The environment around us is an essential part of human survival. The problems we are facing are serious. When choosing building materials, it’s necessary to consider the lifespan of a material, from its origin to its disposal.
Humanity is barreling toward a “ghastly future” of mass extinctions, health crises and constant climate-induced disruptions to society — one that can only be prevented if world leaders start taking environmental threats seriously. Humanity is causing a rapid loss of biodiversity and, with it, Earth’s ability to support complex life. But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilization. This is according to a report published by scientists from Stanford, Berkley, and several leading universities from around the world.
The 2021 report, Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future reviews three major crises facing life on Earth: climate disruption, biodiversity decline and human overconsumption and overpopulation. Citing from more than 150 studies, the researchers argues that these three crises — which will escalate in the coming years — put Earth in a more precarious position than most people realize, and could even jeopardize the human race.
In addition, the report discusses a central concept in ecology called density feedback, which means as a population approaches its environmental carrying capacity, average individual fitness declines. As a population increases in density, mortality factors also increase their effect and kill off more of the population. When large numbers of people move from rural areas to cities, they increase the chance that infectious diseases will spread and increase mortality, for example, the Black Death plague, COVID, and other infectious diseases. In contrast, a person living alone (at low density) off the land runs a negligible risk of contracting an infectious disease from other people.
Researchers note that for most of history, human ingenuity has inflated the natural environment’s carrying capacity for us by developing new ways to increase food production, expand wildlife exploitation, and enhance the availability of other resources. This inflation has involved modifying temperature via shelter, clothing, and microclimate control, transporting goods from remote locations, and generally reducing the probability of death or injury through community infrastructure and services.
But with the availability of fossil fuels, our species has pushed its consumption of nature’s goods and services much farther beyond long-term carrying capacity (or more precisely, the planet’s biocapacity), making the readjustment from overshoot that is inevitable far more catastrophic if not managed carefully. A growing human population will only exacerbate this, leading to greater competition for an ever-dwindling resource pool. So what can design professionals do to help minimize environmental impacts and help transform the built environment in a positive way? Let’s find out…
According to the USGBC LEED v4 BD+C Reference Guide, “Raw material extraction has a direct environmental impact on Earth’s ecosystems. For example, conventional logging is the largest source of deforestation in Latin America and subtropical Asia, accounting for more than 70% of resource depletion; mining operations clear another 18% of the world’s forests. Unmanaged extraction practices can cause not only deforestation but also degradation of water sources, habitat loss, threats to rare and endangered species, releases of toxic chemicals, and the infringement of indigenous peoples’ rights.
The LEED v4.1 BD+C and ID+C MR: Sourcing of Raw Materials credit encourages the use of responsibly sourced and extracted materials through reporting and demonstration of responsible extraction practices. In addition to seeking the responsible sourcing of virgin materials, teams are also encouraged to reduce raw material usage by selecting reused and recycled materials. Teams may also follow leadership performance standards and certifications that encourage local sourcing. To recognize the rapidly changing marketplace conditions for product and material reporting, this credit has an additional “USGBC-approved program” criterion designed to recognize any leadership certification programs that may be developed in the future.
By increasing the demand for transparency in mining, quarrying, agriculture, forestry, and other industries, this credit rewards environmental impact reductions that go beyond the individual project and have positive effects on the sources of project materials. The intent of the LEED v4.1 BD+C and ID+C MR: Sourcing of Raw Materials credit is “To encourage the use of products and materials for which life cycle information is available and that have environmentally, economically, and socially preferable life cycle impacts. To reward project teams for selecting products verified to have been extracted or sourced in a responsible manner.”
If you are familiar with the LEED v4 version of the Sourcing of Raw Materials credit, you will notice many big changes to the LEED v4.1 version of the credit. Option 1 of this credit in LEED v4 was intended to focus on improving the knowledge gaps and encourage best practices in raw materials sourcing and extraction. However, lack of specific enough Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reports have made achievement of this credit challenging. The intent of this credit option is still a priority and USGBC plans to move Option 1: Raw Material Source and Extraction Reporting to the Pilot Credit Library where it can be refined and updated. By removing Option 1, Option 2 is now worth two points in version 4.1, and the title has changed to “Responsible Sourcing of Raw Materials.”
Building product manufacturers can benefit from the LEED v4.1 Sourcing of Raw Materials credit. There are five potential ways that product manufacturers can contribute:
• Extended producer responsibility (EPR)
• Bio-based materials
• Wood products (FSC)
• Materials reuse
• Recycled content
Building product manufacturers that can meet the LEED requirements for any of the 5 pathways may help contribute LEED points and increase their specification opportunities. In future posts, we will outline how manufacturers can meet each requirement and the documentation needed by AEC firms. Building product manufacturers are encouraged to visit the USGBC website to learn more about this important LEED credit. Manufacturers can also learn more by taking the course Sustainable Supplies: LEED v4.1 Sourcing of Raw Materials.