As many people know, LEED v4 took a lot longer to be finalized than originally anticipated—largely due to political struggles involving key stakeholders and certain large enterprises. As many of my friends and colleagues know, I despise politics. Therefore, rather than get into all the muck, let’s dig into one of the more controversial subjects in LEED v4, and try to understand its impact on standard of care for the industry

What is an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD)? The always informative Stuart Kaplow has a great description at his blog, Green Building Law Update:

An environmental product declaration (EPD) is a method of quantifying the environmental impacts of a product. It is analogous to the nutritional label on a box of cereal. In the context of green building, EPDs will provide a way describing the environmental impact of a building material or product.

EPDs articulate the conclusions of a life cycle assessment. The aim of an EPD is to facilitate the comparison of the range of environmental effects attributable to a product in order to provide a sound basis for making informed decisions.

Life cycle assessment is widely accepted to encompass 5 stages: raw material acquisition, manufacturing, transportation, use, and end of life.

In other words, an EPD is a third-party assessment of certain material characteristics based upon objective criteria. If manufacturers produce an EPD for a given product, it offers design and construction professionals handy insight into the environmental impact of that product.

How EPDs affect Standard of Care

When we talk about environmental impact, an important part of the equation also involves impact on human health—since we are also part of the environment. One of the components to an EPD is toxicity. This is where things start to get really interesting. There are multiple approaches to assessing toxicity, including certain ISO standards that have been adopted by various European countries. In particular, ISO 14025 is referenced by the USGBC. Unfortunately, that standard was last updated in 2006, making it somewhat out of date in the fast-paced world of high performance design and construction.

As Kaplow points out in another blog post:

Among the loudest critics of the LEED v4 Materials & Resources credits related to EPDs is Perkins+Will architect Douglas Pierce, who authored a White paper, “LEED V4 Should Lead On Material Health Transparency By Accepting Only Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) That Comply With the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Truth in Advertising Law”. Pierce highlights that EPDs and their use in LEED V4 “have a large loophole related to toxicity”. The White paper argues that toxicity must be detailed or risk violating the Federal Trade Commission Green Guides.

In other words, the standards for defining toxicity related to EPDs still have some work left. The difficulty here is immediately apparent, as architects like Pierce may in effect be forced to make legal interpretations. As Kaplow explains:

The White paper is legally not correct, .. but who would seek legal advice from architects (even a well respected architecture firm like Perkins+Will)? However, the White paper is useful in identifying the shortcomings of EPDs and in particular ISO based EPDs.

Will we need to include legal counsel as part of the design charettes in the Integrative Project Design process? (I actually do think that that is a very wise suggestion.)

Should attorneys be reviewing BIM files and specifications? After all, those do constitute “contract documents” and who better than an attorney to evaluate the merits of a contract? (I think that is a horrible idea – especially at the hourly rates most attorneys charge…)

Moving Forward, to a healthier built environment

Regardless, in my opinion, the best aspect of the whole discussion around objective third-party standards related to Environmental Product Disclosures, is that we are even having the discussion in the first place.

Only through intelligent discourse, backed by evidence, can we move forward to improving both the environmental and health impacts of the products we use to design and construct the buildings in which we live, work, play and come together.


Stuart Kaplow, of Green Building Law Update writes:

With nearly 128 million residential housing units existed in the U.S., if green building is going to mitigate the negative impacts that human activity has on the planet, green building must include houses.

While most professionals in the A/E/C industry have at least heard of LEED for Homes, widespread implementation of the third-party certification system has been underwhelming, particularly with the largest homebuilders. Little known fact: Habitat for Humanity has been in the top 10 list of home builders for years, and is currently the leading builder of Platinum-certified LEED for Homes projects.

For a variety of primarily political reasons, the other major homebuilders on the top 10 list of builders have decided to not pursue LEED certification on a large scale. Instead, through a partnership between the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the International Code Council (ICC), an alternative rating system has been developed, known as ICC 700 – the National Green Building Standard.

Kaplow has more information:

The 2015 version of the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard will be the third iteration of this residential code. It was originally developed by a Consensus Committee and approved in January 2009. The ICC 700 was updated in 2012 and approved in January 2013.

Home Innovation Labs has issued a call for members of the Consensus Committee that will be charged with developing the update, which will ideally include government officials, advocacy groups, home builders, product manufacturers, and other affected industry stakeholders in residential construction. The committee members and other interested parties will be assigned to task groups, each specializing in a different area such as energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, or lot and site development. Those who would like to apply to serve on the Consensus Committee or a Task Group must submit their applications online by March 16, 2014.

Home Innovation also announced a call for proposed changes to the 2012 edition of the ICC 700. Individuals and groups can submit their proposed changes to the NGBS online by March 24, 2014. Task groups will review the proposed changes and develop committee proposals in early 2014.

So if you want your voice to be heard, now’s the time.

Source: Green Building Law Update

According to Stuart Kaplow of Green Building Law Update, the City Commission of Key West, Florida now requires third party green building certification for all new residential projects.

Acceptable standards:

In Key West, residential development is strictly limited to correspond to the evacuation capacity of the over-water highway in the event of a hurricane. Ordinance 13-19 (PDF) is an update responding to the region’s unique environmental and civic needs. Specifically, this ordinance seeks to address rising sea levels and the need for potable water.

Kaplow has more:

All new residential units, including additions to existing structures “constituting more than 50% of the value of the building” must be 1.5 feet freeboard, have a rainwater catchment system for the new roof area, and obtain a minimum green building certification.
And even building renovations that will not trigger the new green building thresholds, must still demonstrate water and energy use at least 15% below the Florida Building Code standards.

It is clear that Key West has embraced sustainability, including mandating green building.

Via Green Building Law Update

This home will likely be “grandfathered” in, so to speak:

As most professionals in the A/E/C industry know, while the LEED rating system promoted by the USGBC is the most famous, it isn’t the only third-party green building standard. Due for a major revision in 2012, adoption of the next version of LEED has been postponed while some controversial aspects can be resolved.

In the meantime, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) was successful in a 2012 revision to its green building standard for residential construction: the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard. As a bonus, the consensus-based standard has been approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

“The introduction of the 2012 National Green Building Standard is a huge deal for our industry,” said NAHB Chairman Barry Rutenberg, a home builder from Gainesville, Fla. “Not only does the updated version raise the bar on energy efficiency requirements, but it also completely revolutionizes how renovations and remodeling projects are treated under the standard. The 2012 updates make the standard easier to understand and implement, and we expect that this will certainly help to build upon the momentum we are already seeing in green building across the residential building industry.”

To date, the standard has been widely implemented throughout the industry. The NAHB Research Center, which serves as the secretariat of the standard as it progresses through ANSI, has certified the compliance of thousands of dwelling units and developed lots to the ICC 700. Dozens of regional and local green initiatives refer to the standard within their program criteria. The International Green Construction Code (IgCC) requires compliance with the ICC 700 if a jurisdiction chooses to regulate residential buildings four stories or less in height, except that Group R-1 residential occupancies of all heights are always required to comply with the IgCC.

Via ICC eNews and Green Building Advisor

Frank Deluca is the CEO of DCL Equity Partners, a company which describes itself as follows:

DCL Equity Partners is a boutique private equity commercial real estate investment firm focused on delivering above average future returns and capital appreciation by means of developing, constructing, and managing a portfolio of truly green and sustainable real estate properties that are considered niche investments.

When it came time for Deluca to begin development of a new medical office building, he realized that “not going green was the single biggest mistake [he] could make.” But what about all the extra costs associated with going green? By using an integrative design process, Deluca’s team delivered a building that used less energy, cost less than other approaches, and avoided green building certification:

So now comes the question of LEED, Energy Star, BREEAM or all of the above. Here is my take on these sustainable measuring metrics: they all serve a purpose but they should not be your end goal. The goal is to cost-effectively deliver a sustainable, energy efficient building that benefits the community it serves and enriches the lives of those that use it. To do that you must think clearly and fiscally responsibly. Simple pay-back models cannot be used; when modeling your project you must look at life cost analysis. We must think legacy — of our buildings and our work. Hopefully, yours is longer than five years.

via Environmental Leader

That last line reminds me of something…

My latest post for Retail Design & Construction Today is now live.

2012 is here and overall forecasts indicate a dynamic year for retail design and construction. Here are some of the major trends for the coming year that will shape our industry:

Exhibitor/Speaker Opportunities

The Retail Design & Construction Show is still looking for exhibitors and speakers. This is an excellent opportunity to engage with some of the leaders in commercial real estate and construction. Hurry up, the deadline is rapidly approaching.

Washington-based construction lawyer, Douglas Reiser, posted an update on the LEED certified Courthouse Square project in Salem, Oregon. Following substantial completion in 2000 and LEED certification in 2002, serious construction defect were discovered. The structural defects uncovered resulted in the building being vacated. A claim has been filed with the insurance carrier, and talk remains of demolishing the building. Reiser brings up some interesting points:

I am a bit surprised that little has come out about this project. Perhaps this is because the most significant defects are largely unrelated to its LEED certification. But, this project has called into question the issued of decertification. Does a building that has been condemned deserve a LEED plaque? This is a big question that the USGBC might need to answer.

Recently, a Washington engineering firm performed a forensic investigation of the building, its building process, and the people involved. For the first time, the public has been given a sneak peak into the people involved in this building, the engineers who have inspected it and the events that led to its demise. You can review the Forensic Report on Scribd by following this link.

There are high energy efficiency standards in construction, and then there are extremely high energy-efficiency standards. The German Passivhaus (passive house) construction minimizes heating requirements by implementing superinsulation techniques and ensuring near air-tight construction.

The Passivhaus standard includes the following requirements:

A building must have a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (or 4,755 Btu per square foot) as well as an equivalent cooling load (1.39 kWh per square foot, since you’re most likely using electricity to cool).

A building must have a maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot) per year.

A building must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 Pascals.

To those of us in the construction defect community, a tighter house means more potential for mold. And “mold” is a four-letter word.

The folks over at OAC Management posted a great quote from John Ruskin: “When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone…”

OAC provides quality assurance for construction projects and assists homeowner associations with risk management in the Colorado region. Here is their take on sustainable construction:

While green building has become a recent trend, we at OAC take a different perspective on sustainability. We believe that no matter how green your structure is, that does not make it sustainable. To be truly sustainable your structure must stand the test of time. Our method to creating sustainable structures is through a QAO program, which produces true sustainable quality.This program verifies, through observation, that processes and assemblies are being constructed properly.

According to an EPA-commissioned study, location efficiency provides greater energy savings than home efficiency. Densely populated, mixed-use neighborhoods that reduce reliance on cars, result in greater net savings than more sparsely populated neighborhoods of Energy Star homes. While the methodology of the study requires further research, this preliminary information is intriguing.

What is the value of energy savings at the building level if we’re not also looking seriously at energy savings from transportation to and from our buildings? (See EBN‘s introduction to the topic in >Driving to Green Buildings: The Transportation Energy Intensity of Buildings, Sept. 2007.) Thanks to a study commissioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we have some new answers to that question, at least for Energy Star-rated residential buildings. The energy savings realized through location efficiency (walkable access to public transit and work, school, and retail centers) are greater than those achieved through home efficiency.

In other words, a conventional home in a transit-oriented neighborhood saves considerably more energy – and money – than an Energy Star home in a conventional suburban development.