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Local materials, for local people (or a review of LEED credit MR5.1)

by mel starrs on February 2, 2009

in BREEAM versus LEED, LEED

The regional materials credits in LEED are interesting. Obviously written with the US in mind, “regional” is defined as a 500 mile radius. For London this extends as far as Denmark, which could be fairly handy if you’re looking for triple glazed windows or funky radiators.500 mile radius london

I suspect if you were in the north of Scotland this would extend to mainly the sea. Bladderwrack huts, anyone?

BTW, I used this handy website to create the image.

There’s an interesting juxtaposition to the 100 mile diet which is obviously much more onerous. I’ve toyed with the idea of a 100 mile diet before, but given the massive centralised distribution infrastructure of food in the UK (Abel and Cole are as much affected as Tesco, so just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it hasn’t been driven half way round the UK), it’s very difficult to implement. The definition of local food varies in the UK:

Sustain (The Alliance For Better Food and Farming) offers the following definitions for local food:

  • produced within 30 miles of the point of sale (PoS)
  • produced within 50 miles of PoS
  • in towns and small cities produced within 50 miles of PoS
  • for large cities produced within 70 miles of POS
  • produced in the county.

Enough of food, back to materials. The intent of the LEED credit is: “to increase demand for building materials and products that are extracted and manufactured within the region, thereby supporting the use of indigenous resources and reducing the environmental impacts resulting from transportation.”

So, is this desirable, possible or feasible for the UK? What is the equivalent measure in BREEAM?

Local materials is something which pops up in a number of manifestos, including BioRegional’s One Planet Living (#4 Local and Sustainable Materials – Destructive resources exploitation (eg in construction and manufacturing) increases environmental damage and reduces benefits to local community).  The topic is expanded further here:

The embodied energy, durability, toxicity and ecological footpring of materials should be a standard construction consideration, going beyond the UK Government’s current understanding of “zero carbon homes”, which only includes post-build emissions.

Thirty percent of road freight in the UK carries building materials across the country for no good reason. Government building projects should follow local sourcing policies, and local authorities should provide similar policies to developers in pre-application planning discussions. Local and regional reclamation strategies are an easy way for government to promote the use of sustainable materials.

Governments should also make sure they only use the best available materials on their own projects, both as a matter of principle, for example by only using FSC cerified timber, and in some cases to help develop nascent markets such as in limecrete. Set minimum reclaimed materials content for planning briefs or include reclaimed materials in the government procurement system.

There is obviously a lot more here than just using “local” materials – “best available materials” could be interpreted in a number of ways, and cost is an issue which isn’t factored in.

So what does BREEAM say about “local”? Part of MAN 3 Construction Site Impacts asks for transport movements of materials to be recorded, however, there is no targets or limits set:

BREEAM does not set targets, as these are very project specific. For guidance on setting targets, refer to DTI’s Construction Industry KPI Pack; this series of documents guides the reader through setting targets for their own projects.

The next credit to look at is the sometimes controversial Mat 1 Materials specification which references the Green Guide (which has had a certain amount of flack since launching the new version last year). This methodology includes for some (but not all) transport impacts. From the methodology (pdf, 71 pages):

6.7
Transport

6.7.1
Transport to factory gate

For transport of materials to the factory, data is obtained from the manufacturers for the distance travelled, mode of transport (e.g. sea, rail, and road), vehicle or ship type and average loads or number of deliveries and return load. If data is not provided, then BRE will use default data provided by the Department for Transport from the continuing Survey of Roads Goods Transport.
6.7.2
Transport from factory to site

Manufacturers are asked to provide data on the typical methods of transport of the product to the site. This includes distance travelled, vehicle type and average load and return load if any. In the absence of this information, then BRE will use default data described in 6.7.1.
6.7.3
Calculating inventory data for transport

6.7.3.1
Road transport excluding municipal waste collection, tractor and trailer and Van < 3.5 tonnes

For road transport, the overall distance and tonnes km travelled by each vehicle type is calculated based on the average number of deliveries. Fuel consumption is calculated based on direct fuel consumption figures obtained from UK DfT Road Freight Statistics 2005 and the overall distance travelled.
Infrastructure for road transport including road building and maintenance, lorry and tyre maintenance and replacement is not included within the Environmental Profiles.
6.7.3.2
Rail, water and air transport and municipal waste collection, tractor and trailer and van < 3.5 tonnes

For rail and ship transport, the overall tonnes km travelled by each transport type is calculated.
Ecoinvent models for the infrastructure and energy associated with transport are then used based on the total tonnes km travelled by each mode of transport.
Rail transport is assumed to be a mix of electric and diesel, based on a European average.
Infrastructure for rail, water and air transport is not included within the Environmental Profiles.

Now reading this (and I could be wrong and will happily stand corrected) neither air freight nor shipping of building materials is counted in the Green Guide.  The impact of this may be minimal – but if materials are shipped from say, China, the environmental profile may work out better than locally produced but road transported materials. Odd. Correction: I *was* reading this wrong – shipping and rail is included, but the environmental cost of building and maintaining roads, rail and shipping is not. Air travel is another issue, but I’m not aware of many building materials shipping in planes.

So, local is a relative term and is only one factor to be considered when looking at materials. LEED and BREEAM have very different ways of assessing the “regionality” of a material, neither of which are perfect. Neither explicitly cover local employment either, which is currently a hot topic in the UK. As I’ve said before, this is where sustainability strays into the field of politics and outside of most companies comfort zone. It’s all about balance.

Personally, I prefer to think in terms of the Natural Step framework, licenced in the UK by Forum for the Future. Two of the four system conditions explicitly refer to materials and are reflected the thinking behind such initiatives as Cradle to Cradle*:

  • Society mines and disperses materials faster than they are returned to the Earth’s crust (examples include oil, coal and metals such as mercury and lead).
  • Society produces substances faster than they can be broken down by natural processes—if they can be broken down at all (examples of such substances include dioxins, DDT and PCBs).

This isn’t as tough as it first sounds:

At first reading, the system conditions and basic principles might seem to imply that we must rid society of all materials extracted from the earth and all substances produced by society and that, further, we must never disturb a natural landscape. But that’s not what they mean. The problem is not that we mine and use heavy metals, or use chemicals and compounds produced by society, or disrupt natural processes, or even temporarily interfere with people’s capacity to meet their basic needs. It is, rather, that our industrial system has developed so that substances extracted from the earth and produced by society will continue to build up indefinitely in natural systems. That means a progressive buildup of pollutants and substances that not only harm us directly but damage natural processes that have taken billions of years to develop.

By applying these principles to any specific situation, a hierarchy of requirements will develop. Whilst it would be lovely to have a one-size-fits-all tickbox solution, in reality each situation is slightly different. Then again, I would say that. If I didn’t believe it to be the case, my work here would be done and I would be off doing aromatherapy!

*Cradle to Cradle and Natural Step are very much seperate, but complementary frameworks. Interestingly, LEED now reward the use of Cradle to Cradle certification.

  • http://www.fairsnape.wordpress.com martin brown

    Mel, excellent blog, should be essential reading for any one grapling with the concept of local resources. It has prompted me to put some thoughts on localism on my blog. This is an welcomed area of discussion and debate that will continue for a good while.

    and aromatherapy will wait for you …

    Martin

  • http://www.fairsnape.wordpress.com martin brown

    Mel, excellent blog, should be essential reading for any one grapling with the concept of local resources. It has prompted me to put some thoughts on localism on my blog. This is an welcomed area of discussion and debate that will continue for a good while.

    and aromatherapy will wait for you …

    Martin

  • John Cave

    “Thirty percent of road freight in the UK carries building materials across the country for no good reason.”

    Excellent blog Mel, thanks for the insight. Just to add an observation from my own experience, whenever guidelines are laid down the first thought of many contractors and suppliers is ‘Where are the loopholes?’

    For example (this is anecdotal and third hand, but the point is clear) some large government funded schemes have a clause where 50% of the transport needs to be ‘sustainable.’ I have heard of cases where goods have been brought hundreds of miles past the site by road to meet a rail connection to go into the site!

    I know it is early days with this legislation, and each case is different, but a change in culture is required first and foremost.

  • John Cave

    “Thirty percent of road freight in the UK carries building materials across the country for no good reason.”

    Excellent blog Mel, thanks for the insight. Just to add an observation from my own experience, whenever guidelines are laid down the first thought of many contractors and suppliers is ‘Where are the loopholes?’

    For example (this is anecdotal and third hand, but the point is clear) some large government funded schemes have a clause where 50% of the transport needs to be ‘sustainable.’ I have heard of cases where goods have been brought hundreds of miles past the site by road to meet a rail connection to go into the site!

    I know it is early days with this legislation, and each case is different, but a change in culture is required first and foremost.

  • Andrew

    Breeam is currently pretty rubbish when it comes to considering transport impacts, and LEED as you highlight is not that appropriate to our context.

    What we’ve been trying to do (on a well known project in the east end of london with a defined deadline!), is to look at the choices and estimate the carbon emissions for each – for example treating Japanese Knotweed in-situ rather than digging it up and dumping it offers a significant reduction in transport requirement, which when calculated as CO2 with other emissions from processing was about a 75% reduction.

    Another example is using gas rather than diesel generators for temporary power – the co2 emissions from using gas are lower than the diesel of course, but what about the transport? The gas generators are sourced from Scotland, and the diesel ones from Holland. Although the gas generators are from the UK, the have to travel further to get to us. But overall the CO2 emissions were still 22% lower by using gas rather than diesel (including the use of the fuel for around 2 years). Due to limited time, I couldn’t get information about where all the constituent parts of these generators were made (I assumed they were roughly the same for both). The using the DEFRA shadow price of carbon, the cost of the carbon was added to the capital and running costs for both.

    I think this is the right sort of approach – what are the choices and how can we show (using an apples for apples comparison) that the one we end up using has the least impact. However perhaps most people dont bother because, a) it’s not asked for yet and b) it can be quite a bit of work to collect some of the information and interpret it.

  • Andrew

    Breeam is currently pretty rubbish when it comes to considering transport impacts, and LEED as you highlight is not that appropriate to our context.

    What we’ve been trying to do (on a well known project in the east end of london with a defined deadline!), is to look at the choices and estimate the carbon emissions for each – for example treating Japanese Knotweed in-situ rather than digging it up and dumping it offers a significant reduction in transport requirement, which when calculated as CO2 with other emissions from processing was about a 75% reduction.

    Another example is using gas rather than diesel generators for temporary power – the co2 emissions from using gas are lower than the diesel of course, but what about the transport? The gas generators are sourced from Scotland, and the diesel ones from Holland. Although the gas generators are from the UK, the have to travel further to get to us. But overall the CO2 emissions were still 22% lower by using gas rather than diesel (including the use of the fuel for around 2 years). Due to limited time, I couldn’t get information about where all the constituent parts of these generators were made (I assumed they were roughly the same for both). The using the DEFRA shadow price of carbon, the cost of the carbon was added to the capital and running costs for both.

    I think this is the right sort of approach – what are the choices and how can we show (using an apples for apples comparison) that the one we end up using has the least impact. However perhaps most people dont bother because, a) it’s not asked for yet and b) it can be quite a bit of work to collect some of the information and interpret it.