Block 3: Common rules: EPDs in plain languages
Welcome to the world of sustainability. This article series by Peikko presents 4 building blocks for sustainability to make the construction sector more environmentally friendly.
In this article, we will take a deep dive into the world of Environmental Product Declarations, known as EPDs. What are they and how do they help build a more sustainable society? We also discuss the benefits and the process of obtaining EPDs.
What is an EPD?
An EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) is a standardized document that tells how a product impacts the environment throughout its lifetime. EPDs are based on existing data and calculated by using Life-cycle assessment (LCA). Thanks to the harmonized calculation method, the EPDs allow for the accurate comparison of products with similar functions (e.g., metal products) and under the same PCR (Product Category Rules).
EPDs offer various benefits for a company. Firstly, they act as a driving force towards certification schemes; EPDs are required to obtain environmental certifications such as LEED and BREEAM. Simultaneously, they help to fulfill the customers’ compliance or procurement requirements and thus secure sales. Having EPDs also builds a strong brand and supports marketing activities; EPDs offer evidence of responsibility and show commitment to climate change. Furthermore, EPDs open a window to product comparison and specification which often leads to improvement and future product development.
EPDs – the process and content
EPDs are objective, independent, and verifiable impact-measuring tools targeted to lead to improvement. They can be obtained only for products already in production, not for innovations to be launched. Commonly, EPDs are misunderstood with the carbon footprint, which as a matter of fact, is only one section in the EPD.
EPDs are generated according to relevant standards such as ISO and EN standards, and they are valid for 5 years in a time, unless there are major changes to production practices. EPDs are based on the company’s internal process, which includes a strategy assessment, data collection of the product and the production process (e.g. chemicals, gases, energy used), calculating the LCA (e.g. emissions of transportation, raw materials, waste, construction, use phase, end of life) and creating a background report. The third-party verification based on EN and ISO standards is done once the internal calculations are completed, and, finally, program operators such as EPD HUB or RTS publish the EPDs.
EPDs can be either product-specific (one product from one manufacturing site or industry-averaged - one product from several manufacturing sites) e.g., “DELTABEAM®, FI Factory”, or product type-specific (average of similar products from one or several manufacturing sites /manufacturers) e.g., “Connecting parts FI, Slovakia & Germany”.
An EPD consists of two documents: a public EPD document, a summary of the LCA, and a private background report, used for third-party verification and not available to the public as it may contain classified information. EPDs do not expose commercially sensitive information e.g., details of a manufacturing supply chain.
Reducing the environmental impact of products and materials
There is an increasing demand for carbon neutrality in the construction sector as the industry carries a heavy burden of both operational and embodied carbon emissions. The operational carbon emissions can be reduced over time with energy efficiency and upgrading, whereas the embodied carbon emissions are locked in place as soon as a building is built as they are embodied in the building materials.
The goals defined by the World Green Building Council for the year 2030 are a net zero operational carbon in new buildings, and at least 40% less embodied carbon with significant upfront carbon reduction in the existing buildings, infrastructure, and renovations. Whereas for the year 2050, all buildings (including the existing), infrastructure, and renovations will have a net zero of both embodied and operational carbon. The action towards embodied carbon emissions reduction is required now if we aim to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
The World Green Building Council has set concrete goals for material manufacturers to bring embodied carbon upfront. The timeline includes, among others:
- 2020 - 2025
All manufacturers and suppliers commit to relevant industry roadmaps and have developed carbon reduction targets with timelines set to achieve net zero embodied carbon by 2050.
- 2025 -2030
All manufacturers have declared the embodied carbon of the top 40% of their standard product portfolio by carbon footprint via EPDs.
- 2030 - 2035
All manufacturers have declared their entire standard product portfolios via EPDs. These are ambitious goals, and the role of EPDs is to support the embodied carbon challenge by making the environmental impact of products and materials more visible. Only this way we can take the needed steps to reduce the impact. Together with the undeniable benefits, these goals drive the construction industry change to include the EPDs as a standard part of the production process. If we are to succeed in making the construction industry greener, we need a reliable and trustworthy way to compare different solutions. EPD is the answer.
We in the building industry need to be innovative in creating economical yet ecological solutions good for people. We need to provide products and solutions that greatly improve the sustainability of buildings during their whole life cycle. In addition, by providing our customers with products manufactured using recycled raw materials with lower CO2 emissions, even challenging environmental targets can be achieved sooner than expected.
You are welcome to find out more about sustainability building blocks in our next article!