By: Jonathan Burgess, LEED AP ND, BD+C
Project Manager, The Spinnaker Group
When I was first introduced to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, it was explained to me with a simple analogy: a box of chocolates. Imagine for a second that a building is like a box of chocolates, the LEED program is like the Nutritional Facts label on the side explaining how healthy the product is.
Whereas food products describe nutritional health through a measure of cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates and protein; a LEED certification describes the environmental health of a building through its efficiencies, air quality, conformability and ecological impact. Only through a combination of these measurements can a box of chocolates determine its total Calories, or can a building determine its LEED score.
It was an oversimplification, of course, but it was an effective image of how a green building rating system can inform its occupants by translating what building green really means in the context of some basic measurable parts. That being said, there was always one part of the Nutritional Facts label analogy left out of the LEED conversation, until now: the Ingredients reporting section.
Since 1990, the food and beverage industry has been required to bear nutrition labeling for most packaged foods. As a result, terms such as ‘low fat’ and ‘light’ were standardized and an independent method was put in place by the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act to verify health claims.
Forrest Gump would finally find out what he was getting in his box of chocolates. And with the official launch of LEED version 4 at last week’s Greenbuild conference, the building industry can now look forward to material ingredient reporting through a new suite of LEED credits designed to increase disclosure and transparency in the materials economy.
With tools like Cradle-to-Cradle certifications, GreenScreen benchmarking, Supply Chain Optimization and Health Product Declarations, LEED practitioners will benefit from a variety of reporting mechanisms and verification measures designed “to encourage the use of products and materials for which life cycle information is available and that have environmentally, economically, and socially preferable life cycle impacts.” In addition, these LEED credits “will reward project teams for selecting products verified to have been extracted or sourced in a responsible manner.” –LEED v4 for New Construction credit MR112.
Unfortunately, Forrest would need to add amateur Nutritionist or Chemist to his impressive resume to figure out half of the ingredients being listed in his box of chocolates. The same will ultimately hold true for the people involved in deciphering the building materials reported using the tools above. It will be our responsibility as designers and constructors to understand the life-cycle health impacts of the ingredients we use in our buildings– not just their emissions once installed but their up-stream impacts throughout the supply chain and down-stream impacts as they reach their end-of-life.
Fortunately, the US Green Building Council has announced an exclusive strategic partnership with Underwriter Laboratories (UL) Environment– the world’s leading safety and certification group– centered on building product transparency and occupant health and safety. The first initiative of the partnership is the creation of a joint Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). EPDs are a standardized way of quantifying the environmental impact of a product or system. The joint USGBC-UL EPDs are a solution to increase transparency in building materials and products that are being used in our buildings, homes, schools, hospitals and other structures. More on that here…
In reviewing these latest improvements to the LEED rating system, and channeling my inner Forrest Gump, I can’t help but think– “LEED is like a Box of Chocolates… only with LEED now you DO know what you’re going to get.” (And if you read that in a southern drawl, bravo).