An edited version of this appears on the USGBC National website.
Every day, people work in and around spaces filled with furniture, but how many of us know how our furniture impacts us or the environment? Furniture products can be made with high-emitting materials that can off-gas chemicals and potentially affect employee productivity; or they could be manufactured with high-embodied carbon materials that contribute to climate change. Choosing sustainable furniture is important for all projects, especially those pursuing LEED, so it is crucial to consider the environmental and human health impacts of the items we select for our spaces.
LEED V4.1 provides excellent guidance for teams looking to specify more sustainable products for their spaces through the following MR credits:
- Environmental Product Declarations
- Sourcing of Raw Materials
- Material Ingredients
How do we identify products to help us achieve our goal of LEED V4.1 certification? See below for some helpful tips. The good news is that there are plenty of products available that can contribute to many or all of these credits!
MR Environmental Product Declarations, Option 1
Understanding the environmental impacts of the products we specify can help us manage and reduce environmental harm. To meet this credit, specify products where the impacts have been studied and reported through third-party verified, Type III, Product-specific Environmental Products Declarations (EPDs).
These EPDs are based on Product Category Rules (PCRs), which are created by industries and set the framework for what is reported in the EPD, along with telling practitioners what to study in the Life Cycle Assessment. These are the highest-value documents available in this category (worth 1.5 products instead of one product).
Many furniture manufacturers can offer EPDs for their products. Product Category Rules have been created for Workstations, Seating, Storage/Casegoods, Tables, and Architectural Walls products, meaning that third-party verified, Type III Product-Specific EPDs meeting all LEED criteria are available for these product types.
Where do we find EPDs? Check furniture manufacturers’ websites (typically the sustainability page), EPD program operator sites (like SCS Global Services and UL Environment), and databases from groups like mindful Materials and Sustainable Minds. Project teams should verify that EPDs meet LEED criteria by cross-checking EPD requirements in the LEED rating system guidance.
Extracting and refining materials for use in our building products has large environmental and human health impacts. Using products with recycled, salvaged, and biobased content can help reduce our reliance on virgin or synthetic materials, while sourcing responsibly and thinking about the end of a product’s life at purchase has environmental benefits.
Products selected should meet at least one of the following criteria: have an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program, contain bio-based materials, are FSC Certified (Forest Stewardship Council), contain reused materials, and/or contain recycled content.
Recycled Content: Many furniture products available contain some amount of recycled content (post-consumer, pre-consumer, or a blend). Look for and specify products that have an Environmental Data Sheet (or similar documentation) and outline the percent of post-consumer and pre-consumer recycled content used.
FSC Certified Wood: Many products containing wood are available as FSC Certified (some at standard cost, and others at an upcharge). For some manufacturers, FSC is an option that must be selected at the time of order. For these products, it is important to understand the percent by weight of FSC Certified material, as well as collect the manufacturer’s Chain of Custody certificate.
Salvaged and Bio-Based Content: It can be difficult (but not impossible) to find furniture products that utilize salvaged or reused materials and bio-based materials and meet the criteria referenced in LEED V4.1. It is best to contact manufacturers and ask them directly if their products can contribute.
Extended Producer Responsibility: These programs exist, but some may not meet the credit criteria. It is best to contact manufacturers and ask them directly if their programs meet.
Where do we find documentation? Documentation for these pathways will most often be found on furniture manufacturer’s websites or upon request.
MR Material Ingredients, Option 1
The materials with which we choose to surround ourselves can contain potentially harmful substances. To attempt to minimize impacts, as well as learn more about our built environments, project teams should choose products that have been evaluated for their human health impacts, or have a disclosed material ingredients list.
Furniture products with Cradle to Cradle Certification, C2C Material Health Certificates, Health Product Declarations (HPDs), Declare Labels, and BIFMA LEVEL certification can contribute to this credit, in addition to other pathways where a product’s material ingredients list is disclosed at the 1,000ppm threshold (0.1% by weight). Many furniture products available may have one or more of the following certifications or declarations that meet this credit’s criteria:
- ANSI/BIFMA e3 (LEVEL Certified) Credit 126.96.36.199 in the e3-2014 standard, or 188.8.131.52 in the e3-2012 standard. A product’s achievement is shown on a product’s LEVEL scorecard, which should be requested from furniture product manufacturers.
- Cradle to Cradle Certified® products or Material Health Certificates with Bronze or higher achievements.
- Declare labeled products that are:
- Red List Free, LBC Red List Free, or Declared
- LBC Red List Approved or LBC Compliant that have been inventoried to 1,000ppm (0.1%).
- Health Product Declarations (HPDs) that are published, with full disclosure of known hazards and are compliant with the Health Product Declaration Open Standard. (More guidance can be found here, but the V4.1 updates have not yet been posted.)
- Additional pathways are available but may not have a wide variety of furniture products using the pathway.
Many furniture products meeting these requirements are available and any documents that are third-party verified are valued at 1.5 products instead of one product. This would include the ANSI/BIFMA e3 and Cradle to Cradle pathways, and any verified Declare Labels or HPDs.
Where do we find certificates, scorecards, or declarations? Documentation can be found on furniture manufacturer’s websites (project teams may have to request ANSI/BIFMA e3 scorecards), certification program sites, and databases like mindful Materials and Sustainable Minds.
Every decision we make about our buildings and spaces has a positive or negative impact on the environment and our health. Finding and specifying furniture products to meet the LEED V4.1 MR criteria will help projects achieve their certification goals and also create a more sustainable and healthier environment for occupants.
- Furniture products can contribute to or impact additional MR credits, like Interiors Life-Cycle Impact Reduction and Construction and Demolition Waste Management.
- In the LEED V4 and V4.1 BD+C rating system, furniture can be excluded from the MR credits. If project teams elect to include furniture, it must be included in the calculations for all MR credits being pursued. Furniture does need to be included in the LEED V4 and V4.1 ID+C rating system.
Mindful Materials Library (users may need to sign up for an account)
UL Environment UL SPOT database (users may need to sign up for an account)