LEED’s mission is to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling environmentally and socially responsible, healthy and prosperous surroundings that improve quality of life.
In other words, LEED supports the “triple bottom line”: people, the planet and profit are all given equal weight when making business decisions.
Created by the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED green building certification program is continually updated to recognize the most current environmentally friendly building strategies and practices. LEED v4 is the most recent version; it was released in late 2013.
Prior versions of LEED all had intentions similar to LEED v4, but helped owners achieve green-building goals in a slightly different way. In this newest version, changes to the LEED Materials & Resources credit directly impact the products used in the built environment – including cable and connectivity. This credit category underwent a major overhaul, transitioning from a material-deselection approach to one that encourages product transparency.
In LEED 2009 – the previous version of LEED – the Materials & Resources credit category focused only on the material characteristics of extraction, location or content. It ignored other, potentially negative characteristics. For example, it encouraged bamboo and cork flooring because they’re both made from renewable resources – despite the fact that these resources are grown and harvested thousands of miles away. As a result, the carbon footprint created to get the materials to the jobsite was significant. When taking a close look at the big picture, it was determined that those flooring types were not always the most sustainable choice.
Instead of focusing on individual material characteristics, LEED v4 considers multiple attributes across the product lifecycle. Products that offer transparency documentation are rewarded, and including them in your project can provide LEED points in the Materials & Resources credit category. Products that have been optimized from their baseline, or are significantly better than industry average, are eligible for additional points.
This transformation is driving market change in industries that supply products to the built environment; many manufacturers are now providing more information about their products through transparency documentation, such as environmental product declarations (EPDs), health product declarations (HPDs) and material health assessments (MHAs).
Below, we pinpoint five ways to be deliberate about LEED product selection, which can help you earn points in the Materials & Resources credit category.
1. Be Purposeful in Choosing Manufacturers
To maximize LEED product selection, look for manufacturers that are transparent about:
- How a product is produced
- What the product contains
- What impacts occur during the product’s lifecycle
- The product’s impact on human health and the environment
Choose companies that train their employees on LEED and general sustainability principles.
Work with manufacturers that incorporate sustainable development practices into their routine product development cycles, and continuously strive to reduce the carbon footprints of their products.
2. Examine EPDs Carefully
Look for companies that have product-specific, Type III EPDs. This documentation counts as a whole product toward product count calculation when you’re pursuing LEED product selection. Prioritize manufacturers that utilize reputable and well-respected third parties in product lifecycle analyses, which are required in an EPD.
If industry averages are available, when examining EPD documentation, ensure that the products you select score better than the industry average when it comes to impacts such as global warming, fossil fuel depletion, eutrophication, smog, acidification and ozone depletion.
Make sure the manufacturer updates its documentation in a timely fashion and makes improvements on benchmarks at each update cycle.
Finally, confirm that the EPD is independently third-party verified through a program operator, such as UL Environment, as conforming to ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 standards and the referenced Product Category Rules (PCRs).
3. Looks for Product Lens™ MHA Formats
Choosing manufacturers that use Product Lens as their material health assessment format ensures that the product declaration is as complete and fully disclosed as possible.
Product Lens color coding makes it easier to comprehend exactly which human-health risks are possible throughout the product’s lifecycle. Relevant exposure routes are easy to identify in the document, and all of the information is conveyed in a concise, two-page summary.
4. Compare Disclosure Measurements
If you chose products that use HPDs or other material disclosure formats, look for disclosure down to 100 ppm instead of the 1000 ppm required. At 1000 ppm, you may miss items such as color concentrates, which often have substances that would be flagged as hazards.
Focus on manufacturers that don’t have high amounts of unknown substances in their disclosures. While manufacturers are required to disclose any known hazard in an HPD – even unknown chemicals – the likelihood of a hazard slipping between the cracks increases when the chemical isn’t known to the end-user.
Prioritize manufacturers that go the extra mile and have their HPDs third-party verified by a reliable company. Finally, look for companies that use the newest HPD standard (version 2.1).
5. Analyze Quantity of Product Codes Covered by Transparency Documentation
Working with a manufacturer that has a greater quantity of product codes covered by transparency documentation can help your LEED project attain Innovation Credits – which are “extra” credits.
An additional point can be achieved by showing exemplary performance in an existing LEED v4 prerequisite or credit that allows for exemplary performance. Basically, if a project uses 40 different products from at least 10 different manufacturers that have EPDs and/or material ingredient reporting documentation – instead of 20 products from at least five different manufacturers that have EPDs and/or material ingredient reporting documentation – an extra point for each credit may be earned.
What Does This Mean for You?
Simply put, products such as cable and connectivity can now help you earn LEED points. Through the transparency documentation required to earn these LEED points, you’re well equipped to know much more about the products you use in the built environment, including the ingredients used in manufacturing and the product’s environmental impact.
Staying Educated on LEED
As a living, breathing program that was never meant to be static, LEED is always being improved upon. As an example, an update to LEED v4 – LEED v4.1 – was recently announced at Greenbuild 2017. So far, only the Operations + Maintenance version has been released. LEED v4.1 will simplify the rating system and streamline project scorecards and requirements.
Belden will pay close attention to any changes that LEED v4.1 brings to the table, and plans to keep you updated as they occur.
If you have any questions about LEED product selection or green buildings, our team is ready to help. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.belden.com/leed.
Alice Albrinck joined Belden in 2011 as a materials development engineer. Prior to this, she performed a similar function at General Cable, specializing in PVC formulation. In the past three years, she has shifted her focus to sustainability, green building and environmental product compliance. She represents Belden on many environmental and sustainably industry working groups. She earned her LEED Green Associate in early 2017. Alice also has a bachelor’s of science degree in chemical engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.