down to 2: building and material reuse (Option 1) and whole-building life-cycle assessment (LCA) (Option 2). Obviously reusing a building rather than building new is a good environmental choice, and there are up to 5 points available for reusing structural and non-structural elements. 

Option 2 is conducting a whole-building LCA for up to 4 points and can be combined with Option 1 for a total of up to 6 points towards the credit. A whole-building LCA calculates the proposed new building's impact relative to a baseline and points are awarded for mitigating your new building's impact. One point is awarded for conducting the LCA and 2-4 four points are available for showing that the building has less of an impact on the environment based on the 6 impact categories relative to baseline. Specific materials are not mentioned in this credit but the materials chosen will certainly affect the outcome of the LCA.

The impact categories are global warming potential, depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, acidification of land and water sources, eutrophication, formation of tropospheric ozone, and depletion of nonrenewable energy resources. This is the same as  v4 but in v4.1 LEED puts extra emphasis on the actions companies are taking to reduce the global warming potential of their products and buildings.

Construction and Demolition Waste Management (1-2 possible points) -  This credit aims to decrease the amount of waste taken to landfills and incinerators during both the construction and demolition of a building. V4.1 simplifies this credit into one point for waste diversion and 1-2 points for waste disposal. The overall goal is the same but the metrics are a little different. All products must have a waste management plan and one point is awarded for diverting 50% or more of all construction and demolition materials from landfills and incineration facilities. Generating less than 15 pounds of waste per square foot will earn a project 1 point and generating less than 1o pounds per square foot will earn 2 points. 

The criteria required under these credits refer to specific products:

Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) (1-2 possible points) - This credit encourages you to use more products that have disclosed their ingredients and impacts on the environment.  Products can be valued as ½, 1, 1-½ and up to 2 products, with an end goal of having a total of 20 permanently installed products that have EPDs.

Option 1 (1 point) includes criteria for using materials that have EPDs, which is a disclosure document that outlines a product’s impact on the environment.  If the material takes the next step and has the EPD verified by a third party, it is valued as 1.5 products towards the total goal of 20. 

Option 2 (1 additional point) requires that at least 5 products have an Embodied Carbon/LCA action plan. This is a report showing plans to reduce embodied carbon and /or other impact categories based on EPD/LCA results prepared by the manufacturer and potentially verified by a third party. A product is only worth .5 products for having a plan. Planning to achieve higher levels or reduction results in values of 1, 1.5, or 2 products. 

Valuation is where the math comes in. The EPD credit and the Material Ingredients credit require that a certain number of permanently installed products meet the criteria. Meeting more stringent criteria will give a product a value of 1.5 or 2 products, so you can get the point with fewer than the specified number of products needed.

Sourcing of Raw Materials (1-2 possible points) - The goal of this credit is to encourage the use of products that sourceand extract materials responsibly and show environmentally, socially, and economically preferable life cycle impacts. This credit was condensed from 2 options to 1 in v4.1. Version 4 offered 1 point for using 20 products with a public raw material source and extraction report and 1 point for 20 products meeting one of the responsible practice criteria. 

Version 4.1 is not calculated using products, but offers 1 point for 15% by cost, of the total value of permanently installed products in the project meeting the responsible sourcing criteria and 1 additional point for reaching 30% by cost. The responsible sourcing and extraction criteria remain very similar to Option 2 of the previous version but they have different values assigned, based on cost. Reused materials are now valued at 200% of their cost rather than 100%. Products sourced within 100 miles of the project site are still given double their initial value up to 200%.

Material Ingredients (1-2 possible points) - The Material Ingredients credit awards points for using products/materials for which the chemical ingredients are inventoried and proven to minimize exposure to harmful substances. This credit takes us back to calculating points awarded based on the number of products selected that meet the criteria. Option 1 remains similar in v4 and v4.1, offering one point for using 20 products that meet the listed material ingredient report criteria. The difference in v4.1 is that products with third party verification of these reports are valued as 1.5 products. This adds credibility to the claims made by manufacturers.

Option 2 (1 point) combines and simplifies the second point available under this credit. It sticks with the product version of valuation instead of switching to cost like LEED v4. The second point is awarded for using products that have a compliant material ingredient optimization report or action plan. Products with an action plan signed by a company executive are worth .5 products while those with specific, third-party verified reports are worth 1 or 1.5 products. This is again adding credibility to the documentation.

Anyone who has worked on a project seeking LEED certification, is surely aware of the associated challenges–paperwork, costs, team buy-in, and time being the usual culprits. The addition of new standards can seem overwhelming on top of these unsolved challenges. To keep it simple, remember that you need to know what products to specify and how to find them. Products with available EPDs, HPDs, Declare Labels and other certifications are the starting point. From there, you want to know whether the documentation has been verified by a third party or not and how it performs in relation to the Impact Categories. You can achieve points by specifying more products with lower standards or less products with higher standards.

LEEDing the Industry

As important as it is for advancing transparency in green building, unfortunately, all of this documentation and verification is very expensive for manufacturers. Keep in mind that there are materials with great stories, reducing their negative environmental and human health impacts that may not have the traction yet to pay for such credibility. Take the opportunity to use such products when you are designing a sustainable space that doesn’t have strict requirements like LEED. There is work to be done to make green building more commonplace as well.

LEED v4.1 is both a response to action and a call to action at the same time. Manufacturers have begun to do awesome things like commit to using cleaner energy or sourcing more sustainable raw materials. LEED rewards these leaders and pushes those who aren't there yet to get going. If product manufacturers want to be specified in LEED buildings, they have to step it up. They not only have to meet the requirements but they have to position themselves to be found as a compliant product by the A&D professionals working on them. 

For a deeper dive into each credit under the Materials and Resources credit category according to v1.4, schedule an AIA accredited presentation for your firm here. 



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