by Lauren Richardson
Sustainability Associate at Green Badger
GBCI Pro Reviewer
Understanding Cradle to Cradle Certified Products® and how they comply with LEED requirements is basic knowledge that you should have if you’re working on a LEED project, and Green Badger is here to provide it for you.
What Is a Cradle to Cradle Life Cycle?
Cradle-to-cradle is a term that describes a material or product that is recycled into a new product at the end of its life, so that there is no waste (zero waste). Cradle to cradle also refers to the safe and (potentially) infinite circulation of materials in cycles. Waste is eliminated by fully using discarded materials.
Cradle to Cradle Certification Promotes Sustainable Products made for A Circular Economy
All materials used in Cradle to Cradle Certified Products® are fully recyclable, either through a biological or technic cycle.
Consumables like natural fibers, cleaning agents, bio-plastics, or biodegradable packaging:
- circulate in a biological cycle
- can be safely reintroduced after use
- can turn into compost or other materials
- are used to make new products
- become “nutrients” for a new product.
Consumer goods such as metals, oil-based plastics, chemicals, electronic items or flooring:
- circulate in a technical cycle.
- products are already optimized
- become material resources for their next service life as new products
- their components are sorted after use and then reintroduced into a technical cycle
- high quality, valuable materials are maintained
- downcycling can be prevented
- downcycling: creating material is of lower quality and functionality than the original material
- example: contaminated scrap from wires
- example: carpet backing created from chopped up carpet
Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2CPII)
The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2CPII) was founded in 2011 and manages the Cradle to Cradle product standard. Theoretically, in cradle to cradle design and manufacturing, there is no waste, no shortages, and no limitations. The goal is to ensure that manufacturing has a positive impact on people, planet and profits.
A Global Standard
Through the Cradle to Cradle Certified® Products Program, C2CPPI :
- helps manufacturers innovate the way products are made
- offers a globally recognized measure of safer, more sustainable products
- creates a standard for responsible purchasing decisions
- gathers input from technical experts, market leaders and the public
Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum
Every product is assigned an achievement level (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) for each category. A product’s lowest category achievement represents its overall certification level. The standard encourages continuous improvement by awarding certification based on increasing levels of achievement and requiring certification renewal every two years.
Cradle to Cradle Certified® Assessment Categories
To receive certification, products are assessed across five critical sustainability/quality categories:
- Material health
- Material reutilization
- Renewable energy and carbon management
- Water stewardship
- Social fairness
The material health category helps to ensure products are made using chemicals that are as safe as possible for people and the environment by cataloging, assessing, and optimizing material makeup. As a step towards full certification, manufacturers can also earn a separate Material Health Certificate for products that meet Cradle to Cradle Certified™ material health requirements.
The Material Health Certificate pinpoints the chemicals used in products across their supply chains and helps avoid chemicals of concern. The Material Health Certificate uses the Cradle to Cradle Certified® Product Standard to provide manufacturers with a trusted way of gauging their work towards safer product design.
The Material Health certification process is the same as the Cradle to Cradle certification process. Material Health certification is not a substitute for full product certification under the Cradle to Cradle Certified® Product Standard. Instead, it is a building block toward optimizing the material health of products on the pathway to Cradle to Cradle certification.
Don’t confuse the Cradle to Cradle Certification® with Material Health Achievement with Cradle to Cradle with Material Health Certificate.
This goal of this category is to eliminate waste by keeping products in constant cycles of use and reuse — from one product use cycle to the next.
This category helps to ensure products are manufactured using renewable energy so that the impact of climate changing greenhouse gases is reduced or eliminated.
This category helps ensure that watersheds are protected, and clean water is available.
This category supports business operations that consider how people and natural systems are affected by manufacturing
In order to meet the Silver level requirement in Material Health, a product must verify low VOC content (both limits and testing requirements) according to a standard, such as ASTM D2369 2, SCAQMD method 304, CARB method 310 6, EPA method 24 7. ISO 11890-1 8, etc. For a full list, as well as certification details, visit the C2C website for an overview of the product certification process.
Demonstrating Low VOC Emissions for the Silver level in Material Health, one of the following or an equivalent must be used to demonstrate low VOC emissions:
Option 1: CDPH Standard Method v1.1 or later and TVOC emissions no higher than 0.5 mg/m³ (500 µg/m³) after no more than 14 days of storage in a ventilated test chamber, or no more than 10 days conditioning and 4 days of storage in a ventilated test chamber.
Option 2: Compliance with AgBB (2015 or later), including formaldehyde emissions ≤10 µg/m³ and TVOC emissions ≤ 0.3 mg/m3 (300 µg/m3) after no more than 28 days of storage in a ventilated test chamber
For furniture: Compliance with ANSI/BIFMA e3-2014 or later version Furniture Sustainability Standard, Sections 7.6.2 or 7.6.3
Restricted substances include materials like asbestos, phenol derivatives, and pesticides. For a full list, visit the Cradle to Cradle Certified restricted substances list.
C2C and the UN Sustainable Development Goals
The Cradle to Cradle Certified® Product Standard gives manufacturers a way to make measurable progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to natural resource stewardship, social fairness and sustainable production and consumption. See the full details on how Cradle to Cradle Certified® can support UN Sustainable Development Goals here.
Cradle to Cradle and LEED Certification
Most products still do not have documentation to comply with MRc4: Option 1 Material Ingredient Reporting. In fact, prescreened/verified for LEED products total less than 3,000. These are predominantly Health Product Declarations, but both Cradle to Cradle and Declare are growing.
- HPDs – 2,044 Prescreened for LEED v4
- Cradle to Cradle – 418 products
- Material Health Certificates – 226 products
- Declare – ~350 products that show alignment with LEED
Earning MRc4 Option 1: Material Ingredient Reporting with C2C Certified Products
There are nine compliance options that USGBC lists (for the entire list, click here), but since we’re pretty pragmatic Badger’s, we’ll only focus on the options that you’ll actually see in the marketplace. They were alluded to earlier, but they are:
- Health Product Declaration: The end-use product has a published and complete Health Product Declaration with full disclosure of known hazards in compliance with the Health Product Declaration open Standard.
- Cradle to Cradle: The product has Material Health Certificate or is Cradle to Cradle Certified™ under standard version 3 or later with a Material Health achievement level at the Bronze level or higher.
- Declare: The Declare product label must meet the following requirements:
- Declare labels designated as Red List Free or Declared.
- Declare labels designated as LBC Compliant that demonstrate content inventory to 0.1% (1000 ppm).
What is a Cradle to Cradle or Material Health Certificate?
Last up, Cradle to Cradle – both C2C certified and C2C material health certificates count the same. According to the Cradle to Cradle Institute who administers the program, products are assessed for environmental and social performance across five critical sustainability categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
A product is assigned an achievement level (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) for each category. A product’s lowest category achievement also represents its overall certification level.
Products comply with MIR Option 1 if it has Material Health Certificate or is Cradle to Cradle Certified under standard version 3 or later with a Material Health achievement level at the Bronze level or higher. If it is Cradle to Cradle certified Bronze or higher, it complies, as the overall certification is based on the lowest level of achievement.