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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).
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