What is an EPD?
An EPD — environmental product declaration — is a document which presents the environmental performance of a product. EPDs are a formal and internationally recognized way to present these impacts. Typically, Life Cycle Assessment is the method that calculates the impact data that supports the EPD. The completed EPD therefore serves as an environmental label or declaration. The LCA data calculations behind an EPD uses Life cycle inventory analysis (LCI). These calculations and processes follow the ISO 14040 standard. The ISO 14040 is the standard developed to describe the principles and framework of conducting LCA. There are also specific standards for developing the declarations and labels that the LCA is used to support. In the context of EPDs, this is commonly the ISO 14025: Environmental labels and declarations – Type III environmental declarations. The standards ensure the calculations behind the LCAs and EPD are uniform, so the finalized EPDs are comparable across sectors.
ISO 14025 Type III environmental declarations
In order to construct an EPD in a comparable way, it must follow the ISO 14025 Type III standard. Most EPDs follow this standard as it is the standard behind making environmental declarations. The standard states that an environmental declaration must use quantified product life cycle environmental information according to predetermined parameters. In addition, sometimes EDPs include additional environmental information that enables comparisons between products. However, this is only relevant for comparing products that fulfill the same function, so this is not always relevant. EPDs (ISO 14025 Type III) are subject to the administration of a program operator. The program operator is the organization that coordinates stakeholders and ensures adherence to ISO standards. They make sure the final EPD follows product category rules* and are independently verified.
In general, environmental labels and/or declarations have the overarching goal of stimulating the potential for market-driven continuous environmental improvement. EPDs (Type III in particular) have the following goals:
- To objectively and transparently communicate information on the environmental aspects of products according to the life cycle stages of a product (i.e. based on LCA).
- Allow purchasers and/or users to make a fair comparison of the environmental performance of products within a life cycle perspective.
- They encourage improvement of environmental performance.
Furthermore, as a minimum, an EPD (Type III) must include:
- A description of the product and the manufacturer.
- Information from the company, the LCA practitioner, verifier, program operator and certification body.
- The environmental performance of the product over the included life cycle stages. This is the essence of EPD, and is based on the product LCA.
Validity and Variations
EPDs are subject to different validity periods, though most are valid for 5 years. Currently, they are mainly relevant in business-to-business communication, business-to-consumer communication, eco-design, and green public procurement. In addition, they factor into obtaining credits in building assessment schemes (e.g. BREEAM and LEED).
Although less common, EPDs can also follow the ISO 14021 standard. This standard is the “Environmental labels and declarations: self-declared environmental claims (Type II environmental labelling)”. As the name indicates, these claims are self-made, self-certified and self-published. Many times manufacturers, importers, distributors, retailers or anyone else likely to benefit from environmental claims use this standard. These types of claims might not include LCA data and they do not require independent verification. Therefore, in order to still ensure reliability, the claimant is responsible for evaluating and providing the data for verification. Despite this stipulation, however, these types of claims are not valid for obtaining credits in building assessment schemes and run the risk of being considered as green-washing.
Ecomatters EPD support
Overall, within the world of LCA , the term “EPD” is normally understood as a type III environmental declaration. Here at Ecomatters we have a strong history in conducting quality LCA, following the appropriate standards, for products and services. We have supported several clients in conducting LCA, and formulating EPDs for products and services in the chemical and manufacturing industries. We have particular expertise with EPDs in the building sector. Do you have any questions, or are you looking for EPD support? Check out our case studies or get in contact with us for more information.
*Product category rules are the set of rules, requirements or guidelines for developing an EPD for a specific product category
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