The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for green buildings has dominated the American marketplace since its inception in 1993.
With more than 46,000 registered projects representing over 6.6 billion square feet, LEED is typically the first certification system that project managers and owners turn to for building green. The woodworking industry has struggled with LEED over the years, as the program paid little attention to the use of wood. When USGBC announced the process to create a new set of standards, dubbed LEED v4, wood industry groups such as the American Wood Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) went to work to have an impact on any new rules. When LEED v4 was rolled out in late 2013, the wood industry consensus was that we had some wins and some losses, but no net gains.
To understand LEED v4 and how it impacts your woodworking business, start with a fresh mindset. The Materials and Resources category is where the vast majority of wood-related credits are still located. The umbrella term is Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Sourcing of Raw Materials. LEED v4 is focused on life cycle thinking at both the product and whole-building levels.
A new credit, MRc2, gives points to products for which a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is available and developed from that, an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). Currently, there are a limited number of wood products where an LCA or EPD exists. In that same line of thinking, another new credit is MRc—Material Ingredient Reporting—that gives points for the use of products with ingredient disclosure like Cradle to Cradle. A more comprehensive list of acceptable ingredient disclosure mechanisms is still in development at the USGBC.
LEED v4 combines many of the other previous credits for wood into MRc3 –Sourcing Raw Materials. This credit gives points for the traceability of raw materials and transparency into the supply chain. The previous Regional Materials and Recycled Content credits from LEED v3 are now combined into MRc3.
An important criteria for wood products under LEED v4 is to have products that have been certified to Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) standards. The MR Credit 7 from the earlier version of LEED for certified wood is now part of the Building Product Disclosure and Optimization –Sourcing of Raw Materials.
LEED v4 states that wood products must be certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), or a USGBC-approved equivalent, to contribute toward credit achievement. This USGBC-approved equivalent has yet to be defined. Jason Metnick, Senior Vice President of SFI,commented, “SFI has been engaged with USGBC leadership to understand the new responsibly sourcing credit and how SFI-certified wood products might be able to achieve points. We have encouraged them to be more transparent on what it would take for the SFI standard to be recognized. To date, the USGBC has not defined ‘approved equivalent.’ SFI will continue to work with USGBC on this issue.”
The Indoor Environmental Quality credit for low-emitting materials has also changed. This pertains to composite wood products like particleboard and MDF. LEED v3 stated that wood products must be constructed from no-added urea-formaldehyde (NAUF) resins. In LEED v4, composite wood products must be documented to meet the low formaldehyde emissions as designated in the California Air Resources Board (CARB) ATCM for ultra-low emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) resins or no-added formaldehyde (NAF). Almost all of Timber Products’ hardwood plywood production meets the ULEF standard.
Still confused? Here is our recommendation to navigate the LEED waters:
• Designate a LEED point person to spend whatever time is necessary to understand how LEED v4 pertains to your specific business.
• Ask suppliers like Timber Products Company to start collecting raw material sourcing information. For example, about 90 percent of Timber Products’ hardwood plywood manufactured in Oregon is SFI-certified. While LEED does not yet recognize SFI specifically, this certification provides a tremendous amount of transparency into where and how the raw materials were developed and extracted, something LEED is looking for.
• Find out if any of your suppliers have an LCA or EPD for their products. The Hardwood Plywood and Veneer Association (HPVA) is currently working on both for the product as a whole. Timber Products Company is part of that process.
What questions do you have about LEED v4? As always, you can count on Timber Products Company to be your source for timely, factual information regarding LEED. There are aspects of LEED v4 that have yet to be defined and like you, we are still learning.
Questions about LEED? Contact Roger Rutan (rrutan at timberproducts.com) or 541-744-4263.
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