Sustainable Business Essentials: Everything you need to know about Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)

Are you curious about Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)? In this article, we cover the basics:

What is an EPD

EPD standards and rules: ensuring comparability

EPD regulations, standards, and norms in the construction industry

Distinguishing EPDs from LCAs

EPDs for Business

Selecting the Right EPD Program Operator (EPD PO)

Guidelines for Creating EPDs

Next steps

What is an EPD?

Firstly, EPD stands for Environmental Product Declaration. EPD reports are standardized, verified documents that transparently present credible information about a product’s impact on the environment. Following the ISO14025 standard (i.e., Type III Environmental Declaration), EPDs are useful for communication, comparison, and decision-making. EPDs are based on the information from a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study. The EPD report includes a summary of LCA results, environmental impact data, and other relevant information.

LCA is a systematic and comprehensive methodology used to evaluate and quantify the environmental impacts of a product over its entire life cycle, from raw material extraction and production to use, end-of-life disposal, and potentially recycling or reuse. An LCA is usually made for a specific characteristic unit (quantity) of a product and a specific set of life cycle stages.

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Why bother with EPDs?

EPDs are certainly gaining momentum in the world of environmental impact reporting! At the beginning of 2023, approximately 17,000 EPDs had been published globally – showing massive exponential growth in recent years [1]. To keep up with increasing EPD needs, Ecochain offers Helix, an LCA tool that allows you to generate hundreds of LCAs at once while creating only a couple of EPDs that synthesize the LCA information (i.e., representative EPDs). This minimizes the number of EPDs created and published (publishing EPDs costs are counted per EPD) while providing the necessary LCA background information to improve your product portfolio’s environmental impact.

Why are EPDs gaining popularity? This has much to do with regulations and standards.

EPD standards and rules: ensuring comparability

EPDs adhere to strict regulations and standards and are often valid for five years. The standards that govern them vary in detail (Figure 1). In practice, the more specific the guidelines, the more comparable the results are. For instance, every EPD is created according to a specific set of Product Category Rules (PCRs). PCRs offer calculation rules and guidelines to ensure comparability between EPDs within the same product category.

Additionally, EPDs are administered and supervised by independent agencies called EPD Program Operators (EPD POs). EPD POs are responsible for identifying and creating Product Category Rules (PCRs) for EPDs. PCRs ensure that EPDs within the same product category report comparable information by following the same calculation methods and reporting guidelines (e.g., what environmental indicators to report on). Many countries have their own EPD POs and rules – which can make the selection process complicated (we have outlined this process in more detail below). Further, EPDs must undergo verification by independent experts before they are published. These independent expert verifiers must also be approved by the EPD PO. Most EPD POs in Europe are linked to ECO Platform, an EPD umbrella organization, helping make EPDs more comparable since 2013. EcoChain is a founding member of Eco Platform.

EPD regulations, standards, and norms in the construction industry

EPDs are especially relevant in the construction industry – with many region and country-specific regulations, standards, and norms that aim for compatibility and transparency across the sector. There is a particular focus on the construction sector because almost half of the world’s raw materials extracted go into the built environment, construction generates around one-third of the global waste, and it accounts for 40% of Earth’s carbon emissions [2].

Two major regulations driving EPD generation are the Construction Products Regulation (CPR) in Europe and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in the US. Both regulations aim to reduce the environmental impact of construction works.

Future regulations like the Construction Products Regulation (CPR) acquis highlight the (eventual) mandatory integration of environmental declarations, including EPDs, into the Declaration of Performance (DoP) for construction products in Europe. This integration will begin in mid-2026 and will start with the Global Warming Potential indicator from the EN15804+A2 PCR. Concurrently, all construction product families must review their Harmonized Standards through a Standardization request. Once finalized, this information must be made into DoPs. By 2028, this information on construction products will be added to the Digitial Product Passport. In general, this regulation aims to deliver more sustainable (construction) products to European markets.

ISO 21930, a standard that establishes requirements that inform PCRs for construction EPDs, also governs EPDs in the industry. ISO 21030 informs more regional PCRs, such as EN15804+A2 in Europe and TRACI 2.1 (as well as EN15804+A2) in the US. Countries often have further elaborations of these regulations. For example, EN15804+A2 is the foundation for the NMD Bepalingsmethode in the Netherlands. Even more specific EPD standards like c-PCRs or product category-specific PCRs exist. The Irish asphalt sector, for example, has a specific c-PCR set by EPD Ireland. Figure 1 provides a visual representation of the specificity of standards and norms in the construction sector. Additional EPD regulation examples are mentioned in the EPD for Business subsection.

LCA standards and rules that govern EPDs from least (top) to most (bottom) specific.

Figure 1: LCA standards and rules that govern EPDs from least (top) to most (bottom) specific. 

EPDs are, of course, applicable in other, non-construction-related industries. EPD International presents many examples of EPDs in different sectors.

Distinguishing EPDs from LCA

So what are the differences between EPD reports and LCA reports? Simply put, LCAs are comprehensive environmental evaluations conducted according to ISO 14040/44 standards. Whereas, EPDs are shorter, simpler, and verified – all of which make them easier to understand and communicate to stakeholders. Because EPDs are used by organizations for communication purposes, they do not contain sensitive company details or product information like the bill-of-materials (i.e., the product’s exact recipe).

 

It is key to understand that there is no EPD without an LCA first (Figure 2). EPDs are based on a full LCA report but simply include:

  • The LCA results;
  • A brief product description;
  • The assumptions made throughout the LCA;
  • The calculation rules employed (i.e., the PCR).
    The differences between LCAs and EPDs.

Figure 2: The differences between LCAs and EPDs.

EPDs for Business

EPDs provide a range of benefits to businesses:

Meeting regulatory and market demands:

EPDs help businesses comply with regulatory requirements and align with market demands for sustainable and transparent products. For example, EN15804+A2 emphasizes a detailed analysis of Climate Change (i.e., fossil, biogenic, land change, and land use) as an important environmental indicator. This has led to new country-specific regulations (NL, NW, SW, DK, FN, US) that target CO2 emission reductions based on EPDs. In turn, the demand for bio-based construction materials is expected to increase. Thus, showcasing how EPDs adhere to the increasing emphasis on environmental consciousness across industries. Another example is how Eco Platform is considering incorporating circularity indicators into EPDs, to keep up with market regulations and demands.

Market positioning and competitive edge:

Embracing EPDs enhances a company’s reputation, positioning it as environmentally responsible. Further, because of the increase in published EPDs [1], it now matters more about what is on them, whereas it was previously enough to simply have an EPD. Companies use them as a way to gain a competitive edge. Consumers use EPDs to distinguish products on the market. This is further supported by the EU Green Claims Directive (proposed in March 2023; in action by 2026), which posits that companies must substantiate environmental claims using accurate, holistic, externally verified LCAs like EPDs [3].

Product-specific and representative EPDs:

Building off the competitive advantage of EPDs, companies can also create a product-specific EPD or a representative EPD. Product-specific EPDs present the environmental impact results of one specific product. Representative EPD results are, as the name suggests, representative of an entire product category or of similar products produced in various production locations [4]. This is an interesting option, as it reduces EPD publishing costs drastically. WAVIN, an Ecochain client, opted for the representative EPD approach and included a table with conversion factors that enable the end-user to calculate the product’s specific environmental impact. For more on WAVIN’s EPD experience, check out this case study. 

Facilitating Green Procurement and Certifications:

EPDs play a pivotal role in green public procurement processes and are often a prerequisite for certifications like LEED and BREEAM. By aiding organizations to obtain certifications, EPDs act as proof of a product’s sustainability, improving credibility.

Informing Strategic Decision-Making:

Access to EPDs and their underlying LCAs aids in making informed decisions regarding product development (i.e., ecodesign), material sourcing, and marketing strategies, aligning them with sustainability goals. Ecochain’s Helix is adept at highlighting environmental hotspots, that facilitate these strategic decisions.

Selecting the Right EPD Program Operator (EPD PO)

Choosing the appropriate EPD Program Operator (EPD PO) is often challenging for businesses. When selecting an EPD Program Operator (EPD PO) it is important to consider the following questions before getting started:

Why create an EPD? First, clients must determine whether they need an EPD. EPDs are more costly (due to creation and publication costs) and time-consuming (due to the verification process) than LCAs, so it is important to think critically about the decision to create one. The following questions help narrow this question further:

  • Does the client want an EPD? Make sure to consult the proper resources if you feel uncertain.

If not, (verified) LCA results may be enough.
If yes, does the client want the EPD to be published with a specific EPD Program Operator?

If not, a self-declared EPD or a more general EPD Program Operator may be enough. If the client does not have a preference, EPD International might be a good option.
If yes, create the LCA and EPD according to the EPD PO specific program instructions and PCR. For instance, EPD Norge might be ideal for clients in Norway.

Once these questions are answered, it is time to evaluate EPD PO specifics. Considering the following points will further help the EPD PO selection process:

  • Does the EPD PO have mutual recognition agreements? This means the EPD PO’s General Program Instructions and PCRs are recognized by another EPD PO, opening up the opportunity to publish the EPD with that EPD PO as well. This is especially relevant for businesses operating in international markets, contributing to their likelihood of winning international agreements.
  • Compare costs. Each EPD PO has different costs. The costs mainly consist of an EPD registration fee and annual fees. Also, you pay per EPD published. See EPD International’s pricing list as an example.

Guidelines for Creating EPDs

Selecting the right EPD Program Operator (PO) is the first step to creating an EPD. Below, we highlight eight steps to follow when producing an EPD. These are also summarized in Figure 3.

1. Select a relevant EPD PO: As highlighted above, it is necessary to understand the client’s needs and market demands. Choose an EPD PO aligning with specific requirements, considering costs, geographical relevance, and mutual recognition agreements between EPD POs.

2. Identify an appropriate Product Category Rule (PCR): Select a PCR that fits the EPD PO’s requirements, ensuring alignment with the product’s characteristics. The selected PO can also aid in this decision, as they often have a PCR manager.

3. Gather LCA Data: Perform a comprehensive LCA according to the selected PCR and ISO14040 and 14044 norms (Figure 1), utilizing credible LCA software tools like Ecochain Helix or Ecochain Mobius for efficient calculations.

4. Involve a third-party verifier: Engage with a verifier who is acknowledged by the EPD PO and is familiar with the selected PCR. Make sure to do this on time!

5. Draft the EPD document: Develop the EPD document following the format prescribed by EPD POs. Some EPD POs also allow EPDs in a company’s house style. However, keep in mind that the mandatory information mentioned in the ISO 14025 standard must be present in the EPD. Ecochain’s Helix solution offers a semi-automatic EPD template that aids in drafting the EPD document.

6. Review by a third-party verifier: Subject the LCA report and EPD to review by an independent recognized LCA expert, ensuring compliance with the EPD PO’s General Program Instructions, PCR, and verification protocols.

7. Implement feedback: Revise the LCA, LCA report, and EPD based on the feedback received during the review, addressing any shortcomings or discrepancies identified.

8. Submit the verified EPD: Submit the verified EPD to the EPD Program Operator for publication on platforms, like the ones connected to ECO platform, thus completing the process. Congratulations! You have published your EPD!

Steps for creating an EPD.

Figure 3: Steps for creating an EPD.

This systematic approach to creating EPDs ensures adherence to established standards, verification protocols, and the publication of accurate and reliable environmental impact information.

Next steps

EPDs provide essential insights into a product’s environmental impact, aligning with regulations, and meeting market demands. Creating EPDs can seem like a daunting task, however, Ecochain’s Helix offers a semi-automatic EPD template that eases this process while conducting LCAs in bulk.The verification process is not automated but performed in bulk, which grants similar financial and time benefits compared to an automated verification process. (Keep in mind that automated verification processes should always be manually verified at least once too). Once the verification process is complete, the following outputs can be shared with stakeholders: (1) verified product-specific LCAs (environmental profiles), and (2) verified (product-specific / representative) EPDs. A unique feature of using Helix to facilitate your EPDs is that it makes it possible to extract the underlying individual product LCAs of a representative EPD. This is key if you are looking to improve your product’s environmental performance when you update your EPDs, and in the future when product-specific EPDs are mandatory for your entire portfolio (e.g., the CPR). WAVIN’s case study showcases how representative EPDs can be created using Helix

 

Embark on your EPD journey with Ecochain’s Helix! Streamline EPD creation, underscore your product’s sustainability, and navigate market expectations. Drive sustainable initiatives, elevate your brand’s environmental stance, and stay ahead in today’s eco-conscious market.

References

[1] Anderson, J. (2023). EPD Facts & Figures. Eco Platform. Retrieved from: https://www.eco-platform.org/epd-facts-figures.html

[2] Miller, N. (2022) The industry creating a third of the world’s waste, BBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20211215-the-buildings-made-from-rubbish.

[3] All you need to know about the Green Claims Directive. (2023). Retrieved from: https://www.ecomatters.nl/news/all-you-need-to-know-about-the-green-claims-directive/   

[4] EPD FAQ. EPD International. (2023). Retrieved from: https://www.environdec.com/faq 

 

 

 

Author image Emily  Lalonde
Author
Emily Lalonde

I’m a content specialist at Ecochain, focused on educational material. I am an experienced academic writer passionate about solutions for pressing environmental and sustainability challenges. I am happy to combine my science communication skills with my LCA and ecodesign knowledge to deliver accessible and engaging content to the Ecochain community!

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