How to Use and Compare Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)
With environmental sustainability at the forefront of design, it’s important to feel empowered when making product selections that work within an ecosystem to achieve project goals and climate-positive objectives. This is where Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) come into play.
What is an Environmental Product Declaration?
A document that transparently communicates the environmental performance or impact of any product or material over its lifetime.
What is the measurement of performance and impact?
The EPDs use embodied carbon (e-CO2) by kilogram per meter cubed to express the measurement of the impact. The greater the value, the greater the impact the product has on the environment. The lower the value, the less carbon is emitted in the products defined life cycle.
How are EPDs created?
Product Category Rules (PCRs) provide the rules and guidance to develop an EPD for specific product categories and are defined by relevant program operators. PCRs are developed in accordance with global ISO 14025 standards. Currently, there is only one valid PCR, however there have been others used in the past that differ from the existing version.
Life Cycle Analysis
There are different types of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) used in the creation of EPDs. Cradle-to-Gate, Cradle-to-Site, and Cradle-to-Grave are the common scopes, and serve as the basis for measuring the environmental impact within the EPD. Here is how each scope can be defined:
- Cradle to Gate: Extraction of all materials from the earth, their transportation, refining, processing, fabrication until the product is ready to leave the factory gate.
- Cradle to Site: Cradle to gate and the transportation of the material to its site of use
- Cradle to Grave: Includes cradle to site plus the GHG emissions associated with its use and end of life (disposal, reuse, recycle)
Why are EPDs verified?
EPDs are verified by an independent third party to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information in the EPD, and that it conforms to the PCR. This is a compliance requirement of ISO 14025 standards globally. It must be noted that there are non-verified EPDs which can have incomplete or incorrect information.
How are EPDs used?
EPDs are currently being used to compare products and designers to in order to select products with lower carbon values. However, it is not always appropriate to make direct comparisons within product categories.
When it is not apples-to-apples!
Many paver manufacturers in North America are still producing thru-mix pavers and walls only. At Unilock, our advanced technologies apply some additional processes and materials that may nudge the embodied carbon value up slightly. The variance in process and ingredients between drycast products is not significant, but is noted in the EPD. Elegance™ products have their own EPD, as they have a unique manufacturing process that is clearly differentiated in its EPD results.
The life cycle of our EPD is Cradle to Gate, and therefore doesn’t take into consideration anything that happens beyond the Gate. By having numerous locations spread across North America, we are able to function as a highly accessible local supplier. This approach effectively minimizes transportation impact on the project.
How the product is installed will also significantly impact the overall greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Research studies shows= that greenhouse gas emissions are 78-95 per cent lower for permeable pavements and bioretention basins than for conventional drainage systems. This virtually negates any embodied carbon of our product in situ.
The embodied carbon value alone should not be the deciding factor for product selection.
When EPDs are not all the same
Be sure to compare the following to make sure that you are comparing EPDs that use the same framework in their development.
There are different types of EPDs, including:
- Industry-averaged EPDs, which is the least specific
- Product Group EPDs, which average similar products from one manufacturer with one or several plants
- Single Product, which is most specific from one manufacturer with one or several plants
- Project Specific, which are generally not verified
Ensure the life-cycle is the same:
ASTM and other industry standards are defined in the EPD. Ensure these are the same as there are some CMU (concrete masonry unit) EPDs for pavers which have a lower compressive strength regulation and will have a lower carbon value.
In summary, ensure that the following information is the same to compare products:
- EPD type – Industry, Product Group, Product Specific, Supply Chain
- PCR – ASTM, UL, etc
- Life-Cycle – Cradle to Gate, Cradle to Site, Cradle to Grave
- ASTM or other Industry Standards
- Is the EPD Verified?
What is the lifespan of an EPD?
EPDs are valid for five years. Should we have a significant change in either process or ingredient mix we can consider the creation of new EPDs prior to the expiry.
EPDs play a vital role in promoting transparency and facilitating informed decision-making regarding the environmental impact of products. By employing embodied carbon measurements, following established PCRs, and utilizing various types of Life Cycle Analysis, EPDs provide comprehensive insights into a product’s environmental performance. Should you have any questions or would like to further review the information in the EPD, your local Unilock representative would be happy to review the data with you.