Low-Emitting Materials Credits

USGBC LEED Rating System

There are a number of green building rating systems that provide credits for building products and furniture with low emissions or low content of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These credits are structured to encourage the selection of products with minimal adverse indoor environmental quality (IEQ) impacts. Of these, USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards are the most widely known and used green building rating systems globally. The LEED standards are also the most highly developed. There are thousands of buildings with LEED certification in the U.S. and throughout the world and many make use of one or more of the available LEED Low-Emitting Materials (LEM) credits.

USGBC's LEED v4 was a major technical upgrade of the 2009 LEED standard. LEED v4 became mandatory in late 2016 for building projects seeking LEED certification. In LEED v4 Interior Design + Construction, there are 128 points total with 17 points available for Indoor Environmental Quality. For EQ Credit: Low-Emitting Materials, LEED v4 includes product categories representing all of the major interior surfaces in a building and all of the layers comprising these surfaces. The table below reproduces the thresholds of compliance for the six categories of products under Option 1, Product Category Calculations. Three compliant categories earn one point for the project, five compliant categories earn two points and six compliant categories earn three points. Option 2, the Budget Calculation Method allows summing of the compliant percentages across all relevant categories with one to three points awarded depending upon the total percentage of compliant products.

LEED v4 LEM Credit System, Option 1 Product Categories

CATEGORY  REQUIREMENTS FOR LEM CREDIT
Interior paints & coatings applied on site ≥90% by volume meets CDPH Std. Method*; 100% meets VOC content evaluation
Interior adhesives & sealants applied on site ≥90% by volume meets CDPH Std. Method*; 100% meets VOC content evaluation
Flooring (all layers) 100% meets CDPH Std. Method*
Ceilings, walls, thermal & acoustic insulation (all layers) 100% meets CDPH Std. Method*
Furniture if part of scope of work ≥90% by cost meet ANSI/BIFMA M7.1 + ANSI/BIFMA e3 Section 7.6.2 (full credit) or Section 7.6.1 (1/2 credit)
Composite Wood 100% is classified as ultra-low-emitting or no added formaldehyde

*CDPH Standard Method V1.1 is referenced. In 2017, V1.1 became obsolete and was replaced by V1.2

In mid-2020, USGBC released LEED v4.1, the latest version of its family of standards. The LEM credit in LEED v4.1 has been simplified to make compliance more attainable. The complicated budget calculation method in LEED v4 has been removed and the credit is now based solely on meeting the LEM criteria for a specified number of compliant product categories. One to three points and an exemplary performance bonus are available depending upon the number of compliant categories. The previously bundled categories of walls, ceilings, and insulation are now separate product categories. In total there are eight categories: Paints & Coatings, Adhesives & Sealants, Flooring, Wall panels, Ceilings, Insulation, Furniture, and Composite wood. For most of these categories, compliance is determined based the quantity of products in compliance either as the percent of cost or the percent of surface area, and the threshold ranges for compliance have been adjusted to 75% to 90% by cost or surface area or by volume or surface area for wet-applied products. The table below reproduces the LEED v4.1 thresholds of compliance for the eight product categories. The subsequent table shows the associated LEM point system. All laboratories performing tests must by ISO/IEC 17025 accredited and the test methods must be within the scopes of their accreditations. All third-party certification bodies must be accredited under ISO/IEC 17065.

LEED v4.1 LEM Credit System

CATEGORY  REQUIREMENTS FOR LEM CREDIT
Paints & Coatings ≥75% by volume or surface area meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2*; 100% meets VOC content evaluation
Adhesives & Sealants ≥75% by volume or surface area meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2*; 100% meets VOC content evaluation
Flooring
≥90% by cost or surface area meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2*, or is inherently non-emitting or salvaged materials
Wall panels ≥75% by cost or surface area meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2*, or is inherently non-emitting or salvaged materials. Built-in cabinetry is excluded
Ceilings ≥90% by cost or surface area meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2*, or is inherently non-emitting or salvaged materials. Overhead structural elements are excluded
Insulation ≥75% of all insulation meets CDHP Std. Method V1.2*. Insulation for HVAC ducts and plumbing pipes are excluded
Furniture ≥75% of all furniture by cost meets ANSI/BIFMA M7.1 + ANSI/BIFMA e3 Section 7.6.2 (full credit) or Section 7.6.1 (1/2 credit), or is inherently non-emitting or salvaged materials.
Composite Wood ≥90% by cost or surface area is certified as ultra-low-emitting or no added formaldehyde, or is salvaged materials

*Optionally, samples may be tested by EN 16516 with assessment according to the German AgBB evaluation scheme, 2015.

LEED v4.1 LEM Point System

LEED POINTS FOR LOW-EMITTING MATERIALS
2 Product categories 1 Point
3 Product categories 2 Points
4 Product categories 3 Points
5 Product categories 3 Points + Exemplary performance
90% Threshold in ≥3 product categories Exemplary performance, or 1 point if only 1 or 2 points achieved above

 

As can be seen by comparing the LEM credit system in LEED v4.1 with the previous system, the incorporation of low-emitting products into buildings has been incentivized. Thresholds to compliance have been lowered to more realistic levels and there are now more pathways for a building project to earn maximum credits for its efforts to reduce potential sources of indoor air contaminants.

Berkeley Analytical is an ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratory with test methods CDPH Standard Method V1.2 and ANSI/BIFMA M7.1 in the scope of its accreditation. We are equipped with a large number of environmental chambers of various sizes and have performed thousands of tests of product samples that allow companies to market their products as contributing to LEED and other building rating system LEM credits. Additionally, we operate the ClearChem™ program which is officially approved by USGBC as a first-party claims pathway for LEM credits.  Contact us today to get started.

Green Globes Assessment Protocol, ANSI/GBI 01-2019, Green Building Initiative, 2019

The Green Building Initiative is a non-profit organization and an officially recognized ANSI Standards Developer. Their Green Building Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings is the only consensus-based green building rating system for commercial buildings. The standard is managed through a continuous maintenance schedule with updates typically occurring about every two years. The 2019 standard is currently undergoing a revision with a likely publication date of 2021. The current standard and the draft revision can be freely downloaded from GBI.

The Green Building Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings has defined six impact areas and allocates the possible 1000 points across these areas. There are no mandatory criteria. The Indoor Environment impact area has a maximum weighting of 150 points. Within that area, VOC source control is rewarded with a maximum of 17 points. Testing of VOC emissions of interior building products is by CDPH Standard Method V1.2 or by a listed proprietary method. Testing of VOC emissions from furniture and seating is by ANSI/BIFMA M7.1. In total, there are seven product categories: Adhesives & sealants, Paints & coatings, Floors & floor coverings, Acoustical & thermal insulation, Ceiling systems, Wall systems, and Furniture & furnishings including cabinetry. The ANSI/GBI-01-2019 LEM credits are shown in the following table. Not all categories are rewarded equally for the same level of effort. Insulation and wall systems have high thresholds that are only rewarded by one point, each. The furniture credit also has high thresholds with a relatively low reward.

ANSI/GBI-01-2019 LEM Credit System

CATEGORY  REQUIREMENTS FOR LEM CREDIT
11.2.1.1 - Adhesives & Sealants ≥70% by volume meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2 (2 pts); 90% meets VOC content evaluation (1 pt)
11.2.1.2 - Paints & Coatings ≥70% by volume meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2 (2 pts); 90% meets VOC content evaluation (1 pt)
11.2.1.3.1 - Floors/Floor coverings ≥90% by surface area meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2 (3 pts)
11.2.1.3.2 - Acoustical & thermal insulation ≥90% by surface area meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2 (1 pt)
11.2.1.3.3 - Ceiling systems (acoustical & gypsum board) ≥90% by surface area meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2 (3 pts)
11.2.1.3.4 - Wall systems (wall coverings, gypsum board, window shades) ≥90% by surface area meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2 (1 pt)
11.2.1.4 - Furniture & furnishings (includes cabinetry) ≥100% by cost meets ANSI/BIFMA M7.1 + ANSI/BIFMA e3 Section 7.6.1 (1 pt)
≥90% by cost meets ANSI/BIFMA M7.1 + ANSI/BIFMA e3 Section 7.6.2 (1 pt)
≥70% by cost meets ANSI/BIFMA M7.1 + ANSI/BIFMA e3 Section 7.6.3 (1 pt)

 

CHPS National Core Criteria, v3.0, Collaborative for High Performance Schools, 2019

The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) publishes criteria for the design of schools with the goals of maximizing the health, well-being, and performance of students, teachers, and staff; conserving resources; and practicing good environmental stewardship. The criteria support the CHPS Designed and the CHPS Verified certification programs. It is a points-based program like most other green building rating systems. CHPS National Core Criteria v3.0 is divided into seven impact categories with a total of 200 points available. Low-Emitting Materials are addressed in the Indoor Environmental Quality category. There are three prerequisite requirements affecting Paints & Coatings, Flooring Systems, and Composite Wood and six optional criteria that are awarded one point each for compliance. The CHPS Core Criteria prerequisites and award criteria are shown in the following table. The thresholds of compliance for the award credits are high and the reward of a single point per criteria within the framework of the standard is relatively low.

CHPS Core Criteria 2019 LEM Credit System

CATEGORY  REQUIREMENTS FOR LEM CREDIT
EQ P6.0 - Paints & Coatings (Prerequisite) ≥90% by volume meets VOC Content requirements (0 pt)
EQ P6.0 - Flooring Systems
(Prerequisite)
≥75% by area of resilient flooring & carpet meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2* (0 pt)
EQ P6.0 - Composite Wood
(Prerequisite)
≥90% by area meets CARB ATCM Phase 2 formaldehyde requirement (0 pt)
EQ C6.1.1 – Adhesives & Sealants ≥90% by volume meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2* + VOC Content requirements (1 pt)
EQ C6.1.2 – Flooring Systems ≥90% by area meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2* (1 pt)
EQ C6.1.3 – Composite Wood & Agrifiber ≥90% by area meets CARB ATCM NAF or ULEF formaldehyde requirements; agrifiber products meet NAF requirement (1 pt)
EQ C6.1.4 – Furniture & Furnishings ≥90% by number meets ANSI/BIMF M7.1 + ANSI/BIFMA e3 Sections 7.6.1 + 7.6.2. Pupil furniture also meets ANSI/BIFMA Section 7.6.3 (1 pt)
EQ C6.1.5 – Paints & Coatings ≥90% by volume meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2* (1 pt)
EQ C6.1.6 – Ceiling & Wall Systems ≥90% by area meets CDPH Std. Method V1.2* (1 pt)

*VOC emission results modeled to the school classroom scenario using appropriate material category.

The WELL Building Standard, WELL v2, International WELL Building Institute, 2020

IWBI officially launched WELL v2 in September 2020 after two years of extensive development and use as WELL v2 pilot. During that period, IWBI claims that the standard was used in more than 3000 projects across 54 countries. As stated on the company’s website, the WELL Building Standard is intended to produce more thoughtfully designed and operated spaces that generally enhance human health and well-being. The features of WELL v2 can be viewed here.

The system rewards 100 points maximum with a maximum of 12 points in each of ten impact categories, termed ‘Features.’ There are no prerequisites for low-emitting materials. Feature X06, VOC Restrictions, is optional and provides a maximum of four points credit for utilizing low-emitting-materials inside of the building envelop. A specified number of wet-applied products consisting of paints, coatings, adhesives, sealants, poured floor coverings are required to meet the VOC content requirements in several listed regulations and other standards. And, at least 75% of these wet-applied products by surface area or volume are required to be tested by a third-party laboratory for compliance with CDPH Standard Method V1.2. Or, the laboratory can test by EN 16516 and show compliance with the European Union LCI values. Compliance with these requirements for limiting VOCs from wet-applied products earns two points.

Additional points are available for limiting VOC emissions from three other product categories: Flooring; Furniture, millwork and fixtures; and Insulation, ceiling and wall panels. The respective compliance thresholds are 90% by cost or surface area, 75% by cost, and 75% by cost or surface area. Testing and compliance is either by: 1) CDPH Standard Method V1.2, 2) ANSI/BIFMA M7.1 with compliance to ANSI/BIFMA e3 Section 7.6.1 or Section 7.6.2 for furniture, or 3) EN 16516 with compliance to either the German AgBB evaluation scheme or to the European Union LCI values. One compliant category earns one point and two or more compliant categories earn two points.

Living Building Challenge, 4.0, Living Future Institute, 2019

LFI published the Living Building Challenge 4.0 standard in 2019 with the stated goal of streamlining the program so that the level of effort required to attain accreditation is better aligned with the impacts at both project and market level scales. The Living Building Challenge is deliberately not a points-based system. Project teams are required to address potential issues in seven performance areas termed ‘Petals’ and 20 Imperatives grouped within these Petals. Low-Emitting Materials are addressed in the Health + Happiness Petal, Imperative 10, Healthy Interior Performance. This Imperative requires all projects to comply with CDPH Standard Method (or international equivalent) for 90% of the interior products that have the potential to emit VOCs.