performance of alternative materials, product designs, or packaging systems to
identify best performance, lowest environmental impact, and money-saving scenarios.
EPDs allow manufacturers to provide transparency about their product attributes to
help end users make informed environmental purchasing decisions.”
HOW SHOULD THE A+D COMMUNITY USE EPDS?
It’s this transparency that makes EPDs so valuable to the A+D community as
LEED v4 becomes more prominent. New sustainability efforts will look beyond
previous criteria to the full life cycle of a product, which means knowing more
about the background of the product.
CAN SOMEONE ADEQUATELY COMPARE EPDS?
“Right now, EPDs are largely seen as just checking a box; ‘OK, we did this, we
qualify for LEED or other green building scheme points,’” Lasso noted. While the
eventual goal is to be able to compare two products by two different companies
using EPDs, and there are current PCRs that exist for their creation so there is some
consistency, “they only go so far in being prescriptive on how you do your study.”
As an example, Lasso said UL Environment had two third-party analysts study
the same product by the same manufacturer, and found the results came back
with a difference of up to 300 percent.
One reason lies in the fact that while EPDs may follow particular ISO rules and PCRs,
the background research—how, where, and when the upstream petroleum production
was collected and aggregated, for example, or how water use was measured—are not
currently consistent between different LCA background datasets. This means one
company might use a different back-
ground dataset than another, meaning its
EPDs cannot be comparable because
of that underlying variation.
That doesn’t mean the numbers lack
substance or importance. While datasets
between companies are not standardized
at the moment, they tend to be within
a particular company, making them a
strong indicator of how a manufacturer is
doing within its own product lines. “They
can learn the hot spots and begin to
address mitigating,” Lasso pointed out.
Similarly, it’s important for designers
to embrace EPDs, particularly as they
become a more globalized standard of
measurement. When designers understand
what goes into a product, they’re able to
make more informed decisions and hold
manufacturers to a higher expectation that
they are doing what they can to address
issues in their products’ life cycles.
WHAT ARE EPDS?
“An Environmental Product Declaration is a standardized report (developed in
accordance with ISO 14025) outlining the results of data collected in a life cycle
assessment (LCA) that must contain information as defined in a product category
rule (PCR),” Oorbeck said. Or, simplified, “EPDs are often compared to a nutrition
facts panel for a product’s environmental performance.”
Lasso added, “EPDs are there to transparently present the environmental
impacts of a product from cradle to grave, across the entire value chain. We’re
quantifying everything that goes in—energy, water, materials—and everything that
comes out: emissions to land, air, and water.”
She continued in explaining that the history of LCAs is rooted in studying a
common question: Which products are environmentally preferable? Consider cloth
or disposable diapers. As one of the first studies done in the late 1970s to early 80s,
the thought was that cloth would be better environmentally. However, once figuring
in all of the aspects—from petroleum refining to the energy needed to heat the water
in order to correctly launder the cloth diapers—a different story began to arise.
HOW DO MANUFACTURERS USE EPDS?
The use of EPDs today in the A+D community follows that same mindset as the
studies on diapers. “[An EPD is] different in that it’s absent of a value judgement,”
Lasso said. However, while an EPD doesn’t state whether something is intrinsically
good or intrinsically bad, “the value of EPDs lies in the fact that companies are measuring
their environmental impact. You can’t manage what you aren’t measuring.”
Furthermore, Oorbeck said, “With an LCA, a manufacturer can benchmark the
EPD Development Process
Product Category Rules
specify the rules for conducting a Life Cycle
Assessment and reporting in an EPD