Navigating LEED v4 for Concrete Masonry

Words: Dan KamysNovember 2015

Green Building

By Jennifer Wagner and Christie Gamble

Basalite-CMU-Folsom-Library Mutual-CMU-RooseveltPhil Bonnell has reason to be proud of the sustainability profile of his company. As VP and general manager of Basalite Concrete Products Northwest Region, Bonnell always has felt proud to provide an inherently sustainable product to a customer base that places high value on everything green. During the last year however, Bonnell has been exceptionally pleased with the joint efforts that he and his local competitor, Mutual Materials, under the leadership of Kendall Anderegg, have made to improve the sustainable attributes of the concrete masonry industry in the Pacific Northwest. For many reasons, concrete masonry can be conceptualized as an inherently green building material. Concrete masonry is resilient as it is largely protected against rotting, mold, fungus and termites, which can negatively affect other building materials. Masonry’s strength and ability to withstand high winds, rain and fire make it highly desirable in a climate that has become increasingly susceptible to severe weather. Finally, masonry’s thermal mass benefits can reduce energy bills and improve thermal comfort in buildings. However, one issue that has hampered the concrete masonry industry’s ability to appeal to the green design community is the carbon footprint associated with concrete. Cement production accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This has some environmentally conscious designers wary of specifying the material. Now, thanks to Basalite and Mutual Materials, designers in the Pacific Northwest have an option to specify concrete masonry with a reduced carbon footprint. Basalite and Mutual Materials understand the value in promoting masonry’s sustainable attributes to designers and are jointly promoting the use of CarbonCure’s innovative CO2 recycling technology. Both companies are now manufacturing concrete masonry products with CarbonCure’s technology, which recycles carbon dioxide from the smokestacks of industrial emitters into concrete. The CO2 is injected into the concrete during mixing, where it becomes chemically converted into solid calcium carbonate. This means that the CO2 gas will never be released into the atmosphere as it no longer exists. The resulting masonry products are greener and are being specified by leading designers in the Pacific Northwest. In honor of the sustainability efforts put forward by its partners, Basalite and Mutual Materials, the sustainability team at CarbonCure Technologies has prepared a brief description of how concrete masonry can contribute to points in LEED v4 (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), the most common green building certification program used in North America.

Contributing to points in the new version of LEED

LEED has always made it a priority to challenge the notion of what makes a material sustainable for manufacturers, designers and building owners. The definition of what makes a building material green has evolved in the latest version of LEED, which is known as LEED version 4 (or LEED v4). In LEED v4, the ability to classify a building material as green takes into account a broad range of considerations, including regional sourcing, recycled content and environmental impact over a product’s life cycle. The LEED system is currently in transition, and new building projects may apply for credits under LEED version 3 (commonly known as LEED 2009) or LEED v4. After Oct. 31, 2016, all new building projects will need to be submitted under LEED v4. [caption id="attachment_11459" align="alignleft" width="300"]Concrete masonry with a reduced carbon footprint can now be specified. Concrete masonry with a reduced carbon footprint can now be specified.[/caption] Compared to previous versions of LEED, LEED v4 takes a more holistic approach to defining a green building material with a particular focus on life cycle impacts and supply chain management. Architects are now asking manufacturers to collect information from outside of the localized manufacturing processes. In the past, self-declared recycled content and bare bones regional declarations were enough to meet LEED requirements, but under LEED v4, this is no longer the case. With significant changes to the Materials & Resources section of LEED, less emphasis is being placed on a product’s individual attributes. For example the recycled content credit that used to favor concrete products no longer exists. Under LEED v4, regional materials is not a separate credit, but rather is introduced as a value multiplier that applies to multiple credits for products sourced within 100 miles (changed from 500 miles under LEED 2009). LEED-Mutual-projectThere are now three new credits that acknowledge a designer’s use of sustainable products, and each is worth two points:
  1. Environmental product declarations
  2. Sourcing of raw materials
  3. Material ingredients

Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – EPDs

The intention of this credit is to encourage manufacturers to report and verify a product’s life-cycle impacts. The best tool for the job is the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). EPDs are similar to nutrition labels on food products, except they disclose environmental impacts over the lifecycle of a building material. In order to achieve the credit, project teams have several options. One option is for project teams to use a minimum of 20 different permanently installed products from at least five manufacturers that have issued public EPDs. The most common method to comply with this credit is for manufacturers to issue product-specific, ISO-compliant EPDs for full-credit value, or to use generic industry EPDs for half-credit value. The second option of this credit involves “multi-attribute optimization.” This credit requires that project teams comply with one from a list of criteria for 50 percent of the permanently installed products on the project, by cost. One option is to demonstrate that products have environmental impacts lower than industry averages in at least three environmental categories, including global warming potential (measured by CO2 emissions associated with the product).

Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Sourcing of Raw Materials

The second Materials & Resources credit, “Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Sourcing of Raw Materials,” has two options available. The first option is to publish a raw material source and extraction report, which outlines a supplier’s commitments to:
  1. Long-term ecologically responsible land use
  2. Reducing environmental harms from extraction and/or manufacturing processes
  3. Meeting applicable standards or programs voluntarily that address responsible sourcing criteria.

Product to Watch

Building Stone From Reclaimed Material

LEED-BlueridgeArriscraft has released its Matterhorn product, a building stone manufactured almost entirely from reclaimed material. Arriscraft’s Matterhorn Building Stone is made with 99 percent reclaimed material from existing manufacturing processes. While it doesn’t contribute to LEED certification as “recycled” (i.e. from an outside source), the product introduction reflects the company’s ongoing effort to reduce waste, energy usage and the impact of manufacturing. LEED-Matterhorn-Blueridge The recycling process creates a darker base material than normal and, through additional pigmentation, Matterhorn is available in two colors: Blueridge and Saddle. Plus, the combination of Guillotined and Tumbled finishes produces a rustic look. Arriscraft’s Natural Process technology uses only natural materials (plus color pigments) and replicates how stone is created in the earth. This patented process creates building stone with the natural aesthetics and durability of quarried stone, plus the convenience of standard installation and unlimited supply.
Arriscraft is the stone products group of brick manufacturer General Shale. For more information, visit
Another option under the Sourcing of Raw Materials credit is for the manufacturer to engage in sustainable leadership extraction practices. This credit requires that project teams meet one of the recommended responsible extraction criteria for at least 25 percent of the permanently installed products in the building, by cost. Acceptable responsible extraction criteria include the use of recycled content, FSC certifications for wood, and materials reuse. The requirements for this credit appear relatively consistent with previous versions of LEED.

Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Material Ingredients

Three options are available to achieve the “Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Material Ingredients” credit. However, only the first two options are viable today. The first option is around material ingredient reporting. Projects must use at least 20 different permanently installed products from at least five different manufacturers that use one of the approved programs to demonstrate the chemical inventory of the products. Acceptable approaches include products that have published Health Product Declarations (HPDs), or have been certified by Cradle to Cradle. HPDs are transparency documents similar to EPDs, but they disclose materials that may pose a health risk for either an end-user or a person involved in the manufacturing of that product. A second option takes it to the next level of optimization, whereby one point is awarded when products are used that document material ingredient optimization using various approved tools. Options of compliance include products that are certified to certain levels under Cradle to Cradle and GreenScreen.

What’s in store for the future?

Basalite and Mutual Materials have the capabilities of contributing to many of the credits under LEED v4. Like many concrete masonry manufacturers, these companies have been providing products with recycled content for many years. Now, with the additional emphasis on sustainability, both manufacturers are capable of providing EPDs and HPDs for products made with the CarbonCure Technology. Additionally, thanks to the reduction of the carbon footprint associated with the use of CarbonCure’s CO2 recycling technology, Basalite and Mutual Materials products are eligible to contribute toward the CO2 emission reduction criteria. As local industry leaders such as Phil Bonnell and Kendall Anderegg continue to promote sustainable masonry practices in the Pacific Northwest, they will continue to seek out new opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of the products they manufacture. Both individuals recognize that implementing CarbonCure’s CO2 recycling technology is just the first step in leading the concrete masonry toward a more sustainable future. But it’s a first step that truly gives Bonnell and Anderegg good reason to be proud.
For more information on how each company is implementing sustainability into their operations, visit their websites at and For more information on CarbonCure’s technology, visit Jennifer Wagner, VP of sustainability, and Christie Gamble, director of sustainability, at CarbonCure Technologies are leading an initiative to reduce the carbon footprint of the concrete industry. CarbonCure helps to bridge the gap between the sustainable design community and concrete producers through the creation of EPDs and HPDs, and the promotion of educational content navigating LEED v4.  

In The News

The Dryline Project Wins LafargeHolcim Award

The LafargeHolcim Awards is an international competition for sustainable design and construction

BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group has been honored with the Bronze LafargeHolcim Award for sustainable construction. The Dryline project addresses New York City’s vulnerability to coastal flooding with a protective ribbon in southern Manhattan. The eight-mile infrastructural barrier incorporates public space with the high-water barrier doubling as parks, seating, bicycle shelters and skateboard ramps. The project was praised for its sensitive blend of hard flood protection infrastructure and solutions for community needs that foster local commercial, recreational and cultural activities. It would provide flood protection that anticipates the effects of sea level rise and the likelihood of more intense storm activity. The project also takes the opportunity to enhance social infrastructure.

Reclaiming the waterfront

After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, New York City proposed a series of investments in southern Manhattan, described as integrated flood protection, that would reduce the risk of flooding and integrate into the neighborhood fabric. In collaboration with the city, a consortium led by BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group developed The Big U as a protective system around the low-lying topography of Manhattan, from West 57th Street, down to The Battery, and up to East 42nd Street. The project under the original title BIG U (East River Park) was one of six design proposals to address vulnerabilities exposed by Hurricane Sandy that was selected by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Rebuild by Design competition in 2014. Of the $920 million HUD allocated to New York, New Jersey, and New York City to begin implementation of the winning projects, $335 million was awarded to the City of New York for the realization of one of the three compartments described in the BIG U proposal – the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) Project – from East 23rd Street to Montgomery Street. The ESCR Project includes a mixture of elements, which may include concrete “bench” water barriers that also serve as playgrounds, bike shelters and planters; along with berms that also function as green areas and attenuate traffic noise or transform bleak zones beneath elevated roadways into public pavilions with a dual function of flood containment. When completed, it will benefit thousands of public housing and other residents of a particularly vulnerable part of Manhattan, and will demonstrate a new model for integrating coastal protection into neighborhoods, consistent with the City’s resiliency vision. Holcim and Lafarge joined forces in July 2015 and are committed to driving sustainable solutions for better building and infrastructure. The HolcimLafarge Awards are an integral part of the company’s commitment to sustainable development. The activities of the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction continue under the name LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction.
For more information, visit
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