Q: What are Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)?
A: An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is a document that provides, in a user-friendly format, the environmental impacts, energy usage, and other information that results from a science-based life cycle assessment (LCA) of a product. EPD development is guided by a set of international standards which call for initial creation of a Product Category Rule (PCR) that defines the processes to be used when evaluating some or all of the product’s life-cycle stages.
Q: Are there different types of EPDs?
A: Yes, there are two types of EPDs: business-to-business (B-2-B) and business-to-consumer (B-2-C). B-2-B EPDs are generally limited to specific stages of the life cycle, such as cradle-to-gate, since manufacturers may not be able to characterize how their product might be used after it is sold. B-2-C EPDs cover the full life–cycle of a product, what is referred to as cradle-to-grave. In accordance with the international standards, B-2-C EPDs must be independently verified by a competent third-party to ensure conformance to the LCA report and governing PCR. B-2-B EDPs may elect to have third-party verification.
Q: How are EPDs developed?
A: As noted above, EPDs are developed in compliance with the international standard, ISO 14025 Environmental Labels and Declarations. Under this standard, a program operator is contacted to develop the EPD. The program operator can be a company or a group of companies, industrial sector or trade association, public authority or agency, or an independent scientific body or other organization. An organization declaring itself to be a program operator must develop, maintain, and publish the rules that it will follow that allow for open participation by interested parties or stakeholders, but it is not a formal consensus process. The program operator first determines whether relevant PCRs already exist for the product (even in another country). If they do, then that PCR should be either adopted for use or adapted for identified alternative conditions. Otherwise, the program operator initiates a process to develop a new PCR. Once the PCR has been developed, an LCA that conforms to the PCR is developed. That LCA is the foundation for developing the related EPD. Third-party verification would then involve a competent and independent review by one not involved in the LCA or development of the EPD.
Q: What purpose do EPDs serve?
A: An EPD provides the basis for an evaluation of the environmental performance of products but does not “judge” whether the product or service meets any environmental quality standard. Users of EPDs are able to make their own judgments based on the information presented. An EPD would not include comparisons between products or make reference to any environmental benchmark or baseline. However, when properly structured and verified against the same PCR, the EPD for one alternative can be compared against the EPD for another. The key is that the functional unit must be the same for realistic comparisons. Perhaps most important, an EPD is a disclosure by an company or industry that makes public the standardized environment impacts of its products.
Q: What type of information does an EPD provide?
A: Typically, an EPD will include information about environmental impacts from some or all of a product’s life-cycle stages, given in standard measurements used to quantify impacts on, for example, global warming, ozone depletion, water pollution, ozone creation, etc. EPDs for building products can help architects, designers, specifiers, and other purchasers better understand a product’s sustainable qualities and environmental impacts.
Q: How can I locate an EPD?
A: A program operator is responsible for maintaining publicly available lists and records of relevant PCRs and EPDs developed under their program. While some have argued for national repositories, which could be a useful step, at this point there is no internationally recognized EPD network.
Q: What is a Transparency Brief?
A: Environmental product declarations (EPDs) provide product environmental information distilled from environmental life-cycle assessments (LCA). However, LCAs are often over 100 pages, and many EPDs, which are summaries of the LCA information, can themselves run over 20 pages. Often, specifiers, designers, and others just want to know what the third-party verified, life-cycle based product data is for their material selections. Now, for those wanting “just the facts,” there is the UL Environment (ULE) EPD Transparency Brief, providing the verified environmental information in an easy to understand two-page format.
The EPD Transparency Brief summarizes the most critical data presented in an EPD. The Transparency Brief provides all information about a product, its composition, life-cycle environmental impacts, material content, water and energy usage, and other product information, all in a standardized format. The intent is to make it easier for users to see key details of products and allow them to focus on just environmental data.
The Transparency Brief can also be a useful tool to better understand LCAs and EPDs. ULE has made the Transparency Brief available for all ULE-certified EPD. You can see the wood products industry EPDs and Transparency Briefs by searching ULE’s “Sustainable Products Database.”