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Why does the world need EPDs?

The overall goal of an EPD is to provide relevant and verified information to meet the various communication needs.

An important aspect of EPD is to provide the basis of a fair comparison of products and services by their environmental performance. EPDs can reflect the continuous environmental improvement of products and services over time and can communicate and add up relevant environmental information along a product's supply chain.

EPDs are based on principles inherent in the ISO standard for Type III environmental declarations (ISO 14025) giving them a wide-spread international acceptance.

External and internal drivers

Market & Legal Regulation

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Enable Building Level LCA

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Green Building Schemes

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Green Public Procurement

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Marketing

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Benchmarking

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Ecodesign

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Sustainable Supply Chain Mgt. (SSCM)

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Market and legal regulations

To date, manufacturers are not obliged (mandatory by law) to provide EPDs. But, the market increasingly regulates the use of EPDs in various applications itself.

Upcoming regulations and directives for EU domestic and foreign organisations:

  • European Green Deal; an initiative that should make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent
  • European Circular Economy Action Plan
  • EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF), with product specific category directives (e.g. Battery, Food, Packaging, a.s.o.)
  • Directive of EU Parliament and the Council on Corporate Due Diligence and Corporate Accountability (originally only about Human Rights, but now includes embodied carbon)
  • EU Level(s); the European framework for sustainable buildings
  • EU CE(Conformite Europeenne)-mark to ensure to EU consumers products' health, safety, and environmental safety.
  • EU Carbon Border Tax tied to Imports; one of several financial mechanisms that the European Commission is considering as part of the European Green Deal.

Market regulation (semi-mandatory/bonus-malus) in place as of today:

  • Green Building Schemes (BREEAM, LEED, DGNB, WELL, a.s.o.)
  • LCA and Building level LCA
    e.g. Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Indonesia.
  • (Green) Public Procurement
    e.g. Sweden (Trafikverket, Boverket) and Italy (large retailers & public organisations such as ENEL)
  • Supply chain management (e.g. EcoVadis, SEDEX)
  • Green bonds (e.g. via ISO-standards)

Building level LCA

Building level LCA's are increasingly being be mandated (market regulation) when trying to address the topic of embodied carbon in buildings by public and private actors, esp. in the Nordics and Western-Europe.

EPDs provide the product-specific environmental performance data that can be used when conducting the whole building LCA.

Building Level LCA is closely linked with voluntary green building schemes, but there is no doubt that this method will increasingly be mandated by policy developers working on future directives and regulations.

Eg. in Sweden we see a national law coming in place that may require any building coming to market from 2022 to have a building level LCA. For additional information (in Swedish) on expected mandatory Building LCA requirements in Sweden, please click the following buttons.

Regeringen website

Boverket website

In addition, the European Commission's Level(s) framework, which is a new European approach to assess and report on the sustainability performance of buildings, throughout the full life cycle of buildings will push for harmonization on EU level.

European Commission's Level(s) framework for sustainable buildings
Using existing standards, the Level(s) framework with its indicators provides a common language for building sustainability, which can be used directly on building projects and portfolios, or as a basis for other initiatives, policies, schemes, and actions, to include life cycle thinking and circularity.

Level(s) website

Green building assessment schemes

The interest for environmental declarations in building rating systems and certification schemes has increased in the last few years, as they may demonstrate knowledge of the life cycle environmental impact of the ingoing construction materials.

In a recent study by OneClick LCA on embodied carbon, the authors conclude that "of the schemes directly addressing embodied carbon, 89% required use of EPDs."

They also pointed out the different roles an EPD plays in the various building schemes:

  • Documentation of use/purchase of products with an EPD in a project
  • Use in LCAs to enable building level LCAs
  • Compare and buy low-carbon products for a project

Green Building Scheme examples:

LEED by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) is one of the building assessment schemes that have come the furthest in giving benefits for projects where EPDs are available to encourage the use of (buying low carbon) products with life-cycle information.

BREEAM has several national implementations where the requirements are somewhat different. Normally, only pre-approved national databases of LCA information are accepted. Currently, BREEAM has national schemes in the following countries: United Kingdom, USA, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Please contact your local BREEAM national scheme operator for more information about how EPDs for construction products may be used for documentation and buying low carbon products.

GreenStar, HQE, Miljöbyggnad, DGNB International, Zero Carbon Certification, Home Quality Mark and Green Building Index are all other building assessment schemes where Environmental Product Declarations can be used to obtain several credits in order to reach higher levels. By either documenting a/o using EPDs for LCA and product comparison.

Please note that there are also other national and international building rating and assessment schemes that may or may not accept EPDs as part of their scope.

Green public procurement

By using EPDs, the organisaion could gain a competitive edge in green public procurements.

There are three main methods on how to use EPDs in public procurement. Please note that this information is provided as examples and that no liability is taken for the correctness of the information for specific cases or markets:

  • To get information on the environmental impact of the goods and serviced being procured can be seen as the first step in greening the procurement activities. Knowledge about the impact of the subject matter is vital in order to be able to put down relevant GPP criteria in the tendering documents. EPDs can therefore give very useful input to GPP, either in the market analysis or as a first step in greening the GPP.
  • As the EPDs contain information on the products' environmental impact from a life cycle perspective, the EPD can be used to verify compliance provided that the environmental requirements put in the tendering documents is information that can be found in an EPD.
  • Information in EPDs within the same product group and based on the same PCR can also be used to compare products from an environmental point of view and also to reward the environmentally best product. This must be done according what is allowed in the legislation and the reward criteria must be transparent and non-discriminatory.

Info video on public procurement and EPDs prepared by the Delegationen för cirkulär ekonomi (in Swedish).

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Marketing

In marketing, many organisations want to make claims of their product´s environmental performance, especially if it is superior compared to other similar products on the market. However, such claims must be conveyed in a manner which is recognized by the market as being relevant, credible and transparent.

In order not to violate national marketing acts and international codes of conduct, such as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) rules on advertising and marketing communications, these organisations must be able, on any demand, to demonstrate proof of different aspects of the environmental claims they are using.

If the organisation has developed an EPD for the product, they indeed have a very comprehensive documented to refer to. The EPD will most likely meet all requirements that might be raised by any external party which would like to argue about any possible deficiencies in the organisation's environmental claims.

Benchmarking

Can you benchmark products' environmental impacts against e.g. peers' that also have EPDs? Definitely, but with caution!

Oh, and no, EPDs do not include such environmental claims!
You will need to do the benchmarking...

Comparing your own environmental performance of your products and services over time to industry bests and best practices from other companies enables you to see how you perform against your peers and be prepared to meet growing market demands for product sustainability.

Today, LCA comparisons on product level, assembly level and whole buildings are (common) practice in the construction sector. But, unfortunately are we during such comparisons - still - forced to a large extent use generic datasets because of the simple lack of specific (EPD) product data. Manufacturers are now requested by architects, developers and so on to fill this data gap. Simultaneously, we see that academia are also progressing and experiment with machine learning algorithms for embodied carbon calculations and predictions. But, to properly test such algorithms they also crave for more specific data as feedstock.

When you start comparing you will need to follow some rules, and be aware of the peculiarities that come with comparing EPDs. In particular when the used EPDs are provided by different EPD programme operators. The PCRs of the different EPD programme operators that are used during the LCA most likely differ to some extent (also valid for EN15804 standard compliant EPDs) because we as programme operators need to provide our interpretation of the standards to the LCA practitioners where these standards are unclear. These interpretations are in our case developed in a multi-stakeholder engagement process and the final result is made available via the PCRs. You now understand that all PCRs for similar products are not necessarily fully aligned. One known and well-described example for deviations - est. 10-20% variations in impact results - is the allowance (or not) to use different LCI/LCA background databases.

Examples of EPD benchmarking features/ solutions

EC3 tool

EPD Analyzer

Planetary tool

Ecodesign

Ecodesign, or Design for Environment (DfE), eco-design or, more generally, Environmental design, is the concept of taking environmental issues into consideration when designing and developing new products, or when updating existing products.

EPD, and the underlying life cycle assessment (LCA) study, may be used as a way to measure impacts and avoiding sub-optimization.

An organization making use of EPDs can easily track and report on improvements in the environmental performance of its products, both internally and externally. In this way, EPDs can serve as a vital supporting component to serve as an indicator in its work on product development on what is most relevant to focus on.

The LCA methodology used for EPDs in the International EPD System gives a benefit for using recycled material and for designing products that may be reused or recycled, thus steering towards products that are part of a circular economy.

Sustainable Supply Chain Management (SSCM)

Value chain collaboration with LCA-data may lead to process development.

EPDs are developed for specific product categories making use of internationally standardized methods for definition of all sub-categories of products according to the UN system called Central Product Classification (CPC). Therefore EPDs can be established for all types of products wherever they might be in a hierarchy of product categories.

Following this EPD´s can be developed for all types of products in a supply chain – from the very initial stage with acquisition of raw materials to subsequent stages in the refinement of these raw materials to sub-components delivered to the final manufacturing.

As consequence, separate EPDs in a supply chain can be added up together to provide a final manufacturer with a complete information of the environmental performance of a semi-manufactured product as an input to their overall manufacturing process.

Environmental Management Systems (EMS)

By using EPDs, an organization can identify, control, monitor and evaluate the environmental performance from a life cycle perspective and also communicate the result to different stakeholders.

EMS such as ISO 14001 and EMAS require the organization to identify and consider the environmental impacts from its operational planning, activities, products and services. They also require the organization to monitor, measure, analyze and evaluate its environmental performance, which needs to be communicated both internally and externally. The organization shall also see to that the information is relevant and reliable. One way to identify any organization’s significant environmental aspects is to make use of LCA methodology, to which EPDs are very useful as they can be used to communicate continuous environmental improvement of goods and services over time following measures taken to make its product more environmentally-effective.