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Understanding Environmental Product Declarations

Understanding Environmental Product Declarations: an interview

Many construction specialists know a lot about global warming and the need to reduce CO2 emissions, but fewer are aware that there is a solution addressing that concern right in the manufacturing phase.

EPD, or Environmental Product Declaration, is one of the methodologies that make it possible to choose better materials for your buildings and reduce carbon emissions. It might be hard to understand what they are when the acronym brings out so many different results on Google, but we have asked our in-house Life-cycle Assessment expert, Ms. Tytti Bruce, to break down the complex EPD topic. In this guide, we will explain what Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are, and how massive their contribution to ecobuilding is.

What are EPDs? What do they look like and what do they do?

Let’s start with establishing what an EPD is and how it can be created.

An EPD transparently communicates the environmental performance of a product or a material over its lifetime. If you are a construction engineer or an architect, you can easily compare the EPD data of the materials you are about to use and choose the most sustainable option. If you are a manufacturer, by certifying your product with this methodology you are making a positive value statement on the issues of climate change, carbon impact, and environmental footprint.

An EPD comes in the form of a document that certifies the environmental impact of a material. It is usually valid for five years, and is generated according to the relevant standards: construction EPDs are based on the ISO 14044 and EN 15804 standards. EPDs help to achieve EPD and LCA credits in the following certification schemes: LEED, BREEAM, DGNB, HQM, and others.

EPDs are built around the life-cycle assessment practice and methodology. However, their scope extends beyond life-cycle assessment, because of the additional requirements from the aforementioned standards and related frameworks.

There are several types of EPDs that cover different life-cycle stages of a product:

  • Cradle-to-gate EPD involves only the manufacturing process and harvesting of a material. It has the minimum amount of data for life-cycle assessment.
  • Cradle-to-grave EPD includes the whole life-cycle of a product, specifically covering its maintenance and the end of life. If you wish to create an EPD for your product or utilize your manufacturer’s EPD, this is the option you should select.
  • Cradle-to-gate with options includes the minimum requirements that are present in the cradle-to-gate option with a few additional information modules from cradle-to-grave EPD variation.
This extract from an EPD illustrates the most essential EPD data and how complicated it is. The EPD sample belongs to Skonto.

Why should I use or create EPDs? How will my business benefit from it?

The creation and implementation of EPDs in construction projects and manufacturing is voluntary. However, the emphasis on environmental impacts is a growing trend. Accordingly, the amount of EPDs and their use is rapidly growing, too. Due to the increasing awareness surrounding global warming and carbon emissions, both public and private stakeholders are demanding EPDs more and more.

It is also a trend that will be regulated by legislative institutions. In the case of the EU, the legal act of Construction Products Regulation 305/2011/EU has been established. It regulates the marketing practices of environmentally friendly construction products and prescribes the use of EPDs to assess the footprint of the construction industry on the environment. Therefore, if you wish to create and advertise a claim that your business is environmentally friendly, the right way to do it would be using EPDs.

In the nearest future, the government structures of different European countries are going to pick up and address this trend, too, and it never hurts to stay up to date with the legislative requirements and help the EU to achieve 20-20-20 Sustainability Targets by cutting off your CO2 emissions and increasing energy efficiency. For example, Belgium requires the use of EPDs if a company is performing any environmental-related marketing. France is moving towards the general adoption of LCA requirements for the whole construction industry, while in the Netherlands it is already established. Northern Europe is also concerned with the global warming issue: Finland is currently creating a roadmap to include the building materials’ impacts into the legislation, we are acting as the consultant in this project.

Therefore, if you strive for a positive differentiation and a competitive edge over your competitors, you should take advantage of the opportunities EPDs provide. The catch is the need of acting immediately – being compliant is not enough to gain a competitive advantage, and with time it becomes significantly harder. You have to be ahead of the competition to reap the benefits and establish solutions that are environmentally friendly inside the product category or among similar products.

Last but not least, EPDs are an important part of all major environmental certifications. Getting the credits is becoming a more and more challenging task with each new certification version. For instance, Gold and Platinum LEED certifications are incredibly demanding to achieve, and this is where EPDs can help you out. Achieving EPD and LCA credits is very cost-efficient and easy compared to other credits’ requirements for your building’s certifications.

The life-cycle of a building is an iceberg with only 20% of all environmental impacts being visible (construction phase).
The hidden 80% (manufacturing the materials, transportation, heating, etc.) influence the environment the most.

How can I use an EPD in the most efficient way?

EPDs aim to improve the environmental impact of a product or a building. The construction process can be compared to an iceberg with only 20% of all environmental impacts visible. EPDs uncover the rest 80% of invisible processes that influence the environment the most. Therefore, EPDs can reveal the overlooked opportunities to improve a product or a building and thus, can be used as a product development tool.

There are two ways to utilize or create an EPD efficiently: hiring a consultant or using a good calculation tool. It is vital to be careful while choosing the standards for your EPD and to be conscious in choosing the consultant. The consultants use calculation tools too, so the only difference would be that in the latter option you are performing all the calculations yourself.

In the construction industry One Click LCA is the best LCA calculation software you could use, since it’s fast, includes the largest EPD database in the industry, is compliant with all the major certification schemes, and is constantly updated.

If you are the manufacturer, then submitting your EPD to one of the available database platforms is the best option. For example, the platforms commonly used in Nordic countries are: RTS, EPD-Norge, The International EPD System (Environdec). To have your EPD added to the database, your EPD will have to undergo verification, and it will be necessary to ensure compliance with the Product Category Rules (PCR) of the chosen database. At the moment the database platform system is not highly refined, with each platform having its own specific requirements. However, the good news is that there is a common European EPD database Ecoplatform. Established by the European Committee for Standardization, Ecoplatform serves as the umbrella organization, and the local European platforms tend to merge under its unifying solution.

The process of creating and using an EPD. You can create an EPD yourself or hire a trustworthy EPD consultant to handle it.

Want to get started with creating your own EPD?

One Click LCA is not only the perfect tool for accessing the existing EPDs globally and promptly calculating your building’s Life-Cycle Assessment, but also a great tool for creating construction EPDs! Request your trial now or obtain an Environmental Product Declaration from us by contacting hello@oneclicklca. You can view the examples of EPDs created by us from the Finnish EPD system, Rakennustietosäätiö. Until this moment almost all Finnish Environmental Product Declarations have been prepared and verified only by Bionova/One Click LCA specialists.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 711303.

NB. This post was created in August 2017, so does not reference the suite of One Click LCA EPD tools launched in June 2020. 

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