Be Bold: How Manufacturers Can Leverage LEED v4.1 Sourcing of Raw Materials Credit

Construction and demolition (C&D) materials constitute a significant waste stream in the United States. These various C&D materials can be diverted from disposal and managed into new productive uses. Data from the EPA report notes that 600 million tons of C&D debris were generated in the United States in 2018, which is more than twice the amount of generated municipal solid waste. Demolition represents more than 90 percent of total C&D debris generation, while construction represents less than 10 percent.

The EPA reports that reducing the amount of C&D materials disposed of in landfills or incinerators can create employment and economic activities in recycling industries and provide increased business opportunities within the local community, especially when deconstruction and selective demolition methods are used. Reducing the amount of C&D materials in landfills can also Reduce overall building project expenses through avoided purchase/disposal costs, and the donation of recovered materials to qualified 501(c)(3) charities, which provides a tax benefit. Onsite reuse also reduces transportation costs.

C&D materials are generated when new building and civil-engineering structures are built and when existing buildings and civil-engineering structures are renovated or demolished (including deconstruction activities). Civil-engineering structures include public works projects, such as streets and highways, bridges, utility plants, piers, and dams. C&D materials often contain bulky, heavy materials such as:

  • Concrete
  • Wood (from buildings)
  • Asphalt (from roads and roofing shingles)
  • Gypsum (the main component of drywall)
  • Metals
  • Bricks
  • Glass
  • Plastics
  • Salvaged building components (doors, windows, and plumbing fixtures)
  • Trees, stumps, earth, and rock from clearing sites

Recycled content has been part of LEED for many years. In the early days, building product manufacturers plastered their brochures, trade show booths, and websites with recycled content claims. It seemed like every manufacturer always had two LEED credits to fall back on, recycled content and regional materials. Those days are long gone especially since the launch of LEED v4 in 2013. There is no longer a recycled content credit and the rules of the game have changed dramatically.

Recycled content plays an important role in the LEED v4.1 Sourcing of Raw Materials credit. Manufacturers can leverage the LEED v4.1 Sourcing of Raw Materials Credit to contribute points for their products. For the LEED credit, Recycled content claims for products must conform to the definition in ISO 14021–1999, Environmental Labels and Declarations, Self-Declared Environmental Claims (Type II Environmental Labeling). Average recycled content claims given in a range are not acceptable for the purposes of this criterion.

Many common materials have recycled content because of how they are manufactured; examples are steel, gypsum board, and acoustical ceiling tile. Although it is a good practice, reusing materials reclaimed from the same process in which they were generated does not contribute toward the recycled content of the material. Putting waste back into the same manufacturing process from which it came is not considered recycling because it was not diverted from the waste stream.

Reuse of materials includes rework, regrind, or scrap product (ISO 14021); these count as pre-consumer recycled only if they are used in a different product than the one whose production generated the waste. For example, glass culls that are reused to make new glass products do not count, but planer shavings, ply trim, sawdust, chips, bagasse, and sunflower seed hulls are considered pre- consumer recycled content when used to make new products.

It is important for manufacturers to understand the difference between pre-consumer and postconsumer in LEED. Postconsumer recycled content is consumer waste, much of which comes from residential curbside recycling programs for aluminum, glass, plastic, and paper. Other postconsumer feedstock is generated when construction and demolition debris is recycled. To be a feedstock, the raw materials must have served a useful purpose in the consumer market before being used again.

Pre- consumer recycled content comes from process waste that is used to make a different product. For instance, a composite board manufacturer may use sawdust from a lumber mill or waste straw from a wheat farm. This definition does not include in-house industrial scrap or trimmings, which are normally fed back into the same manufacturing process.

Recycled content claims must be specific to the installed product. Installed product refers to an item distinguished by color, type, and/or location of manufacture, as identified to the consumer by SKU or other means. Recycled content claims for custom products must be product specific; industry-wide or national averages are not acceptable. In all cases, if recycled content is given as a range, use the lowest recycled-content percentage.

Products meeting recycled content criteria are valued at 100% of their cost for the purposes of credit achievement calculation.

• Recycled content is the sum of postconsumer recycled content plus one-half the pre-consumer recycled content, based on weight.

• The recycled fraction of the assembly is then multiplied by the cost of assembly to determine the recycled content value.

Building product manufacturers that have updated their LEED documentation, AIA courses, and websites have better specification opportunities than those who don’t. Building product manufacturers are encouraged to develop LEED compliant HPDS, VOC emissions testing, and other mandatory tools for LEED specification. Contact Elixir Environmental for a free consultation for LEED.


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