LEED v4: New Categories and Credits Shake Up Ways of Contributing

Christine A Subasic


While LEED 2009 will still be available for use through 2015, the November release of LEED v4 has many trying to understand what the newest version means for building products, including masonry. The Materials and Resources category had the most significant changes in the history of LEED. One could argue that the changes were also the most contentious, with a record six public comment periods preceding the approval of the new rating systems. This article provides an overview of the Material and Resources changes as well as credits related to masonry in other categories. For specific criteria, information on credit calculations, and a copy of the LEED v4 rating systems, readers are referred to usgbc.org/leed/v4.

LEED v4 Organization LEED v4 includes not only substantive changes to specific credits, but also changes in how they are organized. Credits related to building site and location are split into two separate categories, Sustainable Sites and a new category, Location and Transportation. A new category, Integrative Process, was also added. Figure 1 shows the points allocated to each category with the new categories in blue.+

According to the LEED v4 User Guide, goals for LEED v4 are to:

• Reverse Contribution to Global Climate Change

• Enhance Individual Human Health and Well-Being

• Protect and Restore Water Resources

• Protect, Enhance and Restore Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

• Promote Sustainable and Regenerative Material Resources Cycles

• Build a Greener Economy

• Enhance Social Equity, Environmental Justice and Community Quality of Life

To align the credits with these goals, point values for several credits were changed and the number of points allocated to each category was also changed. Water Efficiency and Indoor Environmental Quality each added one point. The new Integrative Process category is worth one point. As a result of these additions, Energy and Atmosphere lost two points, and Materials and Resources lost one point, so that the total number of available points remained constant at 110 points. Certification levels also remained unchanged (Figure 2).

New Materials and Resources Credits

For building product manufacturers, LEED v4 turns green building requirements inside out. While LEED 2009 focused on green attributes of products (recycled content, bio-based content, certified wood and regional sourcing), LEED v4 focuses on product disclosure. Six of 13 available points in the Materials and Resources (MR) category relate to building product disclosure in the form of environ mental product declarations (EPD), supply chain reporting, material ingredient reporting and the like. Table 1 shows the old and new credits side by side

Of the LEED v4 MR credits, two credits are completely new (MR credits 2 and 4), two are substantially changed (MR credits 1 and 3) and one is modified slightly (MR credit 5). A new prerequisite was also added.

Regional Materials Credit Eliminated

One significant change that reaches across several of the credits relates to regional materials. LEED 2009 included a credit that award ed points for materials and products that were extracted, harvested and manufactured within a 500 mile radius of the project site. LEED v4 eliminates this regional sourcing as a stand alone credit. According to USGBC responses to public comment during the LEED v4 development process, the former regional materials credit did not necessarily reduce the environmental impacts resulting from transportation. Due to this reality, the intent of a radius within which to purchase materials is based solely on the intent of supporting a project’s local economy.

Because of this new focus on regional materials as an economic driver, the radius used is drastically reduced. Also, regional sourcing is now included only as a multiplier within the Building Product Disclosure and Optimization credits (MR credits 2, 3 and 4). Products that are extracted, manufactured and purchased within 100 miles of the project site are valued at 200% of their base cost in the calculations for portions of these credits. Practically speaking this means that for masonry products meeting the criteria in MR credits 2, 3, or 4, and falling within 100 miles of the project, their value is consider ed at twice their actual cost in the credit calculations.

Structure and Enclosure Contributions Limited

Also new in LEED v4, the contribution of structure and enclosure materials is limited. For the Building Product Disclosure and Optimization credits (MR credits 2, 3 and 4), structure and enclosure materials may not contribute toward more than 30% of the value of compliant building products for some options within these credits. Most masonry materials would be considered as either structure or enclosure elements for the purpose of this limitation and their contribution toward meeting the credit criteria would be limited to 30% of the total value of compliant building products. Conditions where structure and enclosure elements exceed 30% of the value would likely still be permitted, but the additional value would not count toward meeting the credit requirements.

CREDIT 1: Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction (up to 5 points) MR Credit 1: Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction, incorporates the former Building Reuse and Material Reuse credits and gives more weight (points) to reuse of whole buildings than the previous version of LEED. This credit contains four different paths. Options 1, 2 and 3 focus respectively on reuse of historic buildings, abandoned or blighted buildings, and other building and material reuse, and are worth up to five points. Most often it is masonry buildings that are selected for reuse and renovation. Option 4 awards three points for new construction that meets whole building life cycle assessment (LCA) criteria.

When considering product selection, Option 4 is the most relevant. This credit requires selection of building products and assemblies that reflect a 10% reduction in at least three of six environmental impact measures based on a whole building life cycle assessment (LCA). Global warming potential must be one of the measures reduced. Of course selection of building products should also consider durability, constructability, schedule, cost and other performance factors, in addition to environmental impacts.

One area for concern is that the masonry data included in the tools used for whole building LCA may not reflect current masonry manufacturing practices in many cases. Thus for accurate results, it is imperative for manufacturers to provide data that reflects current state of manufacturing. At the time of writing this article, the Brick Industry Association, the National Concrete Masonry Association and the Portland Cement Association have all begun or completed work toward collecting updated information.

CREDIT 2: Environmental Product Declarations (2 points) MR Credit 2: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Product Declarations, is a new credit in LEED v4. This credit has two options, worth one point each. The first option focuses on reporting of environ mental impact data, while the second rewards improved performance in specified environmental impact categories.

Option 1: Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) requires use of products with publicly available LCA or EPD. Products are valued differently depending upon the type of declaration. Product-specific Type III EPDs carry the most weight.

Option 2: Multi-attribute Optimization awards one point for selection of third party certified products with environmental impacts below the industry average for 50%, by cost, of the total value of permanently installed products in the project. The regional weighting and structure/enclosure limits apply to this option.

For the designer or specifier, collecting Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) statements may be an easy, straightforward process, though the calculation process for LEED credit can get complex. For building product manufacturers, developing an EPD is far from a small task. Many manufacturers have only just begun to discern and collect the data that is necessary for the first step in development of an EPD. For an EPD is the culmination of many steps as shown in Figure 3. The first step is to identify the product category rules (PCR) that will be used in gathering the environ mental data. If no PCR exists for a product, then the PCR must itself be created. Once a PCR is in place, a life cycle assessment (LCA) of environmental impacts of a product is conducted. This process can be difficult, costly and time consuming depending upon how much and what type of data a manufacturer is already collecting. The LCA impacts can then be reported in an EPD.

CREDIT 3: Sourcing of Raw Materials MR Credit 3: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Sourcing of Raw Materials, has two options worth one point each.

Option 1: Raw Material Source and Extraction Reporting requires use of a specified number of products sourced from manufacturers that have publicly released a report from their raw material suppliers. Like MR Credit 2, products are valued differently depending upon the type of report. Third-party verified corporate sustainability reports are counted at full value. Self-declared reports are valued at half. The second option incorporates aspects of several of the MR credits found in LEED 2009.

Option 2: Leadership Extraction Practices requires use of a minimum dollar value of products that meet criteria for recycled content, bio-based materials, certified wood and material reuse. This option also includes extended producer responsibility. Masonry materials having recycled content, salvaged masonry units and masonry manufacturers with an extended producer responsibility program can be considered as part of this credit. Regional weighting and structure/ enclosure limits also apply to Option 2, so that, for example, masonry with recycled content that is also extracted and manufactured within 100 miles of the project can be counted at twice its value.

CREDIT 4: Material Ingredients MR Credit 4: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Material Ingredients, has three options worth one point each. All three options require documentation of the raw material ingredients for building products. Several chemical and ingredient screening programs are listed as compliance paths including the GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals, Cradle to Cradle certification, and the Health Product Declaration (for more information see Resources), but Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are not considered com pliant with this credit.

Similar to MR Credit 2, Option 1 in MR Credit 4: Material Ingredient Reporting, focuses on reporting of material ingredients and requires use of a specific number of products meeting the listed criteria.

Option 2: Material Ingredient Optimization, awards points for selection of products meeting material ingredient certification criteria for at least 25%, by cost of the total value of products in the project.

Option 3: Product Manufacturer Supply Chain Optimization, requires selection of materials that, among other things, have a third-party verified supply chain. Readers are referred to the LEED website for specific criteria of these credits. Regional weight ings and structure/enclo sure limits apply to both Options 2 and 3 of MR Credit 4.

CREDIT 5: Construction and Demolition Waste Management MR Credit 5, Construction and Demolition Waste Management, has two compliance paths, each worth up to two points.

Option 1 is the familiar diversion of construction waste. New in LEED v4, are the requirements that diversion must include three material streams and 50% diversion for one point, and four material streams and 75% diversion for two points. Option 2 is a much needed new addition.

Option 2, Reduction of Total Waste Material, awards two points if the project does not generate more than 2.5 lbs of construction waste/sf of the building’s floor area. This option recognizes the value of building products with little on-site waste, such as many masonry products, and encourages efficient packaging among manufacturers.

Sustainable Sites and Masonry

The two credits in the Sustainable Sites (SS) category relating directly to masonry products have both been slightly revised in LEED v4. The first, SS CREDIT 4: Rainwater Management, awards up to three points for managing runoff using low-impact development (LID) and green infra structure. This credit is an update of SS Credit 6 – Stormwater Design in LEED 2009. Permeable masonry pavements are considered a LID strategy. The second credit is SS CREDIT 5: Heat Island Reduction. This credit is worth up to two points and is an update of LEED 2009 SS Credit 7. Revisions to this credit include a calculation that combines roof and non-roof surfaces into one equation rather than having separate points for each. Also, the solar reflectance requirement for paving materials is slightly revised. SS Credit 5 requires materials have a three-year aged solar reflectance (SR) value of at least 0.28. If three-year aged value information is not available, materials must have an initial SR of at least 0.33 at installation.

Indoor Environmental Quality

The credit in LEED v4 for low emitting materials has been modified to focus on volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, rather than content. EQ CREDIT 2: Low-Emitting Materials worth three points, also explicity lists stone, glass, concrete and clay brick as “…inherently non-emitting and comply without any testing if they do not include integral organic-based surface coatings, binders or sealants.”

New in LEED for New Construction is Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ) Credit 9: Acoustic Performance worth one point. A credit for acoustic performance was previously only found in the LEED for Schools rating system. This credit includes sound transmission class (STC) requirements for interior walls ranging from 45 to 60 depending on the occupancy of adjacent rooms. STC ratings for most masonry walls range from 44 for 4″ solid units, to over 60 for 12″ solid or grout-filled units. According to the National Concrete Masonry Association, an 8″ ungrouted concrete masonry wall has an STC of 45 to 48 depending upon the weight of the unit.


The new LEED v4 rating systems are quite different from previous versions, particularly in the area of Materials and Resources. The focus on product transparency brings a new way of viewing building products. Many challenges are associated with implementation of the new credits, from understanding the credit calculations to difficulties manufacturers will face trying to comply with the new requirements. Some of the details related to the specifics of credits still remain to be resolved.

While the LEED v4 rating system will take some time to get used to, many of the changes reflect the broader view of sustainability that the masonry industry has encouraged for years, such as the increased weight given to building reuse and the new life cycle assessment credit point toward the value of durable, long-life buildings. The shift toward measuring VOC emissions rather than content and recognition of use of inherently non-emitting materials like masonry is a positive step in avoiding harmful substances in the first place. The addition of acoustic performance requirements acknowledges the benefits of quieter spaces, something the masonry industry has promoted for years.

Product transparency comes with an alphabet soup of acronyms. Under standing the differences between life cycle inventories (LCI), life cycle assessment (LCA), product category rules (PCR), and environ – mental product declarations (EPD) is vital to navigating the terrain. For those wishing to learn more about the requirements in LEED v4, product disclosure, life cycle assessment and other topics mentioned in this article, the following resources list provides a starting point for further reading.

LEED v4 in Canada The Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC) will streamline development work by providing Canadian options for demonstrating compliance – termed Alternative Compliance Paths – within the LEED v4 international rating systems.

Alternative Compliance Paths (ACPs) allow the CaGBC to identify equivalent means of demonstrating compliance to credit requirements. For example, where an equivalent Canadian reference standard exists, an ACP can allow for the use of that standard.

Tailoring LEED to the Canadian market will simplify the development process. Canadian LEED v4 projects will be certified by CaGBC using LEED Online in collaboration with the Green Building Certification Institute.

LEED v4 and the Canadian ACPs will be officially launched in Canada at the CaGBC’s annual national conference in Toronto June 2-4. In order to facilitate the transition to LEED v4, Canadian projects will still be able to register under the current rating system, LEED Canada 2009 until June 1, 2015.

Christine Subasic, P E, LEED AP, is a consulting architectural engineer specializing in masonry and sustain able design. Subasic provides technical support services, including standards development, educational seminars and inspection services and is the author of numerous articles and books . She is active in ASTM Committees E60 , C12 and C15. She is editor of The Masonry Society’s Sustainability E-Newsletter, and her work and dedication has been recognized by The Masonry Society as are cipient of their President’s Award and Service Award. Subasic received her Bachelor of Architectural Engineering Honors degree Structural Option from Pennsylvania State University. She is a LEED Accredited Professional and a registered professional engineer in Virginia and North Carolin a. CSub asicPE@aol.com | 919. 845.2683

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