The Business Case for Investing in EPDs
How EPDs deliver a competitive advantage for construction product manufacturers
With carbon targets playing an increasingly important role in the construction sector, demand for Environmental Product Declarations or EPDs is growing. In Europe alone, tens of thousands of construction products or materials are now covered by EPDs – and this number is only expected to continue to rise.
However, it is of course the manufacturer who must pay to develop EPDs for their products. And, with average costs of around 15,000 USD, some have questioned whether such an investment is worth it. Here, we look at the clear commercial benefits EPDs can provide to manufacturers, both now and to safeguard your future, as well as how new approaches to developing EPDs can dramatically drive down costs.
EPDs are environmental labels, which provide information on the life-cycle carbon footprint and other impacts of a product or service, based on a life-cycle assessment (LCA). The independent, third-party verified data that EPDs provide is valued across the supply chain, from designers to developers, with many favouring products with EPDs over their competitors without.
EPDs help you meet your clients’ needs
Help clients to comply with embodied carbon legislation
Life-cycle carbon limits for new buildings will soon be mandatory in a number of countries, including France, under the new RE 2020 law, Sweden, when the Klimatdeklaration comes into force, Finland as part of its low-carbon construction roadmap, and the UK under the new London Plan.
Whole life carbon includes the embodied carbon impacts arising from the extraction, manufacture and transportation of construction materials, as well as the building’s operational energy needs.
For your clients – whether developers, designers, specifiers or builders – this means they will need to calculate the lifetime impact of every element of their project, from foundation to facade, via a building life-cycle assessment.
As a result, they are likely to prioritise product suppliers who can disclose the environmental footprint of their materials or components via a credible means: enter the EPD. Widely recognised and respected, EPDs are the perfect means to demonstrate regulatory compliance.
EPDs versus generic data in building LCA
Generic data can be used to perform building life-cycle assessments instead of product-specific EPDs. However, this is not always desirable. For example, the national emissions databases for construction recently launched in Suomi and Sweden, use generic data rather than individual EPDs and add approximately one quarter to the Global Warming Potential (GWP) values compared to actual typical product values. Effectively this means that products with data confirmed via an EPD are likely to have lower GWP values than the ‘topped-up’ generic data, and will therefore be more attractive for project owners to use in their building LCA.
To understand more about how this works in practice, the screenshot below is from the Finnish emissions database for construction, showing results for bitumen waterproofing membrane for roofing shingle.
The typical GWP value for bitumen waterproofing membrane of this type is 0.4 kg CO2e /kg. However, a conservative value conversion factor of 1.2 is applied in the database, meaning that the figure to be included in building permit calculations is higher: 0.48 kg CO2e /kg.
As a result, developers may choose to use product-specific EPDs from your competitors in their building LCAs, rather than relying on generic data, to avoid the ‘conversion value’ top-up and achieve a lower overall GWP value for their project.
EPDs to support carbon reduction targets
Much of the new legislation also includes phased carbon reduction targets. EPDs enable manufacturers to benchmark and then reduce their impacts to ensure that they remain competitive as these limits come into force.
It could be that there is no legal requirement to measure or limit embodied carbon in the markets you serve. However, the current steady trickle of forthcoming regulations is expected to expand and, as it does, so will EPD demand.
For manufacturers, now is the time to build internal EPD capacity so that you are ready to meet the demand and not lose market share when legislation comes into force in your core markets.
Help your clients to gain accreditation for green building certifications and schemes
Around 70 % of international and European green building standards offer credits for the use of construction materials covered by an EPD. So whether your clients need to gain accreditation for LEED, BREEAM, DGNB, the Living Building Challenge or many others, they will prioritise products with EPDs.
For many of these schemes, the use of products with EPDs is enough to gain credits, there is no carbon performance target for the products themselves.
EPDs used in green building certifications & standards
Help your clients to choose low carbon products
Of the clients who are not working towards a specific certification or need to comply with embodied carbon legislation, many will still be motivated by a desire to be able to choose low carbon products and to demonstrate carbon transparency in their projects.
According to recent customer research by Saint-Gobain, 76% of construction product clients want suppliers to be transparent about the environmental impacts of their products. An EPD can facilitate this.
of construction product clients want suppliers to be transparent about the environmental impacts of their products.
Source: Saint-Gobain customer research
You need to stand out in a crowded marketplace
An EPD demonstrates commitment to sustainability
Investing in an EPD makes it clear to your clients and the wider world that you are not only committed to meeting your clients’ needs – but also committed to sustainability, to measuring and reporting your impact.
Once you have your EPD it can play an important role in your marketing, particularly if low-carbon solutions are central to your core offer. For many clients and investors, your carbon footprint or Global Warming Potential (GWP) will be the main information they seek, so should be clearly outlined.
An EPD benchmarks your performance
How does your product compare to your competitors in terms of environmental impact? How do your process improvements affect your environmental impact?
Without an EPD it can be hard to answer these questions. At the heart of developing an EPD, is the process of measuring your own environmental performance via a product LCA. This allows you to see areas of particularly high or low impact within your own product as well as how you compare to your competitors. Your benchmarking allows you to showcase areas where your product excels and will leave you better prepared to meet growing market demands for product sustainability.
One Click LCA’s Advanced Material Benchmarking
You need to prepare your product for a carbon-focused market
Cutting carbon will cut costs
Where there is carbon, there is cost. So identifying and reducing the carbon-heavy aspects of your process could lower production costs, particularly in an industry increasingly exposed to carbon requirements.
An LCA allows you to see a comprehensive inventory of all the components and substances used in your product. For many manufacturers, this is the first time such data is gathered in one place. Gathering such data can highlight the choices you have, as well as supporting communication with the rest of your business and supply chain.
Future-proofing your product development
New rules and requirements are coming into force all the time. By identifying where and how to reduce your impact, you are ready to meet changing sustainability requirements – putting low-carbon and eco-design principles at the heart of future R&D and innovation.
The One Click LCA approach: fast, affordable and scalable EPDs
One of the ways we are doing this is via our pre-verified EPD generator, which slashes the cost and time involved in developing an EPD, as we coordinate the third-party verification and publishing side of things. Our platform is designed to be accessible to LCA and EPD newcomers and we also offer hands-on support, you just need to collect your data and answer a few questions and we will guide you through the process.
Manufacturers also benefit from the networking aspects of One Click LCA. You can send product data directly to clients and they can request EPDs from you. If your clients are not looking for full third-party verification, you can also use One Click LCA to share LCA data – without the need to pay for verification or publishing. There is also an option to conduct a simplified LCA, looking only at CO2 impact, via a product carbon footprint, which may be all that some clients require.
Recorded webinarHow can building materials suppliers support low-carbon construction?
Case study with LafargeHolcim
6 policies driving EPD demand
What? In March 2021, Denmark agreed to introduce carbon calculation requirements for new buildings by 2023, and carbon limit values for buildings over 1000 m2 by 2023 (for all buildings by 2025).
When? Expected by 2023 with the carbon limit values for all buildings due in 2025.
What it means for manufacturers:
To support these LCA requirements, manufacturers will need to label the impact of their products clearly using an EPD. The Danish government has published practical guidance on the LCA methodology to be used, available here: baeredygtighedsklasse.dk
In English: Land Use and Building Act
What? Part of the Finnish government’s low-carbon construction roadmap (proudly authored by Bionova in 2018), the reformed Land Use and Building Act will introduce mandatory targets, or carbon budgets, for all new buildings. To enable assessments, a national emissions database for construction was launched in March 2021.
When? The Land Use and Building Act reform is expected to be completed by the end of 2021, the low carbon buildings decree mandating carbon footprint values is expected to come into force by 2025.
What it means for manufacturers: EPDs will become even more critical as whole life-cycle carbon (WLC) assessments will be required for new buildings with strict limits on embodied carbon emissions set by building type. The new national emissions database for construction uses generic data only but applies a ‘conversion value’ of around 25% to overall Global Warming Potential (GWP) values. As a result, developers may choose to use product-specific EPDs from your competitors in their building LCAs, rather than relying on generic data, to avoid the ‘conversion value’ top-up and achieve a lower overall GWP value for their project.
In English: Environmental Regulations 2020
What? Following on from the four-year trial of the voluntary E+C- (Energy Positive and Carbon Reduction) plan, whole-life carbon measurement will become mandatory for all new buildings.
When? Expected to come into force in 2022
What it means for manufacturers: In France manufacturers can only make environmental claims about construction products that are supported by EPDs, but with the new RE 2020 regulation, bigger changes are about to come into force, which will require manufacturers to not only develop EPDs but also proactively reduce their impact in order to not lose sales. Initially, the requirement is to measure and report on the whole life carbon of all new buildings, but by 2024, strict limits will be brought in and progressively lowered to a reduction of 30-40% by 2030. Creating EPDs now to benchmark your current performance will enable you to demonstrate how your impacts have been reduced. As in Finland and Sweden, the French generic data adds a top-up to generic GWP values, indeed by 30-50%, making products covered by an EPD a much more attractive option for specifiers seeking low-impact solutions.
In English: Climate declaration for buildings
What? All new buildings will require an accompanying climate declaration which includes reporting on impacts from the product manufacturing stage. Product impact data is expected to be provided via an EPD, any generic data used must be sourced via Boverket’s (the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning) climate database for climate declarations.
When? Expected to come into force in 2022
What it means for manufacturers: Whilst it is the developer who is responsible for complying with this requirement, it is clear that construction product manufacturers will need to prepare to meet the demand by developing EPDs for their products or risk losing market share.
Similar to the Finnish database, the Swedish generic GWP values have a ‘top-up’ value of around 25% added. As a result, actual product impact data, backed up by an EPD will be preferable to specifiers looking for low-impact products.
In English: Building Act 2012
What? All buildings over 100m2 need to have an embodied carbon report submitted at planning application stage, with data provided by a national EPD database, the Nationale Milieudatabase or NMD. The environmental impact of the materials used in a building is calculated via a metric known as the Mileau Prestatie Gebouwen (MPG) or Environmental Performance of Buildings.
When? In force since 2013
What it means for manufacturers: EPDs are needed for your product to be listed in the NMD.
The MPG has had a maximum limit value of 1.0 since 2018, and EPDs provide a vehicle for benchmarking performance to demonstrate improvements. More over, major infrastructure procurement weights low carbon products which must be demonstrated by using EPDs.
What? The new London Plan requires WLC assessments for any new ‘referable’ development. A referable project is one with 150 or more residential units or buildings over 30 m in height and commercial buildings over 2500 m2.
When? In force since March 2021
What it means for manufacturers: The GLA has provided supplementary guidance on how to assess whole life carbon, which explicitly states that emissions should be estimated using EPDs where possible. As a result, contractors are likely to prioritise products and material suppliers that can support the WLC assessment requirement via EPDs.
The requirements of the new London Plan will be mandatory across the Greater London region only. However, in December 2020 the UK government published national guidance in the form of the Construction Playbook, which mandates WLC assessments for all new public works.
E-kirjaHow to make an EPD and how it helps your business
In view of the impact it could have, the list above would not be complete without a mention of the US Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act. An ambitious climate change bill aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the CLEAN Future Act was introduced to the United States’ Congress in March 2021.
The proposed legislation includes plans to develop a national EPD database, a labelling system to promote low carbon construction products and embodied carbon thresholds for public construction works.
Whilst its journey through Congress is unlikely to be entirely straightforward, it is probable that significant elements of the CLEAN Future Act will become law before the end of 2021.