Sarah Buffaloe

Over the past decade, building industry professionals have worked to transform our industry — minimizing the negative impacts and maximizing the positive impacts associated with buildings. USGBC’s launch of LEED v4 in November 2013 marked the next step in the transformation journey the buildings industry has been engaged in since the inaugural version of LEED was released in 2000.

LEED v4’s revised Materials and Resources credit category is based on the market mechanisms LEED has successfully leveraged in the past but also introduces several new and novel requirements focused on transparency. This includes an integrative life cycle based framework to help practitioners make more informed decisions when considering materials used to construct and operate buildings by encouraging manufacturers to disclose more about the materials that make up their products.

In the decade preceding the launch of LEED v4, the transformations and innovations that have occurred were largely decentralized. The organic nature of the market activity allowed product manufacturers to engage substantively in the creation of a broad range of tools. The trade-off, however, was significant market confusion and a market that was very slow to mature.

Along with the launch of LEED v4, USGBC and UL Environment announced a partnership focused on accelerating the development and availability of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for building products to provide relevant, verified and comparable information about the environmental impact of goods and services. This partnership acknowledges and responds to lessons learned from the buildings product industry transformation over the last ten years.

Together, we are developing tools to increase the usefulness, consistency, quality and coherence of EPDs produced by manufacturers interested in supplying materials to project teams seeking LEED certification.

The Materials and Resources category of LEED v4 further supports the evolution of the market with a series of requirements written with a clear direction in intended outcomes while recognizing the challenge ahead for LEED project teams and building product manufacturers. The resulting credits, such as the Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Product Declarations, includes a tiered organization. This tiered approach recognizes the state of the products market today and locates stretch requirements which would likely take a naturally progressing industry many years to reach.

The USGBC-UL Environment partnership is unique but it does not preclude or diminish the applicability of EPDs produced by other program operators that comply with the requirements delineated in LEED v4. All v4 compliant EPDs produced by manufacturers working with credible program operators help a project team earn LEED points.

LEED v4 builds on past successes to push the industry forward. The life cycle based approach is the starting point from which we will learn and evolve. This continuous improvement/transformation mindset is central to the goals USGBC has for the buildings industry — LEED v4 is our collective next step.