Does LEED v4 ban PVC? Let's look at the details of the new rating system.
August 27, 2013
The vinyl industry has been vocally opposed to the new LEED v4 MR credits, even going so far as to characterize MRc4 Option 2 as a ban on PVC. The Vinyl Insitute, which represents PVC polymer makers, warned BuildingGreen (publishers of LEEDuser) in an email that LEED v4 “can actually lead architects and designers to make bad decisions in order to secure credits so they can market their buildings.”
Does LEED v4 ban PVC? Let's look at the details of the new rating system. (And check out our new webcast, which explores this and related issues in detail.)
LEED-NC v4 does not ban any building materials
It’s important to note that LEED-NC v4 does not actually ban any building materials. MRc4 is optional, and only 25% of permanently installed products have to meet the criteria in order to achieve Option 2—but we still wondered if a product containing PVC could still contribute to MRc4. The answer is decidedly “yes.”
PVC is on the banned list in Cradle to Cradle (C2C), but any product with an HPD or a manufacturer inventory can contribute to Option 1: as long as the ingredients are disclosed, it doesn’t matter what they are. Contributing to Option 2 would certainly be more challenging, particularly for products that include certain phthalates (plasticizers that make PVC flexible), but it’s still quite doable.
Some complications for PVC, but no dealbreakers
A full GreenScreen assessment, which would value a PVC product at 150% of its cost under the MRc4 requirements, would disqualify PVC because its life cycle begins and ends with Benchmark 1 hazards, Clean Production Action’s Lauren Heine told us. However, the List Translator, which would value a product at 100% of cost, doesn’t take the whole life cycle into account, so materials that don’t have toxic components in their use phase won’t have a problem passing through this screening process. Although PVC often contains additives like phthalates and even heavy metals like lead that are likely to be on red lists, “the PVC molecule itself is pretty benign” and doesn’t appear in the List Translator, Heine said.
PVC also doesn’t show up on either of the relevant REACH lists, so products that meet those criteria can also count for Option 2, even in U.S. projects.
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The bottom line? There are multiple pathways for PVC-containing products to contribute to maximum points in this credit.
It's optional, anyway
That's right—the key word here is "credit." MRc4 is optional, and many projects might scoff at the 1–2 points it offers as reward for a heap of documentation. Plenty of projects just won't bother.
For those projects that do pursue MRc4, credit achievement is based on meeting the credit criteria for just a portion of products on the job (20 products for Option 1, or 25% of total product cost for Option 2), so it's always possible to have non-compliant products on the project that don't contribute to meeting those thresholds.
The Vinyl Institute makes its case
When I pressed him on how MRc4 could act as a ban on PVC, Dick Doyle, president of the Vinyl Institute, told me that “people are going to go for the easiest thing” and that “they will cut to the chase with C2C.” (I'm not sure that the inventors of C2C—William McDonough and Michael Braungart—whose Platinum certification criteria have never been approached, would agree.) Doyle noted the influence that LEED has with government agencies and worried that health advocates “are going to be very active in helping the community know that you have many better options than PVC.”
Asked for an example of how LEED v4 could lead an architect to make a bad choice for a building, Doyle told me that designers could be forced to look for alternatives to PVC roofing, which is generally recognized as durable. However, non-PVC options such as TPO, EPDM, and standing-seam metal are also very durable, as we have reviewed in EBN. (Not to say that those materials provide a free ride in terms of avoiding toxic chemicals, as discussed in EBN.)
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