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How EPDs factor into building standards

CSA Group's Rick Iacoboni on the purpose of EPDs and how to use them
Friday, July 11, 2014

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) serve a purpose similar to a nutrition label. They disclose a product’s environmental impact, including its chemical makeup  and materials used in its creation. Here, CSA Group’s Rick Iacoboni explains the purpose of EPDs and how they come into play in various building standards.

What are Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and what’s their purpose?

An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is a comprehensive disclosure of a product’s environmental impact. It is designed to meet the global market demand for transparency around a product’s environmental legacy. EPDs are voluntary ISO Type III environmental declarations based on the ISO 14025 Environmental Labels and Declarations standard.  ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is the world’s largest developer of voluntary International Standards.

EPDs use Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methods to determine the environmental impacts of a product over its lifecycle — often this includes raw material acquisition through production, use and end-of-life. This allows direct comparisons between competing products in the marketplace.

Benefits

EPDs are designed to meet various information needs within the supply-chain and for end-products both in the private and public sector. Needs vary depending on the application, as outlined below:

Manufacturers’ benefits

  • Helps maintain competitive balance.
  • Improves efficiency by reducing energy and transportation costs.
  • Allows customers to make apples-to-apples comparisons of products.
  • Showcases  commitment to sustainability and social responsibility.
  • Aligns with LEED v4 transparency requirements for EPDs.
  • Demonstrates industry leadership

Purchaser benefits (suppliers, distributors, buyers and specifiers)

  • Provides clarity about the products purchased.
  • Helps to make informed purchasing decisions.
  • Enables apples-to-apples comparisons of products
  • Product attributes are presented in a standard format, using standard language.
  • Can earn LEED V4 points by choosing products with EPDs.
  • Immediate evaluation for alignment with LEED v4 requirements.

How are EPDs created?

International ISO Type III declarations require an independent agency, called the Program Operator, to oversee the 5-step EPD development process:

Step 1: Identify an Existing PCR or Develop a New One

The Program Operator searches for an existing Product Category Rule (PCR), which defines the product category and provides a detailed set of procedures for the LCA. If an existing PCR is not available, the Program Operator works with the manufacturer to either modify an existing one or create a new PCR.

Step 2: Conduct a Life Cycle Assessment

Once the PCR has been finalized, an LCA must be completed or modified as necessary to comply with the PCR.

Step 3: Develop the EPD

PCR requirements are combined with LCA results to create an EPD that clearly communicates the product’s environmental performance. An EPD is a compact summary of an LCA report with additional information about the product useful for comparisons with similar products.

Step 4: Verify the LCA and EPD

An LCA and EPD must be verified by an independent third party to confirm that the declared environmental impacts of the products are accurate. EPDs are considered the gold standard in transparency.

Step 5: Register & Publish the EPD with a Program Operator

Once verified, the Program Operator can officially register and enter the EPD into a public repository, which positions manufacturers as sustainability leaders in the marketplace.

What types of products have EPDs?

An EPD is a registered document that provides relevant, verified and comparable information about the environmental impact of manufactured goods in categories including:

  • Construction products
  • Constructions & infrastructure
  • Electricity
  • Food & agricultural products
  • Fuels & chemical products (non-construction)
  • Furniture & other goods
  • Glass and plastic products (non-construction)
  • Machinery & equipment
  • Metal products (non-construction)
  • Textile & leather products
  • Transport vehicles & equipment
  • Wood & paper products (non-construction)

Which building standards use EPDs and how do they factor into them?

The following building rating schemes consider EPDs for credits:

LEED version 4

This is the newest version of the LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) green building certification program. It recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practice. Credits are given for using products that have EPDs in building design and construction.

  • Manufacturers provide EPDs so their products are more attractive to building owners looking to certify LEED V4
  • Building owners can earn LEED V4 certification points by choosing products having EPDs.

This falls under the Materials and Resource Credit (MRC)

Green Globes ®

This program was created through the Green Building Initiative (GBI) – a nonprofit organization with a mission  to accelerate the adoption of building practices that result in energy-efficient, healthier and environmentally sustainable buildings. Green Globes provides two paths for product selection in its new construction and sustainable interiors environmental assessment programs:

  • LCA (previously described) and the Multiple Attribute approach, which lists EPDs as an acceptable method that can be used to select environmentally preferable products

BREEAM

This is an environmental assessment method and rating system for buildings. It uses recognized measures of performance, which are set against established benchmarks, to evaluate a building’s specification, design, construction and use.

  • BREEAM is currently revising its program, which will be released later this summer. One of the tools being considered for inclusion in the new draft is EPDs. This is part of BREEAM’s consultation on Mat01 credits for BREEAM UK refurbishment and fit-out 2014

Rick Iacoboni is the marketing project manager of CSA Group. Visit www.csagroup.com for more information about EPDs.  

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