Where have EPDs come from?
Standardised EPDs are only a recent innovation. In the late 1990s various organisations around the world started to look at ways of measuring the environmental impacts of the products and materials we make and use.
To be useful to both industry and consumers, these measurements needed to be comparable so that 'pears could be compared with pears', and 'apples with apples'; To be comparable, measurements of different products needed to be conducted in identical fashion and assessed according to the same methodology. Standardisation finally came along through work by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).
Development of the ISO 14000 series of environmental standards, including those of environmental management (14001) and Environmental Product Declarations began in 1993. ISO 14025, the standard governing EPDs, was finally published in 2006.
Why are EPDs popular with designers and specifiers?
Up until the advent of standardised EPDs, designers and specifiers found it difficult to distinguish manufacturers' claims from facts. As marketing departments became aware of the strengths that environmental or 'green' advantages could confer on products, a confusing range of claims grew up. Some claims were valid, but many were not and designers were left to sort the true from the untrue amongst competing products.
For the first time, standardised EPDs offer manufacturers the opportunity to make credible and transparent claims. For the first time, specifiers choosing between products can look to third party verified statements to help them select those materials and products with the least environmental impacts.
Is an EPD some kind of 'green' certificate or label?
No it isn't. An EPD is strictly non-judgemental- its job is to present the facts about a product's impact on the environment, it does not say whether it is a 'green' product or not. However, an EPD can be used to provide the essential information that 'green' labels can then use to award certificates.
Where are EPDs being used?
Prior to ISO standardised EPDs, major companies throughout the world were using LCAs as a way of understanding the relationship between how a company operates, the products that it makes and its overall impact on the environment.
With the introduction of EPDs, companies are beginning to use the output from LCA data to create and communicate information about their products and materials through the EPD format. The use of EPDs has grown rapidly, and in particular, throughout most Europe, where growing awareness of the environmental impact of products by consumers combines with pressure on governments to legislate for their adoption.
Nowhere has this progressed more than in France where a requirement for EPDs to be provided for consumer products sold in the country, is being introduced. It is likely that the French model will be adopted in other countries.
What's happening in the UK?
There's a rapidly evolving awareness of the value of EPDs both commercially and institutionally. The Code for Sustainable Homes and BREEAM are based on a particular version of an EPD known as Environmental Profiling and the increasingly adopted Ska rating system, directed at the fitting-out sector, recommends the use of EPDs throughout its rating criteria.
What sort of information is required from the manufacturer?
There is not normally any requirement to produce information over and above the inventories usually kept as part of the production process. LCA assessors review the data in order to calculate key production outputs. One manufacturer described the process as “… a bit like having the accountants in for a couple of days”
OK, we're interested, how can we get more information?
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