Among several new wrinkles in the USGBC’s planned update to the LEED rating system for new building design and construction (formerly New Construction or NC) are available credits for disclosing and assessing the impacts of materials during their presumed life cycles.

In fact, the recently released third draft of LEED 2012, now accepting public comment through March 20 ( www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=2599), specifically mentions life-cycle assessments (LCAs) and/or Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) as the means for disclosing and verifying that impact. (For more on EPDs, go to http://www.ecohomemagazine.com/lifecycle-assessment/know-your-epds.aspx.)

While stakeholders agree that LCAs and EPDs are essential tools in the LEED rating system, a statement of consensus issued by a consortium of vested interests, including Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, and the Forest Stewardship Council, recommended a unique and arguably broader methodology used by SCS for delivering those disclosures versus the USGBC’s reliance on an ISO standard for Type III EPDs.

“It's hard to argue with expanding the scope of LCAs, but it's also important to have consistency across industries, which is what ISO standards try to provide,” says Nadav Malin, president of BuildingGreen and the Vision 2020 Materials and Resources chair. “I think that LEED made a defensible choice here.”

Far from splitting hairs, the debate could throw the proliferation of EPDs into neutral, at best, delaying a meaningful (if perhaps limited) means of reliable and comparable carbon footprints among materials. “For now, designers should use with care and the knowledge that the SCS methodology is not following the same protocol as most other EPDs available today, making comparisons impossible,” says Jennifer Atlee, research director at BuildingGreen.com.

For a deeper analysis of this and other aspects of the latest LEED 2012 draft, check out this blog post at BuildingGreen.com: http://www.buildinggreen.com/live/index.cfm/2012/3/1/FSC-and-Beyond-LEED-2012-Buries-the-Wood-Wars-Hatchet.