Sustainable Schools

Steel Brings Transparency to Construction Sustainability

Sustainable School Construction with Steel

PHOTO COURTESY OF AGWAY METALS INC.

Sustainability and environmental issues are becoming more prominent and widely acknowledged throughout the construction industry, and school construction is no exception. As school planners’ objectives shift to include sustainability and earning green building certifications like the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for projects, it is vital for them to have access to the potential environmental impacts of the materials and products they use in building designs. In an effort to increase transparency and help architects and designers fully understand these impacts, the North American steel industry has developed a range of industry-wide Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for steel construction products.

EPDs help construction professionals make more informed material decisions by going beyond single sustainability attributes to summarize comprehensive cradle-to-gate impacts of a product.

EPDs can also contribute to planners’ efforts to earn LEED v4 credits. Simply providing EPDs for a minimum number of building products allows architects to earn points through the EPD — specific credit in LEED v4. Other materials and resources credits can be achieved by disclosing and optimizing material environmental impacts. EPDs and other transparency resources can help enable construction professionals to demonstrate the products used in their building projects are environmentally responsible.

Partly due to the availability of steel product EPDs and partly due to its inherent characteristics, steel offers immediate advantages by helping construction professionals earn LEED v4 credits in categories such as recycled content, life-cycle impact reduction, sourcing of raw materials, building product disclosure and optimization, and construction and demolition waste management. In addition, the steel industry EPDs are set apart from competing materials, like wood, by covering all relevant potential environmental impacts — from the extraction of natural resources through the production of a finished product — for a fully transparent life-cycle view.

To demonstrate the overall sustainability of projects in the planning phase, some architects have also begun to employ whole-building-life-cycle assessments, using data from various product EPDs and other available life cycle inventory data to assess potential project environmental impacts early in the design process.

Construction professionals interested in viewing and using EPDs and other transparency resources in their building projects can visit www.buildusingsteel.org for a list of steel product EPDs and updates on other resources. Currently, the site includes EPDs for the following product categories:

  • Cold-Formed Steel Studs and Track — from the Steel Recycling Institute
  • Open Web Steel Joists — from the Steel Joist Institute
  • Steel Roof Deck and Steel Floor Deck — from the Steel Deck Institute
  • Roll-Formed Steel Panels (Canada) — from the Canadian Sheet Steel Building Institute
  • Roll-Formed Steel Panels for Roofs and Walls — from the Metal Construction Association
  • Insulated Metal Panels — from the Metal Construction Association
  • Fabricated Steel Plate — from the American Institute of Steel Construction
  • Fabricated Hot-Rolled Structural Sections — from the American Institute of Steel Construction
  • Primary Structural Steel Frame Components — from the Metal Building Manufacturers Association
  • Secondary Structural Steel Frame Components — from the Metal Building Manufacturers Association
  • Roll-Formed Metal Wall and Roof Panels — Metal Building Manufacturers Association

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Mark A. Thimons, P.E. is vice president of sustainability with the Steel Market Development Institute, a business unit of the American Iron and Steel Institute. He is responsible for overseeing the Steel Recycling Institute as well as research projects demonstrating the life cycle advantages of steel in all markets.

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