The ABCs of EPDs
- By Rachel Belew
- November 1st, 2011
In today’s marketplace, “green” building and product
manufacturing is no longer an emerging trend; rather, it is the new norm — a
prerequisite, in fact, for both commercial success and environmental
sustainability. It’s no surprise, then, that purchasers are demanding to know
the complete story of a product and its impacts on the environment: What is the
product’s carbon footprint? To what extent did the product’s raw materials
extraction affect the ecosystem? Does the product present a human toxicity risk?
Can the product be reused, repurposed or recycled at the end of its useful
EPDs: The Future of Green Building Products
Intrepid manufacturers that understand the importance of
transparency are now embracing Environmental Product Declarations, or EPDs, and
using them to provide specifiers with a complete disclosure of their products’
environmental impacts. Unlike self-declared environmental claims or eco-labels
that verify compliance with an environmental standard, EPDs are third-party
verified documents that present quantifiable information about a particular
product’s impacts across its various life stages.
Additionally, EPDs allow specifiers to compare, with ease
and efficiency, the environmental, health and performance impacts of multiple
products within a given product category.
EPDs Vs. LCAs
On the surface, it may appear that EPDs are the same as
lifecycle analysis, or LCA reports. LCAs highlight a product’s environmental
impacts from cradle to grave.
The key difference between LCAs and EPDs is this: while LCAs
are essential components of EPDs, the LCAs used in EPDs qualify only if they
have been conducted according to a globally harmonized set of guidelines known
as product category rules (PCRs). PCRs serve as universally accepted roadmaps that
specific products need to follow on their journey toward EPDs. As such, PCRs
help streamline and optimize the introduction of environmentally preferable
products to the marketplace.
Demand for EPDs
Despite their apparent novelty in North America, EPDs have
been used extensively for years in the European Union and Asia, driven mainly
by government directives. While there are currently no federal or state
requirements for EPDs in the U.S., government purchasing mandates (such as
President Obama’s Executive Order 13514, which requires U.S. federal agencies
to “leverage federal purchasing power to promote environmentally responsible
products and technologies”) are likely to result in de-facto requirements for
manufacturers across multiple industries.
Of course, NGOs are also proving instrumental in generating
interest in and driving awareness of EPDs. For example, in June 2011, the U.S.
Green Building Council (USGBC) unveiled a new pilot credit for its LEED Green
Building Rating System that rewards LEED projects for using products with EPDs.
Dubbed MR Pilot Credit 43: Certified Products, the credit is poised for formal
incorporation into LEED 2012 (including LEED for Schools) as a way to promote
transparency of non-structural materials. That the USGBC is placing increased
emphasis on EPDs will almost certainly drive global demand for products with
EPDs and, in turn, the global adoption of the credit via the vast network of
green building organizations that comprise the World Green Building Council.
Of course, beyond the business argument for EPDs, there’s
also an educational argument — particularly for school facilities. The use of
school building products with EPDs can help facilitate thought-provoking
dialogue about environmental stewardship, the importance of preserving the
earth’s natural resources and the impact of our everyday choices on our health
and the health of the planet. EPDs are, after all, similar to “nutrition
labels” for environmentally preferable products.
In effect, the school facility itself can be used as an
educational tool that’s incorporated into the learning curriculum.
(Incidentally, such a practice might also qualify for an Innovation in Design
Credit for Exemplary Performance under LEED for Schools.)
The Bottom Line
For manufacturers, there’s no mistaking that the EPD process
is rigorous. But the results are worth the rigor. EPDs provide an objective
assessment of a product’s environmental performance; a benchmark for evaluating
and making product purchasing decisions; and a tool for clearly communicating a
product’s environmental impacts. And in a muddled “green” marketplace, EPDs
provide the solution: transparency.
Rachel R. Belew, LEED-AP BD+C, is the Public Relations and Communications manager at UL Environment. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.