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Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)


Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are a way for manufacturers to take comprehensive, third-party-verified LCAs, which are quite complex, and turn them into standardized declaration labels for their products.

"EPDs are communication tools that bring complex LCAs into a more user-friendly format by streamlining the information presented and enforcing as much consistency as possible.”
- John Jewellnon government site opens in new window, senior consultant, thinkstep, Boston
EPDs are Type III environmental declarations (following ISO 14025non government site opens in new window; see definition in glossaryopens in new window) that communicate standardized environmental information about the life cycle impact of a product. EPDs are independently verified and registered documents based on industry standard product category rulesopens in new window (PCRs), but having an EPD does not imply that the declared product is environmentally superior to alternatives. An EPD reports a specific set of environmental results, which can only be created after a full LCA is conducted. Common impact categories include:  global warming potential (GWP), ozone depletion potential, acidification potential, eutrophication potential, smog formation potential, and primary energy use.

EPDs are more comprehensive than single-attribute product declarations and more reliable than non-standard life cycle claims. Although the ISO framework and PCRs are internationally coordinated, registries of EPDs are maintained by country-specific Program Operators. In the United States, these include (but are not limited to) ASTM Internationalnon government site opens in new window, NSF Internationalnon government site opens in new window, The Sustainability Consortiumnon government site opens in new window, UL Environmentnon government site opens in new window, etc. Note that the International EPD System®non government site opens in new window  is operated by a company called EPD International AB. However, legitimate EPDs used in the United States need not be registered with the International EPD System.

An EPD will have certain characteristics:

  • Compliance with ISO standards
  • Adherence to the appropriate industry-standard PCR
  • Third party certification of the LCA process
  • A clear description of the functional unit
  • A list of the life cycle stages considered in the analysis

Examples

  • You might use EPDs to compare different flooring material options you are considering for your project, such as Vinyl Tilenon government site opens in new window and Ceramic Tilenon government site opens in new window.
Example impact table showing results for primary energy (in MJ), eutrophication potential (in kg phosphate equivalent), global warming potential (in kg CO2 equivalent), ozone depletion potential (in kg R11 equivalent), acidification potential (in kg SO2 equivalent), and photochem ozone creation potential (in kg O3 equivalent).
Second example impact table. Defines the system boundary as cradle-to-gate, the allocation method as cut-off approach, and the declared unit as one metric ton of fabricated steel reinforcing bar. The evaluation variables are:  primary energy non-renewable (MJ), primary energy renewable (MJ), global warming potential (metric ton CO2 equivalent), ozone depletion potential (metric ton CFC-11 equivalent), acidification potential (metric ton SO2 equivalent), eutrophication potential (metric ton N equivalent), photochemical oxidant formation potential (metric ton O3 equivalent), abiotic depletion potential elements (metric ton Sb equivalent), and abiotic depletion potential fossil (MJ).

Related Topics


Assessments

Assessments are essential tools for linking science and decision making. They survey, integrate, and synthesize science, within and between scientific disciplines and across sectors and regions.

Source: USGCRP: Assess the U.S. Climate - What are assessments?

Embodied Energy

A measure of the energy used to harvest, manufacture, process, bring to market, and dispose of a product. In Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of building materials, embodied energy helps identify the true energy cost of an item. This accounting method attempts to quantify the fossil fuels, nuclear energy, and other forms of energy that are involved over the material's life.

Emissions

Emissions are the discharge of a substance. In the building’s context, emissions usually refer to greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere (e.g., the release of carbon dioxide during fuel combustion).

Environmental Product Declarations

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are a way for manufacturers to take comprehensive, third-party-verified LCAs, which are quite complex, and turn them into standardized declaration labels for their products.

Life Cycle Cost Assessment (LCCA)

Materials and resources all have environmental, social and economic impacts beyond their use in a project. Impacts occur during harvest or extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, packaging, transporting, installing, use, and end-of-life disposal, reuse, or recycling. These “cradle to cradle” impacts should be considered when purchasing materials. The formal study of this process is known as Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

Similarly, Life Cycle Cost Assessment examines the costs and savings throughout the life cycle of a building material. For example, energy efficient equipment and appliances can be more expensive when initially purchased but will save energy (and money) throughout the life of the project. Therefore, it may make sense to invest in more efficient equipment that costs more up front but saves money and energy over time.

The Sustainable Facilities Tool allows you to compare life cycle costs for materials, as well as other environmental criteria, by following the green dots and clicking "compare materials" in Explore Sustainable Workspaces.

Also, check out information on LCA at the Whole Building Design Guide:
WBDG | Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA)non government site opens in new window

Life Cycle Thinking

Recycling

Glass, plastic, aluminum, cardboard and paper (including glossy magazines, envelopes with plastic windows and sticky notes) can all be easily recycled.  Depending on the waste hauler, recycling bins can include commingled waste (i.e. all materials are collected in one bin) or they may require separated waste (i.e. one bin for paper, one bin for plastics, etc).  By recycling products, materials are sent back to the marketplace rather than to the landfill. 

EPA | Recycling Basicsopens in new window

Reuse (Waste)

Similar to recycling, reuse refers to finding new uses for items instead of sending them to landfills.  Can furniture be reused in another department of the company? Can electronics be donated to charity? Even using an empty soda bottle to make a hummingbird feeder is a way to reuse items instead of trashing them.

http://consumersunion.org/pdf/ZeroReport.pdfnon government site opens in new window

EPA | WasteWiseopens in new window

Solid Waste

Waste comprises all materials that flow from a building to final disposal.  Examples include paper, grass trimmings, food scraps, and plastics.  Responsible stewardship tries to divert as much waste as possible from the landfill.  This can mean recycling paper, mulching or composting grass trimmings, and reusing large items, such as furniture.

EPA | Land, Waste, and Cleanup Topicsopens in new window

Source Reduction

Source reduction reduces the volume or toxicity of waste generated. Source reduction occurs before materials have been identified as “waste”. For example, building management can designate reuse centers for office supplies and other reusable goods. Another example of source reduction is implementing a paper reduction campaign through double sided and electronic printing.

Sustainable Purchasing

Purchasing managers should create purchasing plans and programs that give preference to items containing recycled content, certified wood, and rapidly renewable materials, as well as items that are energy efficient, non-toxic, durable and locally manufactured, harvested and / or extracted.  Further, purchasing managers should prioritize vendors who promote source reduction through reusable or minimal packaging of products.

EPA | Greener Productsopens in new window

Department of Energy | Guiding Principlesopens in new window

Virgin Materials

Virgin materials are natural resources that are extracted in their raw form that are traditionally used in industrial or manufacturing processes.  Examples of virgin materials are timber, plastic resin derived from petroleum refining process, and mined/processed metals.

Share non government site opens in new window

Did You Know?

You can get one free hour’s worth of continuing education / professional development by passing the Federal Facilities Skills Assessment Tool (FEDSAT)!

Take the Assessment  


Case Study

Health

PBS Office - Skylight

Good health has both physical and psychological components. Being healthy means the absence of disease and illness, as well as feeling positive about life and work. The workplace can play a role in the health of workers by eliminating risks and creating conditions that support cognitive, emotional, and social well-being.

View Case Study