Over the years, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has established standards referenced in many national sustainability initiatives. In particular, the ISO 14001 (environmental management) standard and ISO 50001 (energy management) standard are commonly referenced by manufacturers, certifiers, and standards developers. These standards, in conjunction with the ISO 14020 series (environmental labels and declarations) and ISO 14040 series (life cycle assessments), provide a valuable general framework for sustainability.
In previous versions of LEED and other green building standards and rating systems, points were given for the cumulative use of products with single environmental attributes (recycled content, low VOCs, etc.). As a result, many manufacturers were promoting these single environmental attributes upon which the marketplace focused heavily. This created many different certification labels across different industries which resulted in an unorganized and often confusing marketplace. It also created a false perception that environmental sustainability was based solely on single attributes, even though there were many other things which should have been considered when determining if products were "green." Today, many industries recognize that there are a wide variety of concepts to consider when evaluating product sustainability and have taken it upon themselves to write multi-attribute sustainable product standards that focus on many concepts throughout the full product lifecycle.
In a previous blog, we discussed the increasing importance of the availability of product lifecycle environmental data. This trend towards an increased need for product lifecycle information is evidenced, in part, by today's demand for Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). An EPD is a report of quantified environmental impacts of a product, based on its LCA. Similar in concept to a nutrition label, an EPD tells a product's full environmental story in a familiar reporting format so an end user can make an informed decision.
One revamped initiative in the North American green building industry involves an expanded look into raw material characterization. LEED v4 includes several new provisions in this regard, addressed by MR Credit 3 "Building product disclosure and optimization – sourcing of raw materials," and MR Credit 4 "Building product and optimization – material ingredients."
Today, there is a big push for "whole building lifecycle assessments (LCAs)." While simple in theory, whole building LCAs are very difficult to standardize. Given today's marketplace, which is heavily reliant on the prescriptive checklist approach of green building standards and rating systems, it would be unrealistic to expect that whole building LCAs could be fully and exclusively adopted all at once. However, whole building LCAs are widely embraced, and the transition towards their partial implementation is already taking place.
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