Think of an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) as a
nutrition label for a product; but instead of providing information such as
calories, fat content and carbohydrates, an EPD provides information about
environmental impacts such as global warming potential, smog formation and water
use. EPDs are
third party verified (certified) reports published by product manufacturers that provide quality assured and comparable information regarding environmental
performance of their product.
Generally, industry trade groups help
develop a Product Category Rule (PCR) that provides instructions on how to
conduct the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in order to produce EPDs that are consistent across a product
category (such as concrete, carpeting, ceiling tile, etc.). Generally, plant or site specific data are more desirable for
conducting an LCA for the product, however, industry average data are sometimes
used if site specific data are not available. Figure 3 is a schematic
representation of the EPD development process.
Figure 3. EPDs are developed
by conducting a LCA on a product using a PCR and LCI data.
are three types of EPDs defined by International Standards Organization (ISO) standards, type I, II and III as shown in
Table 1. The type depends on the degree of third party verification and
endorsement. The concept of developing EPDs for products is relatively new in
the building products industry. Not many industries have developed the requisite
PCRs or published reliable LCI data. Perhaps a reason for this is that not many
project specifications or standards have required EPDs until recently.
New standards such as LEED
v4, Architecture 2030 Challenge for
Products and the IgCC will require a combination of EPDs for products and LCAs
for whole buildings as a way to demonstrate transparency and ultimately superior environmental performance.
These standards will require Type III EPDs which amounts to “nutrition
labels” for products. In the case of LEED v4, product manufacturers will simply
have to develop EPDs to demonstrate transparency and in other cases such as the
Architecture 2030 Challenge for Products, they will have to demonstrate that
their products perform better than the industry average or baseline to comply
with the standards.
Table 1. Types of
Environmental Product Declarations
LCAs for products are conducted for the entire life cycle or from
“cradle-to-cradle.” However, for many products, their impacts during the use
phase are minimal or life cycle inventory data for the use phase is difficult or
nearly impossible to obtain. In some cases, it may be preferable to conduct
partial LCAs such as “cradle-to-gate” type analyses where only the first two
life cycle stages, raw material acquisition and manufacturing, are included
since this data is needed to conduct the more comprehensive whole building or
full life cycle LCA for a building or other structure.