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What We Can Learn from LEED v4: Multi-Attribute Sustainability Standards for Products

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.

Green building programs are increasingly taking advantage of the fact that many industries have "go-to" standards and certification programs for multi-attribute product sustainability. Several green building standards and rating systems already offer points for the use of conforming products. For example, the tile industry's standard and certification program, Green Squared®, is referenced in its entirety by the NAHB National Green Building Standard and ASHRAE 189.1 where points are awarded for the use of Green Squared Certified® products. The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) speaks to the importance of multi-attribute standards and certification programs in its Whole Building Design Guide (, specifically recommending the use of the Green Squared Certification program when considering tile in sustainable buildings. In January, 2014 an International Green Building Code (IgCC) change proposal will be submitted for the specification of multi-attribute product sustainability standards such as Green Squared; But, because ASHRAE 189.1 (an alternative compliance path to IgCC) already specifies such standards, Green Squared in effect is already specified by IgCC.

Additionally, USGBC has been considering different strategies for specifying such standards and/or certification programs in LEED. In fact, the wheels are already in motion to make this happen. Recently, LEED MR Pilot Credit 80 (Environmentally Preferable Products and Furnishings) was established, under which a point can be earned for the use of products with 3rd party multi-attribute sustainability certification. Currently, USGBC is seeking input from its stakeholders on which representative program to include from each industry. While Green Squared Certified products already satisfy many of the current LEED MR requirements, as the MR requirements are consistent with many of the requirements of the Green Squared standard, requests are also being made for the inclusion of Green Squared under Pilot Credit 80 to allow certified products to contribute towards additional points.

With the increased focus on multi-attribute sustainability standards, it can be expected that more and more attention will be given to programs like Green Squared. Hundreds of Green Squared Certified products are already in the marketplace, and this number is expected to grow in the years ahead as their usage can contribute towards points in some green building standards and help fulfill material requirements in others.