PVC Penalty Rejected by LEED Panel, But USGBC Still Looking at Issue

Issuing its final report, the U.S. Green Building Council’s technical and scientific advisory committee has rejected adding credits within the LEED Green Building Rating System for excluding PVC products. The committee report now goes to the USGBC’s LEED steering committee, where it will be reviewed again, with plans to look at “larger issues,” according to organization officials.

A draft report reaching the same conclusion—that there was not enough evidence to recommend credits for not using PVC in the LEED rating system—was first presented in 2004. Based on public comment and white papers submitted in response, USGBC’s TSAC expanded its analysis to address concerns and new data raised during the process, including end-of-life issues. “We investigated this question: For the applications studied, does the available evidence indicate that PVC-based materials are consistently among the worst of the alternative materials studied in terms of environmental and health impacts?” says Malcom Lewis, TSAC chairman. “Through the course of our intense research and study, however, we concluded that a simple yes or no answer to this question was not adequate, and a more nuanced answer which points the way to dealing with some larger issues was essential.”

“This is the right decision,” says Tim Burns, president of the Vinyl Institute. The report states that materials-related credits are a “blunt instrument” that could steer designers to choose materials with a more negative life-cycle impact, he notes. While thousands of studies have been conducted on PVC, and its health and environmental profile is well established, the report recognizes that there are major data gaps with respect to many competing materials.

“The report of the committee was correct in stating that there are no simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to assessing the desirability of different building materials,” Burns continues. “We agree with many of the recommendations of the technical committee relating to how materials are assessed in LEED. Specifically, we agree with the need for integrated methods for material evaluation rather than passing judgment on a particular credit for a particular material.”

Despite the report recommendations, the issue of PVC related penalties in the LEED is not dead. “The publication of the final TSAC report on PVC concludes one process and begins another,” says Scot Horst, chairman of the LEED steering committee. That committee is already working on efforts to determine USGBC’s next steps, he adds. Any significant changes to LEED credits will follow USGBC’s consensus process, he also notes.

“TSAC’s report identified critical gaps in our understanding of how materials impact our health and our environment. Americans spend 90 percent of our time indoors, and we’ve barely scratched the surface in our understanding of what that means to human health,” says S. Richard Fedrizzi, USGBC president, CEO and founding chairman. “Clearly, a commitment to research must be a component of USGBC’s leadership agenda, and a priority for the whole of the building industry.”