Manufacturers and Supply Chain LEED and Green Building Rating Systems Reality Check

Posted on 10/12/2017 12:41:03 PM By Paul Bertram

How is the industry responding to information requests of various “Green Rating Systems and related product certifications?

Reflecting back
The US Green Building Council began its environmental movement in 1993.LEED – Leadership on Energy and Environmental Design – was introduced in 2000. LEED project certifications, USGBC membership and related designations managed by GBCI established as specifiable environmental criteria.  Early adopters and market leaders led this movement with LEED in the lead. 

The USGBC Greenbuild conference was founded in 2002 with the 2003 first major conference in Austin that reported 5,000 registrants. At the height of USGBC’s reign, Greenbuild attendance at the 2010 Chicago conference reported 27,000 attendees with 750 exhibitors. In contrast, the 2016 LEED Los Angeles conference reported 18,079 in attendance and 531 exhibiting companies. 

Currently projects must register with LEEDv4 and includes greater emphasis on Water, Material Transparency/Disclosure within Materials & Resources. Energy Efficiency and IEQ (Indoor Environmental Quality) remain significant credits.

The Expansion of Materials & Resources Credits Sparked Much Controversy
Material & Resources specific to product Material Transparency/Disclosure credits remain a topic of discussion. Credits requiring manufacturers responses include: Building Life Cycle Impact reduction, Building Product Disclosure and Optimization: EPDs, Sourcing of Raw Materials, Multi-Attribute Optimization, Material Ingredients; Greenscreen, Cradle to Cradle, Supply Chain Optimization.

These new and updated M&R credit areas are intended to influence greater environmental evaluation of materials & resources. My concern is that focus on environmental attributes may be detracting from Functional Performance requirements. Functional Performance requires understanding building science and physics. The lack of sound building science has contributed to project latent defects. Understanding environmental attributes of products/systems plays into material evaluation/specification but has to be weighed against all of the evaluation criteria as cited in CSI’s Project Delivery Practice Guide.

Of note, few architects or specifiers actually know how to consider this new “Material Transparency/Disclosure” reporting in a comprehensive material evaluation/specification beyond checking the box for credit contributions. Some firms have hired or have relationships with Toxicologists and Chemists to help address the intent of the science of these credits. 

Manufacturers are also finding themselves relying on their respective associations to bring in experts to help members understand the science and how to consider the requested information. It is complex and requires, in some cases, a change in company culture.

From a manufacturer’s perspective, this requires having on staff or consulting expertise to guide compliance for all these different “Green” rating systems. Manufacturers should be able to respond to any of these “Green” Rating Systems.

Competition in “Green” Rating Systems now includes: Green Globes (currently under ANSI update), Breaam (US focus on existing buildings), Living Building Challenge, Passivehaus,
And ASHRAE 189.1 (IGCC – International Green Building Code).

LEED Reality Check
At the end of Greenbuild 2016 there was an off-site meeting of interested parties regarding LEED, Living Building Challenge, BREAAM, Passivehaus and the Well Standard. The general discussion was that LEED project registrations and membership were slowing down. The discussion suggested that all these competing rating systems were impacting each other and perhaps a more collaborative effort should be considered.

Related to this discussion is Jerry Yudelson’s book on REINVENTING GREEN BUILDING;

The illustration from his book below shows a decline in LEED project certification

Figure I.1 compares LEED certifications with the total number of US commercial buildings; it shows that total project certifications at year-end2015 amounted to less than one percent of the US nonresidential building stock. (In the residential sphere, the fraction was considerably less.)

Jerry further articulates in his book that “Green building rating systems have diverged greatly from building owners’ and operators’ core concerns, as these systems are designed to meet the needs of green idealists more than those of most market participants.”

Are “Green” Rating System Projects a Significant Part of Your Business?

I have been approached by many manufacturers asking for advice on how to address these ever-changing requests for what many consider proprietary and sensitive information. Many of these requests for information require significant funding. One presenter at the April 2017 conference called this funding “Lost Revenue”.

To address whether manufacturers and their supply chains should participate in the “Green” Rating Systems request for information is the question.
Technically inclusion of “Green” Rating Systems in a project are Owner Requirements found in Division 1. General Requirements. A simple audit of project specifications from architects/specifiers will provide useful insight as to what direction to take.

A number of considerations should be evaluated:
• Does the investment in expensive programs like an EPD or sensitive/proprietary information requested in the HPD yield a return on investment? There are already a lot of legal reporting requirements. As example: publically traded companies are required to submit environmental reporting; Safety Data Sheets are also requirement as well as labeling of any Hazard in a material and involves the manufacturing supply chain.

• Does investing in developing the requested reporting of Material Transparency /Disclosure credits protect or advance the brand(s)? 
• Is there a Continuous Improvement effort in place or being considered?
• Is a market leader position important to your business enough to fund the work for the reporting as part of marketing?

What is the Role of ASC to members in reporting of Material transparency/Disclosure?

ASC has sponsored several education programs regarding this topic and I and others have expressed opinion and awareness in the ASC blogs on this topic.

ASC also explored development of Product Category Rules to develop Industry Wide EPDs, but at this point that effort is on hold.

In Conclusion:
There is not one size fits all answer to whether a manufacturer responds to these challenging request Material Transparency/Disclosure reporting. It is complicated and expensive. Legal implications also need to be evaluated from a risk assessment perspective. Debate on reporting of Hazards Verses Risk Assessment should also be part of the discussion and would need scientific expertise. 

A good start, if not already in place, is to create a “Green Team” to evaluate and develop the business case(s) required to defend a position in the requested reporting. As an example: Conduct the HPD but do not make it public because sensitive information and work on project by project basis for the requested information. 

Tell your story of continuous improvement and discussions with your supply chain.

One thing is for certain, while registrations may have somewhat declined for “Green” Rating Systems, they are here to stay and will require clear strategies on how you participate. They will also be updated to respond to perceived needs in delivering their respective ideologies. Even if a manufacturer decides “Green” Rating Systems may not currently be worth investing in now, continued evaluation of market impacts will be required.