A Focus on Health and Transparency: Important Changes as Part of LEED v4.1

Alice Albrinck

Ever since its adoption in 1998, LEED—the U.S. Green Building Council’s green building project and performance management system—has morphed over the years to continue to encourage environmental responsibility and sustainable building.

Last year, LEED v4.1 was unveiled as an update to LEED v4. Like LEED v4, LEED v4.1 places an important focus on health and transparency. It introduces components that encourage building designers and architects to think about the products they select: the ingredients used in the product manufacturing process, as well as individual products’ impact on the environment.


While LEED v4.1 includes changes to several design credits, it also improves and better encourages the use of underutilized credits. This includes a few adjustments:

  • As part of the Materials & Resources credit, products with transparency documents verified by third parties will now be valued at 1.5 products for credit achievement calculation (as opposed to 1 product as with LEED v4). LEED v4.1 takes environmental product declarations (EPDs) to a new level of transparency.

  • The second point as part of the EPD credit has been revised to lower the requirement from 50% of product cost down to 10%. 


What are Environmental Product Declarations?

In case you’re not familiar with the term “EPD” (or you need a refresher): After a lifecycle assessment is performed on a product using established product category rules (PCRs), the product receives its own EPD (environmental product declaration). It’s an independently verified and registered document that summarizes lifecycle assessment results, including:

  • How the product is made
  • The product’s climate change potential (smog creation, ozone depletion, water pollution, etc.)
  • How much energy and water are used in the material production process


To verify the environmental impact of products, several organizations called “program operators” – such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and NSF International – certify and publish these EPDs.


When industry averages are available, these declarations can also help you identify products that are better than average when it comes to impacting global warming, fossil fuel depletion, smog, acidification and ozone depletion.  


What are Material Health Assessments?

In addition to providing EPDs, manufacturers also need to provide either HPDs (health product declarations) or material health assessments (MHAs) if they want their products to count toward LEED points.


MHAs and HPDs both address the chemical side of the product: the ingredients a material is made of and the impacts they can have. Because Belden has produced MHAs for more than 120 of its products so far, we’ll focus on those here.


Material health assessments take a very close look at a single product’s material ingredients, beginning by breaking products down to 100 ppm into their component CAS numbers (CAS [or CASRN] stands for Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number).


Material health assessments tend to be more transparent than HPDs: HPDs identify the hazard while MHAs identify those hazards and provide relevant context. They pinpoint health hazards throughout the entire supply chain (from manufacturing and installation to use and end of life) and disclose relevant routes of exposure.


Product Lens™ is an USGBC-approved MHA designed by UL Environment (it’s also the format Belden uses). UL Environment works with the manufacturer and its suppliers to obtain complete bills of material on each product when possible. After the product information is communicated down to the CAS level, each individual chemical is assessed by MBDC, another third party, for hazard and risk in all stages of a product’s lifecycle. Any potential routes of exposure are disclosed on the document.


Belden’s Commitment to Offering EPDs and MHAs

If a manufacturer claims to have an EPD, MHA, HPD or other approved product transparency document, it needs to have the documentation readily available to back up those claims. 


Not only does Belden view EPDs, MHAs and HPDs as powerful tools to measure, monitor and improve the environmental impact of our products, but we also use the information from these declarations to guide future product development and manufacturing practices.


Belden cable and connectivity products can help earn LEED points as part of LEED v4.1. For years, we’ve been actively producing the necessary documentation to qualify for LEED credits on several standard products, including fiber cabling and Category 5e, 6 and 6A cabling, as well as cabling for access control, security, fire alarm, audio, video and surveillance applications.