Environmental product declarations (EPDs) are the present and future of green building. They allow stakeholders to accurately assess the environmental impacts of the materials and equipment that go into their buildings. EPDs are often called the equivalent of nutrition labels for the built industry.
What are EPDs?
Environmental product declarations are detailed reports on the environmental impact of products from a cradle-to-grave perspective. Life-cycle analysis (LCA) allows third-party testing organizations to determine the environmental consequences of a product, from the extraction of raw materials, transportation to the manufacturing facility, manufacturing, delivery to the project, installation, useful life, removal, and transportation to the landfill or recycling facility.
Typically, the reports detail a product’s effect on global warming, ozone depletion, water pollution, ozone creation, and greenhouse gases. A report may also include information on human toxicity and corporate responsibility. The unbiased reports are developed by third-party testing facilities, and may be on a specific brand-name product or a general field of products (i.e. Armstrong ceiling tiles vs ceiling tiles in general).
How are products tested?
In order to provide a level playing field for all of the products in a certain category, they are tested according to product-specific calculations and requirements called product category rules (PCRs). Testing associations, such as UL (Underwriter’s Laboratory) and ASTM International, are key players in developing product category rules. Other stakeholders in developing these rules include consumers, contractors, designers, trade associations, public agencies, and manufacturers.
The rules are developed in an open consultation process where industry stakeholders are allowed to review and comment on a draft copy of the rules. After comments are reviewed and implemented, the final version of the PCR goes into a review board for final approval. The approved PCR is then used as the standard for evaluating all products within the category.
Why are EPDs important?
EPDs allow designers, owners, contractors, and other stakeholders to make educated decisions about the materials and equipment that go into buildings. This can be very important for certain built environments, including those who serve a sensitive population such as the elderly or sick. Information regarding off-gassing of toxic chemicals and overall sustainability are important to all building users.
EPDs have also made their way into green building certification programs. LEED v4 provides credit for “the use of products and materials for which life-cycle information is available and that have environmentally, economically, and socially preferable life-cycle impacts.” Projects can get one credit for using at least twenty products from at least five different manufacturers who provide either a product-specific or general environmental product declaration. Green Globes allows the use of life-cycle analysis or EPDs in assessing product sustainability.
EPDs allow building professionals to cut through the “greenwashing” that is rampant in the industry, and provide them with a certified testing protocol and set of requirements for a product to be labeled “green.” They provide a method of comparison between brands and types of products. These declarations also help consumers make educated choices when making decisions that affect their indoor environment, where most people spend 90% of their time.
Sources: UL Environment and EarthShift