An environmental product declaration (EPD) is a method of quantifying the environmental impacts of a product. It is analogous to the nutritional label on a box of cereal. In the context of green building, EPDs will provide a way describing the environmental impact of a building material or product.

EPDs articulate the conclusions of a life cycle assessment. The aim of an EPD is to facilitate the comparison of the range of environmental effects attributable to a product in order to provide a sound basis for making informed decisions.

Life cycle assessment is widely accepted to encompass 5 stages: raw material acquisition, manufacturing, transportation, use, and end of life.

U.S. EPA developed TRACI, the “Tool for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and other environmental Impacts” that assists in impact assessment for life cycle assessment. TRACI requires consideration of the 5 stages described above. And TRACI facilitates the characterization of environmental impact categories that have potential effects, including: ozone depletion, global warming, acidification, eutrophication, photochemical oxidation (smog), ecotoxicity, human health: criteria air pollutants, human health: carcinogenics, human health: non-carcinogenics, fossil fuel depletion, land use, and water use.

In the U.S. TRACI can provide most of the information required for an EPD. Product and company information would be added.

ISO 14025 (produced by the International Organization for Standards, the world’s largest developer of voluntary standards) describes an “environmental declaration”, as quantified environmental data for a product with pre set categories of parameters based on the ISO 14040 series of standards, but not excluding additional environmental information. The ISO standard establishes the principles and specifies the procedures for developing a Type III environmental declaration. Type III environmental declarations “are primarily intended for use in business-to-business communication, but their use in business-to-consumer communication under certain conditions is not precluded.”

In contrast to TRACI that was created specifically for the U.S. using input parameters consistent with U.S. locations, ISO 14025 was created to play a role in “regional eco-label programmes, such as the European Union Integrated Product Policy”. That observed, ISO 14025 is becoming the early benchmark for EPDs (possibly because Europe is ahead of the U.S. in this arena?).

This post is about Type III EPDs, which require an independent agency to oversee the EPD process, Of note, Type I environmental labels are multi criteria third party programs that award environmental labels to products meeting a set of predetermined requirements. And Type II environmental labels specify requirements for self declared environmental claims made by manufacturers, importers, distributors, retailers or anyone else likely to benefit from such claims.

All of this is new, in particular in the U.S. where EPDs are soon to be crucial in green building because LEED v4 and Green Globes both recognize EPDs. The new versions of IgCC 2015 and ASHRAE 189.1-2015 are each considering the use of EPDs. And while EPDs most directly contribute to LEED v4 point in the MRc1 and MRc2, they potentially have some role to play in 21 different LEED credits.

Not only are EPDs key in LEED v4, but EPDs are among the hottest topics in green building.

Article by Stuart Kaplow, appearing courtesy Green Building Law Update.


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