Part 1 – Environmental Product Declarations: What are they?

An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is a verified and registered document that shows the life cycle environmental impacts of a product. Having an EPD does not imply that the declared product is environmentally superior to alternatives, but it does provide a transparent declaration for customers who need confirmation of a product’s environmental impact from start to finish. The process of getting an EPD may seem complicated, however, it can be easily explained and facilitated by an experienced EPD advisor. Figure 1 helps decode the acronyms.

To start the EPD process for your product, you first need to know if there is an existing Product Category Rule (PCR) for your product type. A PCR is like a recipe for making an EPD that sets out the rules, requirements and guidelines for creating an EPD. PCRs are governed by ISO standard 14025 which is an internationally recognized standard outlining requirements for EPDs as well as other product declarations, including eco-profiles, Eco-leafs, and environmental profiles. If your product does not already have a PCR, then one can be developed via a process typically undertaken by industry associations. You can find a fairly comprehensive list of PCRs on the website of the International EPD System®[1]. PCRs and EPDs exist for everything from foods, beverages, textiles and paper to telecommunications services and electronics (like printers). Figure 2 illustrates the EPD creation process.

EPD creation process

The next step, after you’ve identified the correct PCR, is to conduct a life cycle assessment (LCA) on your product according to the PCR’s guidance. An LCA is a systematic way of summing up all the environmental benefits and burdens from a product’s production, use, transportation, and disposal. Many EPDs, however, only cover the product’s raw material extraction, transport of raw materials, and production (sections A1, A2, and A3 of the EPD) rather than the entire product life cycle. The LCA part of the process is like baking a cake according to the PCR recipe. The LCA process can be very straightforward and easy if conducted by an experienced LCA consultant. First, data on all the inputs and outputs of production are collected. Then, data is used to model the production and generate results on all the relevant environmental impact categories. Next, the EPD is generated from the LCA according to the format dictated by the PCR. The EPD itself is a brief document that explains the key elements of the LCA, including the system boundary, functional unit, declared unit, inputs, outputs, allocation, and life cycle inventory data used to conduct the study. It then presents the results for several relevant environmental impact categories such as Global Warming Potential (GWP) from combustion of fuels and electricity consumption among other sources, water use, and energy use. In addition to the EPD, a full LCA report is created to give more in-depth documentation on how the LCA was conducted. This is often referred to as the LCA background report. Figure 3 shows the steps of an LCA to create an EPD.

LCA process

The EPD and LCA background reports are then reviewed by an independent third party verifier such as those certified by The International EDP System®. The verification involves a review of the two documents to make sure that they followed the PCR and meet the requirements of the relevant standards. The reviewer often submits comments to the entity that conducted the LCA. Those comments are addressed and then returned to the reviewer for their final verification statement. Once the EPD is verified, it can be publically listed online in a database like this one.

Watch for part 2 in this blog post series to find out what EPDs can do for your business!

[1] Many construction products can use the general PCR EN 15804, which presents the core rules for construction products in general.

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