The deeper one digs into the materials and resources discussion, it gets increasingly clear that adopting sustainable materials means looking beyond the use phase and focusing on a product’s entire life cycle—from raw materials extraction to end of life implications.
On the extraction side, much of the focus to date has centered on wood products. And although responsible forestry has certainly provided a good starting point for the building community, the fact is that it takes a lot more than wood to build a house.
In an effort to bring other materials into the fold, preparers of the draft versions of LEED v4 (formerly LEED 2012) have dug up a framework document that focuses on the responsible extraction of mined or quarried materials—a subject that up until now has been largely ignored by the building community.
As a point of reference, below is the wording used in the most of current draft version of LEED v4:
Mined or quarried materials. For raw materials that are mined or quarried using practices covered in the Framework for Responsible Mining or USGBC-approved equivalent, obtain signed letters from the owners of the manufacturing companies and their raw materials suppliers, stating that they have reviewed and understood the Framework for Responsible Mining and publicly declared their commitment to responsible mining. Each raw material supplier must provide an independently audited checklist listing all of the Framework for Responsible Mining’s Leading Edge Issues, and identifying which Leading Edge measures they are currently taking.
The referenced document, the Framework for Responsible Mining, is a 106-page report created in 2005 by the Center for Science in Public Participation “to provide the research background and to recommend principles for consideration by stakeholders interested in promoting responsible mining,” according to the executive summary. The Framework covers social, economic, and environmental issues associated with mining and divides them into two main areas—“the Norm,” which describes widely accepted practices, and “the Leading Edge,” which describes potential future standards.
Four main themes are covered within the main portion of the document, including:
• Determining whether a mine is an appropriate use of land;
• Ensuring environmentally responsible mine development;
• Ensuring that mine development results in benefits to workers and affected communities; and
• Ensuring that appropriate corporate governance structures are in place.
Within each of these areas, the Framework highlights Leading Edge recommendations, as noted in the draft version of LEED v4.
It is notable that the while the Framework covers a broad range of issues related to mining, it does not provide a comprehensive basis for the development of environmentally and socially responsible mining standards. As stated in the executive summary, the objective of the Framework is “to provide the research background and to recommend principles for consideration by a broader range of stakeholders interested in promoting responsible mining.”
David Chambers, one of the authors of the report, clarifies that while the Leading Edge issues discussed in the paper have not been formally adopted as standards, they have helped facilitate discussions within the mining industry and are being used as a reference in a larger scale effort called the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA).
According the IRMA website, its goal is to take a multi-stakeholder approach to developing credible standards as well as a commitment to independently verified certification. Stakeholders include mining companies, downstream users of mining products, environmental and human rights focused nonprofits, affected and indigenous communities, and labor. A work in progress since 2006, the organization expects its IRMA system to launch in 2014.
Interestingly enough, the Framework for Responsible Mining is just one of many research documents being used to create the IRMA system. You can see a full list of sustainable mining papers and research documents here.
Regardless of whether or not the Framework is accepted in the final version of LEED v4—or if another mining standards document ends up taking its place—it is certainly a step in the right direction. It seems pretty clear that responsible mining, as well as all other material extraction methods, need to be considered just as carefully as responsible forestry if we are going to ever reach sustainability.