Complications of Sustainability Requirements

What could possibly go wrong?

The architect's sustainability consultant provided a LEED scorecard and other materials as we started the project specifications. As is typical, the project is expected to achieve most of the materials and environmental quality credits. The consultant provided text to be inserted into the technical sections to identify LEED focus materials, LEED submittals, and LEED quality assurance standards. The consultant also provided a matrix of spec section where each insertion is to occur.

For this discussion, I am focusing on the requirements for environmental product declarations (EPDs) as the example.

The matrix shows that EPD requirements must be inserted into 81 specification sections. Excluding Division 01, we expect to write 100 architectural spec sections for the project. So 80% will require EPDs. The number of potential products is far greater than the number of specification sections. The masonry section, alone has at least 15 products. The information we received does not indicate what materials must provide EPDs, so the assumption must be "all" materials must be selected based on EPD availability.

The insertions require text in the SUMMARY article to identify LEED requirements applicable to the particular specification section. For EPDs the following text must be inserted. The terms "LEED Focus Materials" and "Targeted Products" are undefined by the context of the insertion text and by the Division 01 Sustainable Design Requirements spec section. This seems to imply a goal rather than a requirement. The goal is to "target" compliant products.

LEED Requirements:

LEED Focus Materials (LFMs) For This Section

Targeted products to meet Building Product Disclosure and Optimization - Environmental Product Declarations requirements

Here are the EPD submittal requirements the consultant provided. Note that EPDs are required, but only for products that meet the requirements. The compliant products are not identified, so is it the contractor's responsibility to seek out products that have EPDs? If a product is named in the spec, can the contractor furnish the named product without an EPD even if the contractor knows of a similar product with an EPD? Or can the contractor simply ignore this and purchase products through normal channels and rely on the fact that the purchased product is not available with an EPD?


LEED Environmental Reporting Form: For all installed products and materials of this Section, complete the “LEED Environmental Reporting Form” (attached to end of Section 018113 “Sustainable Design Requirements”)

Product Data for Credit Building Product Disclosure and Optimization - Environmental Product Declarations (EPD):  For all products that meet EPD requirements, EPDs with relevant sections highlighted.

Now to complicate matters, I move to Division 01 and section 018113 - Sustainable Design Requirements. This section requires the contractor to implement practices to meet environmental performance goals including LEED certification by implementing the requirements related to these goals "to the fullest extent." This sentence is particularly problematic. The performance is set as a goal, but the requirements must be implemented. The "fullest extent" suggests strict compliance with all requirements is necessary because it does not state "when possible" as might be expected for a goal.

Division 01 specifies requirements taken directly from the LEED Reference Guide. The document is a guide; it is not written as a specification. Relying on the LEED Reference Guide as specification requirements may have unintended consequences.  By the statement below, the contractor must furnish only 20 products with EPDs even though 81 specification sections will include requirements to submit EPDs for an unknown number of LEED targeted products. This statement is specific about the number of products. However, LEED attributes credit differently depending on the type of EPD to calculate compliance for meeting the credit. So what actually must the contractor deliver—20 products with EPDs or products with EPDs to equate to 20 products? If all EPDs are product specific without 3rd party certification, it will take 80 EPDs to achieve the LEED credit. The difference is huge.


Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Product Declarations:

At least 20 different permanently installed products sourced from at least five different manufacturers that meet one of the following disclosure criteria for Environmental Product Declarations (EPD):

By delivering specifications such as this, the architect is passing sustainability compliance to the contractor. The reason may be that the LEED Reference Guide attributes the typically specified Materials and Resources credits and the Indoor Environmental Quality credits as Construction Credits rather than Design Credits in the Quick Reference Chart. Rather than researching products to identify those with EPDs that meet the other project requirements, the architect and sustainability consultant put the oneness on the contractor to research and select products to achieve the goal set by the design team. If the contractor fails? Oh well, it was only an unattainable goal—or was it a contractual requirement? Remember, when the owner furnishes documents to the contractor, the owner warrants that the documents accurately represent what the owner requires (Spearin Doctrine). If the contractor builds exactly what is shown in the documents, the contract is fulfilled. If a product is named, but an EPD is not available even though specified, the contractor may meet the contract simply by providing the named product.

Words matter. Specifications are intertwined. Division 01 governs all technical sections. When the documents are nebulous, as described above, the courts may have the final say despite what the documents require.

Nebulous documents create risk. As a result, Conspectus is developing a position statement to consistently guide our project approach when requested to specify requirements such as these.

Recent Posts


Professional Associations
Owner Focus
Contractor/Estimator Focus
Architect/Specifier Focus