Transparency and Authenticity through Environmental Product Declarations

Architype presentsHeather Gadonniex
Heather Gadonniex, LEED AP, is the EPD Program Manager at UL Environment, a wholly-owned subsidiary of UL. ...
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Transparency. This buzz word is swarming the rooms of building product manufacturers, architects, designers, specifiers and building owners. Recently, it popped up in a new LEED pilot credit and was seen in the second draft release of LEED 2012.

However, for many the meaning behind this word is ambiguous and the path to achieving transparency is even more unclear.
The general idea behind transparency is that if we disclose information about products and the companies producing them, we will be better equipped to make smart purchasing decisions. This could mean disclosure of product ingredients and environmental impacts or corporate sustainability activities, amongst other things.

One of the most sophisticated transparency tools used today is the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). An Environmental Product Declaration is a third party certified, internationally recognized, comprehensive disclosure of a product’s environmental impacts throughout its lifecycle. EPDs are considered a Type III Ecolabel, as defined by ISO 14025 and they are most often linked to an LCA report card or nutrition label. These standardized documents communicate the results of a product’s life cycle assessment (LCA), along with additional relevant performance indicators, pertaining to sustainability or durability.

EPDs promote transparency, and facilitate apples to apples comparability of impacts among products in the same category. This comparability is possible because they are based on Product Category Rules, or PCRs. Product Category Rules (PCRs) are guidelines that establish what is to be included in the EPD, and the rules for conducting the LCA on which the EPD is based.  PCRs provide detailed instructions covering what data is collected and measured in the LCA, and how the LCA results are reported. In addition, PCRs outline what additional information is reported in the EPD. This could include indoor air quality, safety or performance information.

Put another way, the EPD creation system magnifies the utility of the LCA, because the PCRs help to standardize the data collection process.  Once the PCR identifies the key attributes to be commonly shared within the EPD, collecting data for the LCA becomes much easier and more cost effective.   Results from the product category rule based LCA are then synthesized into what becomes the EPD.

Harmonization of Product Category Rules is a vital component to the success of EPD adoption in North America. If EPDs in the same product category are not based on a common PCR they will not be comparable. Industries and EPD Program Operators (those creating PCRs and certifying EPDs) must work together to ensure PCRs are not duplicated.

How is an EPD Created?
Creating an EPD is a multi-step process. First, one must search for available PCRs. If PCRs do not exist for the specific product category, one must work with an EPD Program Operator such as UL Environment to create a new PCR in accordance with ISO 14025. At the moment, PCRs are tricky to track down. If you are having difficulty finding a PCR, call an EPD Program Operator. They will be able to assist you.

Second, once the appropriate PCR is determined, the manufacturer must conduct and verify a product life cycle assessment. Often, manufacturers choose to work with a life cycle assessment consulting firm to accomplish this task. In order to complete an EPD, this LCA must be verified. According to ISO 14025, LCA verification can be done internally or externally. After the EPD is drafted, it is certified and registered by an EPD Program Operator in accordance with ISO 14025.

 

EPD Adoption in the Building Industry
The architecture and design community are increasingly seeking products that can provide comprehensive, credible environmental information. Inquiries for third party verified, life cycle based product impact data such as material use, energy use, water use, carbon footprint are on the rise.

Forward thinking architecture and design firms are asking manufacturers for EPDs and incorporating EPD information into specifications.

On June 15th, the USGBC released the Certified Products and Materials Pilot Credit (Pilot Credit 43), encouraging the use of environmentally-preferable products and promoting transparency. The pilot credit outlines two pathways for contribution; the certification pathway and the EPD pathway. The Certification Pathway rewards manufacturers for verifying environmental claims with a third party, and for obtaining single and multi-attribute product certifications. The EPD pathway promotes product transparency by allocating credit to products with accompanying life cycle assessment (LCA) data or third party certified EPDs.

The USGBC’s push for transparency is also seen in the latest draft release of LEED 2012. The proposed Materials and Resources Transparency Credit rewards products that have completed life cycle assessment and EPDs.

In addition to the USGBC, Architecture 2030 is encouraging disclosure of life cycle based product impact information and reduction of product carbon footprint through the Architecture 2030 Challenge for Products.  According to the Architecture 2030 website, “the raw resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, construction, usage, and end-of-life stages of building products each generate significant GHG emissions. Slowing the growth rate of GHG emissions and then reversing it is the key to addressing climate change”. To accomplish this, Architecture 2030 asked the global architecture, planning, design, and building community to adopt carbon reduction targets.

International markets are also adopting EPDs. The BREEAM green building rating system encourages transparency through the use of EPDs. The European Committee for Standardization recently released a guideline to standardize the creation of building industry Product Category Rules, with the grand vision to use single EPDs to build full building footprints. If you understand the life cycle impact of all of the products in your building, you can use this information to determine a building’s total environmental footprint.

Where do I start?
You have the ability to transform the industry and meet customer request for more robust sustainability information. In order to fulfill potential LEED requirements, start requesting EPDs from product manufacturers. If you are interested in learning more about EPDs and transparency, feel free to reach out to UL Environment by emailing us at [email protected] or by visiting us at our 2011 Greenbuild Booth #1325N. As an EPD Program Operator, we offer EPD educational workshops both in-person and online. Also check out the new 2030 Product Challenge information hub hosted by BuildingGreen.com http://www2.buildinggreen.com/topic/2030-challenge. It is a great place to learn more.


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