The Green 4: Environmental Product Declarations

May 1, 2007
For architects and interior designers wanting to learn about various aspects of a product's performance, using only one tool, Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) will be useful.
What They Are

For architects and interior designers wanting to learn about various aspects of a product's performance, using only one tool, Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) will be useful. As International Standards Organization (ISO) Type 3 EcoLabels, EPDs must be based on a product Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), though other types of qualitative and quantitative product information may be included.

Many countries in the European Union have been developing EPDs during the past decade. As of early 2007, there is an ISO Standard 14025 in place encouraging development of EPDs in: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Additionally, Japan has played a key role in advancing the understanding and use of EPDs.

For products to be sold within the European Union, there is now a mandate that they must carry an ISO-compliant EPD (CEN 350) beginning in 2009. As a result, the European Union Committee on the Environment is taking a leadership role in shaping a Global Product Information System, featuring EPDs.

What They Do
The ISO has encouraged the development of EPDs as instruments to support sustainable building policies in the design and construction sectors. The primary purpose of building product EPDs is to illustrate the environmental performance of a building-as derived from its many parts and selected products.

As the data used for modeling the building's full life-cycle has to be credible, consistent and transparent, it is best drawn from ISO-compliant product LCAs. The starting point for high quality and reliable data in LCAs is Product Criteria Rules (PCRs). All performance data included in an EPD must bear the signature of a third-party organization and individual reviewer to meet the ISO Standard for EPDs.

EPDs feature a broad range of product performance information presented in a visually engaging format, including:

  • Environmental impacts
  • Life-cycle costs
  • Mechanical resistance
  • Energy efficiency and heat resistance
  • Safety in use
  • Protection against noise

How They're Used
Architects, interior designers and other building team members could make good use of EPDs in the following ways:

  • Supporting the use of a common basis for building owners, designers, engineers, contractors, and suppliers to formulate and apply effective environmental performance strategies.
  • Encouraging design processes through providing science-based declarations of all environmental considerations and making their relative importance understood.
  • Measuring how brand products advance the use of high sustainability standards.
  • Enabling building team members to apply LCA results in all phases of strategic planning-from building planning through design, to construction oversight, fit out and furnishing-for all buildings types.
  • Facilitating the use of product information to lower costs of constructing, furnishing, maintaining, operating, insuring and financing sustainably developed buildings.

Who's Developing EPDs
Japan is the leading country worldwide in the development of EPDs, having initiated a program in 1996 that is managed by the Japan Environmental Management Association for Industry (JEMAI). Called the EcoLeaf, this program of EPDs now includes more than 5,000 brand products from 47 product groups.

The European Union is quickly catching up, with EPD programs now in place in Germany (3,650 products); the Nordic countries (1,500); Spain (1,170); The Netherlands (370); and Austria. In China and India, EPD programs are in the early stages of development.

In the United States, the organization poised to play a leadership role in the development and use of EPDs is known as the International Design Center for the Environment (IDCE). The organization has developed The Green Standard Manufacturer's Wizard to assist manufacturing firms in creating an efficient way to collect and analyze product data to create a full LCA for use in several formats.

The first tool will be a simple EcoLabel based on the product LCA results. The second is a multi-performance product profile in an EPD that meets ISO Standard 14025. While the first will provide a science-based evaluation of all environmental impacts of a product throughout its full life-cycle, the second will offer many types of product performances: environmental, mechanical, safety, etc. Both will be available in the fall of 2007.

GEDnet, an international not-for-profit headquartered in Sweden, has played a key role in supporting the development and use of EPDs around the world by manufacturers in many sectors through providing certification and posting of those meeting the ISO Standard. GEDnet is leading the initiative to make EPDs a centerpiece of the emerging Global Product Information System.

What They Contribute
All stakeholders involved-owners, designers, contractors, interior designers, facility managers and the individuals who work or live in these sustainably developed buildings-benefit from improved human health, higher productivity, and lower costs and impacts. In summary, EPDs encompass multiple features. They are:

  • Comparable in what information they include and the processes for collecting and analyzing data on a product's environmental (and other) performances.
  • The responsibility of the manufacturer to fund, using standards set by the ISO and third-party certification entities.
  • Developed for manufacturers by organizations and professionals respected for their high level of expertise in Life Cycle Inventory and assessment methodologies.
  • Verified by third-party independent experts with clear, verifiable credentials.
  • The basis for sustainable building design, construction and product selection.

Development of EPDs for many products will advance the use of common language and common metrics for product design and selection, meeting the demands from the A&D community to have tools enabling them to be contributors to a sustainable world.


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