Locally Sourced Materials

About 20 years ago in Italy, the "slow food" movement began, with an emphasis on the sourcing of local foods with higher nutritional content and a less rushed way to eat, certainly as a reaction to the American fast-food movement sweeping the globe. In the US, many estimates have food traveling an average of 1,200 miles from farm or fishery to table. Think about this the next time you buy Alaska Copper River salmon in Arizona or grapes from Chile in midwinter in Chicago.

In the same vein of concern about the energy and environmental costs of moving building materials vast distances, and the impact of this on local economies, the green building movement adopted the concept of locally sourced materials, for materials coming from less than 500 miles from a project site (as the crow flies). I call this the "slow building" movement, because it evinces a concern for buying something else than just the cheapest (or even the best) building material.

To encourage development of locally based "conservation economies" all over the country, the LEED certification system awards points for projects using at least 10% of the value of all building materials from sources within 500 miles (achieving 20% gets a project two LEED points toward certification). This means that products must have been extracted, harvested (or recovered in the case of salvaged materials) and processed within that radius. Common building materials such as concrete and wood generally qualify, but steel typically does not. (However, steel offers high levels of recycled content that wood and concrete do not, so this is a clear case of having to trade off among various beneficial environmental attributes.)

Consider concrete: nearly 95% of the weight of the material (excluding only the cement) comes from the local area, including water, aggregate and sand, so we can count 95% of the total cost to help meet this credit. If a project uses a lot of wood, some investigation maybe needed to determine its source. In regions such as the Pacific Northwest, even softwood lumber from Canada might qualify for this credit. In the industrial heartland, the Midwest, even the iron ore in steel might qualify if it had been extracted in Minnesota.

Here are examples of some specific materials that could come from just about any locality or 500-mile radius, without traveling long distances: foundation piers; compost and mulch; concrete storm drains; masonry, pavers and hardscape materials; reclaimed lumber; wheatboard panels; most wood products, including laminated beams, cabinets, sub-flooring, roof decking, composite wood siding, engineered wood products and oriented strand board; millwork, both new and reclaimed and cellulose insulation. The list is seemingly endless.99

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