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The Committee on the Environment (COTE®) is an AIA Knowledge Community working for architects, allied professionals, and the public to achieve climate action and climate justice through design. We believe that design excellence is the foundation of a healthy, sustainable, and equitable future. Our work promotes design strategies that empower all AIA members to realize the best social and environmental outcomes with the clients and the communities they serve.

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Partner Content: Key changes to specifying paints and coatings for LEED v4.1

By Eana Bacchiocchi posted 06-22-2022 11:06 AM

By Sherwin-Williams

The design and development of buildings continues to evolve past focusing only on appearance and function to also consider how a space can impact overall well-being.  

Professionals and manufacturers can work together to achieve these goals with building practices and materials that help improve indoor air quality and enhance the well-being of the people who work, live, and play in a built space.  


Professionals must understand both their client’s vision and the changes to third-party credits in order to use these measurement tools to achieve their sustainability goals through specified products, including coatings, and how these can contribute to a more sustainable build.  


Key changes from LEED v4 to v4.1 

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) introduced LEED v4.1, which includes several key changes from LEED v4. According to the USGBC, the new rating ensures that all business stakeholders, from the property manager to the occupant and the community, can benefit from the sustainable design of the building. 


For paints and coatings, the LEED v4.1 focuses on human health and transparency. The rating system still addresses VOCs, emissions, and material transparency, but it is evolving to reward products that continuously improve. Within the introduction of LEED v4.1, several credit thresholds were also lowered. For example, in the Low-Emitting Materials credit, coatings criteria changed from needing 90% of products emissions tested to 75% emissions tested, although both require 100% VOC compliance.  

In addition, new pilot credits were created to support innovation in the industry. According to the USGBC, a pilot credit can replace another credit from the standard LEED system. This library includes dozens of credits that vary by region and in categories that address needs that may be specific to a project. Additional Alternative Compliance Paths in LEED also offer ways to meet the intention of a credit, giving teams more flexibility. 


LEED v4.1 and paint and coatings 

Paint and coating specifications may help contribute toward LEED v4.1 in three different categories: Environmental Quality (EQ) Credits, Materials and Resources Credits, and under a pilot credit. These updates ensure v4.1 credits, particularly Materials and Resources Credits, are obtainable by project teams. 


The first category, Indoor Environment Quality, has a subcategory called Low-Emitting Materials, which includes paint and coatings. The second category, Materials and Resources (MR), provides two different pathways for paints and coatings to contribute—through environmental product declarations (EPDs) and material ingredient (MI) reporting.  


EPDs address how transparent the product is for environmental lifecycle impacts and acts as a label to showcase the environmental impact of a product. To earn points toward the EPD credit, design teams must use at least 20 different permanently installed products from at least five different manufacturers that meet certain criteria.  


With material ingredients (MI), according to USGBC the intent is to reward project teams for selecting products for which the chemical ingredients in the product are inventoried using an accepted methodology and for selecting products verified to minimize the use and generation of harmful substances. 


The third category, known as Integrated Analysis of Building Materials, or the Pilot Credit, is a category in which paints and coatings can play a role. For example, a specified coating could count as one of the products needed to meet the Integrated Analysis of Building Materials pilot credit. EPDs can contribute too both the MR credit or the pilot credit.  


LEED v4.1 takes EPDs and MR credits to a whole new level of transparency. For instance, according to USGBC, products with third-party certification are valued as 1.5 products for the purposes of credit achievement calculation. When it comes to coatings, all Sherwin-Williams architectural coatings eligible for the MR or pilot credits that include EPDs have third-party certification required in order to achieve the 1.5 product value. The third-party validation is crucial, as it ensures a consistent level of quality control compared with self-declared programs. 


A continued commitment to sustainable design 


Professionals and specifiers are continually looking for ways to meet LEED v4.1 requirements without compromising performance. 


The optimization portions of the EPD and material ingredient credits are obtainable and also include a new document type, called action plans, for partial credit. Action plans include commitments made by manufacturers for specific products with goals and timelines. 


In addition, while there are many technicalities when it comes to LEED deliverables, third-party validation is a way to not only ensure quality, but to give more information for professionals to specify with confidence. This helps to keep the focus on making the best decision for the project versus making the choice that only checks the box.  


Selecting the right paints and coatings can help professionals achieve sustainability goals and contribute to a better indoor environmental quality that may ultimately protects the human health of occupants. Whether it’s through coatings that meet the most stringent VOC regulations while offering improved performance benefits or products that have achieved UL GreenGuard Gold certification, a wide array of certified products will make it easier for specifiers to meet environmental goals that promote well-being. In addition, considering LEED v4 and v4.1 will help designers and architects think about sourcing and utilizing building materials in a transparent way in their decision-making process.  


Sherwin-Williams can help professionals navigate the best ways to achieve these credits and goals through an extensive portfolio of paints and coatings or by connecting with an architectural account executive (AAE). Find your local consultant here 


AIA does not sponsor or endorse any enterprise, whether public or private, operated for profit. Further, no AIA officer, director, committee member, or employee, or any of its component organizations in his or her official capacity, is permitted to approve, sponsor, endorse, or do anything that may be deemed or construed to be an approval, sponsorship, or endorsement of any material of construction or any method or manner of handling, using, distributing, or dealing in any material or product.