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  • Writer's pictureMolly Jones

Guiding Principle 5: Reduce the Environmental Impact of Materials

Updated: Jun 22


This is a weekly series for the next 6 weeks reviewing the Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings and Associated Instructions.


Guiding Principle five is about reducing the environmental impact of materials. There are six categories and subprinciples.



5.1 Materials - Recycled Content

Recycled content uses products that meet or exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) recommendations for building construction, modifications, operations, and maintenance.




5.2 Materials - BioBased Content


Bio-based content is products designed with the highest content level of the USDA bio-based content recommendations. These are any ozone-depleting substances involved in mechanical systems, refrigeration systems, hazardous waste, and solid waste management.




Recycled Content


These are projects for which the meter has exceeded EPA’s recycled c content recommendations for building construction, modifications, ops, and maintenance where applicable and required by statute. In most cases, a significant number of these are in your project.


The LEED Rating System v4 is looking at building product optimization and disclosure. Instead, we are looking for health and environmental product declarations and disclosure of chemicals used in products.

Recycled content is one portion of the material credits. It is not a one-to-one equivalent like LEED 2009 (LEED v3). (I use the LEED spreadsheet to track the project's recycled content.) That will be submitted at the end of the project. In most cases, the contractor selects the products they feel meet the requirements.

The EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guideline Program will allow you to look for recycled content recommendations for many projects.

BioBased Content


The USDA has a website dedicated to BioBased Content. It will show you how many products are feasible to use that have biobased content and at what level.


This will also need to be documented during the design phase and construction.



5.3 Products


It’s imperative to utilize materials that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment throughout their lifespan. You’ll want to do a comparative search when looking at products.


The Greener Products and Services is looking at what the EPA is recommending for Ecolabels for the products. If you do some investigations, you’ll find bio-preferred materials with a high recycle content that also carries an Ecolabel. These are the products to hone in on to ensure we’re meeting the requirements and leveraging the sustainability features in a single product.




5.4 Ozone-Depleting Substances

There are current regulatory and statutory requirements for ozone-depleting materials. With modernization projects, verifying the regulations is essential, even if you aren’t replacing the mechanical system entirely.


You’ll want to ensure the specified systems and refrigerants are safe in the environment and have low global warming potential (GWP) and ozone depletion characteristics. The EPA SNAP website has alternative replacement refrigerants and associated policies.


You can also document that you are not using refrigerants or refrigerants that don’t contain harmful substances and don’t contribute to GWP.



5.5 Hazardous Waste


Hazardous waste has regulatory requirements for managing, generating, storing, treating, and disposing of hazardous materials.


The big question is, “What hazardous materials will be stored in the project?” This reaches beyond the actual construction and is planning for hazardous materials that may be stored in the building. What is the procedure to manage that?


If you are doing a modernization project, how will you treat and dispose of those properly during the project? You’ll need to demonstrate that it’s complete and that you have identified all the hazardous waste issues on the project.



5.6 Solid Waste Management


Construction waste and solid waste should be diverted from landfills as much as possible. Each area of the country has different levels of infrastructure to handle this. It’s essential to contact your waste provider at the installation and understand what waste can be diverted.


It’s also important to understand what recyclables can be diverted so you can set up recycling at the project and during occupancy. The requirement is a diversion rate of 50%. Several agencies use that as a minimum. This will be documented in the construction and demolition waste plan.


On the design side, you’ll include a specification section that requires drafting that plan by the contractor. You’ll make sure it meets the minimum 50% diversion and addresses the appropriate diversion level for your specific project. You’ll want to verify the building is designed to have that infrastructure in the space to accommodate the collection of ongoing consumable recyclables that will occur in the building properly.




For more information on this principle or the guidelines for modernization projects, refer to the Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings and Associated Instructions.

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