LEED Changes Are Coming – Everything You Need to Know about Materials Credits to keep your project on track

Wondering what you need to know about materials credits in the new version of LEED? Here’s a quick and easy primer on what matters to specifiers:

By now most of us are familiar with LEED, the US Green Building Council’s green building rating system that helps quantify the answer to “how green is my building?”

LEED credits are earned by implementing green strategies that promote water and energy efficiency, sustainable site selection, high indoor environmental quality, and the use of responsible building materials.

Effective October 2016, a new version of LEED credits for materials and resources (MR) will become mandatory.

Read on to see what’s going to change and what you need to do to get your 2016 projects LEED certified.

How LEED rating works right now

Before version 4, the LEED rating system broke up the materials credits into single-attribute categories:

  • recycled content
  • regionally sourced content
  • rapidly renewable materials
  • reused materials
  • sustainably sourced wood

What’s going to change with LEED v4

LEED v4 has shifted away from single-attribute credits towards an increased focus on manufacturer transparency and multi-attribute optimization.

Starting in October, there will be three Building Product Disclosure and Optimization (BPDO) credits, each of which highlights a different impact goal for the responsible sourcing of building products.

What is BPDO credit?

Each BPDO credit has two main parts: Disclosure and Optimization

  1. For building productdisclosure, LEED relies on the use of documentation such as Environmental Product Declarations, Health Product Declarations, and self-reported manufacturer information about content and sourcing.
  2. For building product optimization, the information disclosed by the manufacturer must have quantifiable environmental, economic, and social life-cycle impacts.

A closer look at each of the new BPDO credits

  1. Environmental Product Declarations

Let’s look at the first BPDO credit, Environmental Product Declarations, as an example. In this credit, the impact goal is to minimize the environmental life-cycle impacts of building products.

  • Environmental Product Declarations – Disclosure: The first part of the credit, disclosure, uses an independently verified report called an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) as the main format for manufacturer transparency.
  • Environmental Product Declarations – Optimization: The second part of the credit, optimization, rewards EPDs which demonstrate quantifiable life-cycle impact reductions.
  1. Material Ingredients

Another BPDO credit, Material Ingredients, has an impact goal of minimizing the negative or unknown health impacts of building products.

  • Material Ingredients – Disclosure: To qualify for the first part of the credit, manufacturers must disclose their material ingredients using an approved format such as a Health Product Declaration (HPD) or Cradle to Cradle.
  • Material Ingredients – Optimization: For the second part, they must demonstrate through Cradle to Cradle or GreenScreen that the disclosed materials are not hazardous to human health.
  1. Sourcing of Raw Materials

The remaining BPDO credit, Sourcing of Raw Materials, is likely to be the most familiar to those who have worked with LEED v3. It rewards building products that have been sourced and extracted in a responsible manner.

  • Sourcing of Raw Materials – Disclosure: Products qualify for the first part of the credit by publishing Corporate Sustainability Reports (CSR) that describe the impacts of the product’s supply chain.
  • Sourcing of Raw Materials – Optimization: The second part of the credit is a catch-all for familiar sustainability attributes such as recycled content, reused content, and FSC wood, as well as new standards such as the Sustainable Agriculture Standard and extended producer responsibility strategies such as product take-back programs.

How all the BPDO credits work together

Although each BPDO credit has a different impact target, they all have some elements in common.

For example, each BPDO credit is worth 2 LEED points (i.e. 1 point for disclosure and 1 point for optimization).

The disclosure point is based on the number of qualified products. At least 20 different products from 5 different manufacturers must be used on the project to earn the first point. In this way, LEED rewards projects that utilize a diverse set of sustainable building products, even if not very much of each product is purchased.

The optimization point is based on the cost of qualified products, similar to the calculation methodology used in LEED v3. This option makes it easier for projects to reach the credit threshold if just a few qualified products are used in large amounts.

There are a few important ways this differs from the LEED v3 methodology, though:

Only 30% of the value of compliant building products can come from structure and enclosure materials, making it harder to rely solely on big-ticket items like structural steel.

And, for all three BPDO optimization credits, materials that are regionally sourced (from within 100 miles of the project, down from 500 miles in v3) are worth 200% of their contributing value.

What does this mean for your next LEED v4 Project?

If your project is targeting any of the BPDO credits, don’t wait until construction to start thinking about building materials!

It is important to set your materials and resources goals early, and start tracking building materials during the design process.

Target manufacturers that emphasize transparency, and reach out to preferred companies to ask them which of their products comply with the new LEED v4 requirements. The new requirements may seem daunting, but through thoughtful material selection they are well within reach!