In years past, building envelopes were all about style and cost. Today, the demand for aesthetics must be blended with sustainable building practices, as well as with meeting project timelines and staying within budgets. 

In addition to reducing energy costs and helping owners achieve eco-friendly certifications, the adoption of best practices has lowered the production of carbon emissions. Now, there’s an ongoing need to meet green product demands the building’s skin and its inner workings. 

Products such as manufactured stone veneers and high-performance wall systems that meet new complex and demanding transparency and performance requirements can help projects achieve LEED credits, especially under the latest LEED v4 guidelines established by the U.S. Green Building Council coming out in October. 

While some of the former credits remain, LEED v4 has introduced several entirely new credits in the Materials and Resources category that are focused specifically on product disclosure. Among them will be the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD®), which is an independently verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable information about the life cycle environmental impact of a product across eight categories. This stretches from the extraction of the raw materials to the energy required to manufacture, transport, install, maintain and eventually recycle or dispose of the product. 

An important tool for choosing sustainable products and helping to gain these valuable LEED v4 credits or other accreditations are “cradle to grave” product assessments. Life cycle assessments (LCA) help identify everything from vendor manufacturing processes and end-of-building-life projections to the environmental impact of the materials used throughout construction. The LCA then can be used to develop EPDs, as well as to add up all environmental impacts throughout a product’s life cycle using the Product Category Rule assessment method. Other considerations covered within LCAs include: 
  • cost of building materials during the building’s life span; 
  • fire-resistant construction and resistance to impacts and wind-borne debris; 
  • superior sound absorption at all frequencies; and 
  • designs that do not produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or the release of other hazardous chemicals. 
Achieving Sustainability With Masonry 
The careful specification of building materials and products, including masonry, is essential for achieving sustainability and LEED status. When specifying masonry, the material’s insulating value and thermal mass are key to energy- efficient building design. Thermal mass absorbs energy slowly and stores it for longer periods of time, which reduces indoor temperature swings and often leads to a reduction in the size of mechanical heating and cooling systems. The benefits of thermal mass are most accurately reflected when utilizing energy analysis programs that analyze the building type, location and temperature variations. 

Thermal mass is directly proportional to the weight and density of the material and is most effective when used on the interior side of the insulation in the building envelope. This includes using load-bearing concrete masonry as part of a cavity wall system, as well as interior concrete masonry walls and stone applications. 

As a result, new age masonry products are meeting demands for materials that do far more than look good. The manufacturing process is now a science designed to produce veneers that are more durable, last longer and resist moisture and mold, while lowering overall life cycle costs and helping achieve sustainability goals. 

Nader Assad is the masonry group manager for Oldcastle Architectural Research & Development. For more information, email