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The ABCs of EPDs

Environmental Product Declarations are growing in usage. Are you ready for them?

In today's schools, office buildings and health care facilities, green construction is now more the rule than the exception. Architects are specifying building products that not only achieve desired air tightness and energy efficiency, but also contribute to green certifications and evidence-based outcomes. Everyone from manufacturers to consumers is looking for ways to communicate the environmental performance of green products and services in the marketplace.

Environmental product declarations (EPDs) are helping that happen.

What is an EPD?

An EPD is an ISO 14025/TR standardized report of data collected in the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as specified by the Product Category Rules (PCRs). A PCR is a set of specific rules, requirements and guidelines for developing environmental declarations for one or more product categories. The PCRs define the type of data that should be collected, measured and reported in a life cycle analysis. PCRs include instructions for gathering data about the consumption of resources, including energy, water and renewable resources, and emissions to air, water and soil. An LCA analyzes the data specified in the PCR. The LCA measures input, outputs and environmental impacts of a product across its life span from cradle to grave.

An EPD communicates verifiable, accurate, non-misleading environmental information for products and their applications, expressed in information modules. EPDs enable comparison of a category of products on environmental impacts and can be verified by an independent third party.

"EPDs are critical in helping specifiers meet the newest generation of green building codes, which emphasize a product's overall environmental impact rather than individual attributes like recycled content or VOC emissions," says Drew Brandt, vice president of marketing and R&D at CertainTeed Corp., Valley Forge, Pa. "By providing analysis of a product's entire life cycle, EPDs offer the transparency needed to make informed specifications in an easy-to-understand format that is consistent throughout the industry."

At its inception, many view the EPD movement to be product centric with a specific focus on content, useful life, respiratory effects or breathability, emissions, recycled content, recyclability and other metrics. "This allows the products to be weighed on their merit before being measured against other metrics of building performance," says Steve Collins, vice president/ general manager of Telling Architectural Systems, Cranston, R.I. "Manufacturers have the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths and concerns for the environment in areas where they have more control, such as efficiencies of production, quality of facilities, service life of the products, quality of materials, recycled content, packaging, product effect on labor and shipping, and other areas where they can have a more significant impact on construction."

Contractors and architects

EPDs provide a valuable tool for contractors and architects to understand how a product will contribute to the overall sustainability of a building. Additionally, they greatly reduce confusion about a product's technical information by providing a standardized format to communicate all of its impacts-economic, environmental, human health, mechanical, safety and other attributes of the product type. "EPDs are also useful in providing details required in specification documents, as well as applications for certification in global green building systems," says Brandt. "In a sense, they are to building products what nutrition labels are to food products."

EPDs help architects answer the question "What's in your building?" "There is clearly a growing interest by the building owners and design community for transparency about any and all building materials being used on a project," says Scott Kriner, technical director of Chicago-based Metal Construction Association and president of Green Metal Consulting Inc., Macungie, Pa. "This includes EPDs so that the environmental impact information can be reviewed. Some designers may consider the existence of an EPD as a requirement to even consider selecting the product for a project."

EPDs can advance a contractor's advantage by putting them in a better position in the public eye. "Contractors who take the time and balance the cost of products with the selection of products that are most friendly to the environment, and have least amount of carbon footprint, will position themselves at a greater advantage than those who choose to ignore the groundswell of environmental concerns," says Collins.

From Europe

EPDs stem from a movement in Europe where organizations such as BREEAM have already begun the review and analysis of product content and makeup for long-term impact on the environment. "To my knowledge, we have not seen any requests from customers for EPDs or similar information in the metal construction industry," says Tanya Schneizer, environmental manager, Firestone Building Products, Indianapolis. "In the general building products area, there has been interest mainly from Europe in having EPDs available."

Since EPDs are still in their infancy here in America, many feel comparisons between products with EPDs are still not happening. "At this point, I don't think comparisons between EPDs that lead to selection of a particular product are that common-it's too early," says Martin Grohman, director of sustainability, GAF Corp., Wayne, N.J. "It's mostly about choosing a product or system that has completed an EPD versus choosing one that hasn't. There is much more work to be done to get to a place where comparisons between roofing systems based on their EPD are routinely made. I'm guessing that's as much as 10 years away. For now, it's more about participating in the process."

Companies are declaring

Despite their slow start, more and more major American metal construction-related companies are getting on the EPD bandwagon. Woburn, Mass.-based RHEINZINK America USA Inc. has issued up-to-date EPDs detailing the environmental footprints of their roofing, façade and drainage products according to ISO 14025 and the newest, more exacting European standard EN 15804.

Lewisville, Texas-based Metl-Span has EPDs for its products and DeLand, Fla.-based Kingspan Insulated Panels North America became the first North American-based manufacturer of exterior roof and wall panels to earn EPDs.

"EPDs are an important element in the overall effort to reduce environmentally damaging production practices and to assist in preserving natural resources," says Paul Bertram, FCSI, CDT, LEED AP, director of environment and sustainability at Kingspan. "Buyers and specifiers are driving the demand for environmentally preferable metal construction products. The widespread adoption of industry standards provides manufacturers with uniform procedures to efficiently bring products to market, and provides buyers with assurance about a product's safety and performance. Some firms are using these practices to stay ahead of the curve." Bertram agrees that EPDs are still uncommon in the U.S. and believes that, "At this time, most contractors-with a few exceptions-are only using EPDs for LEED credit."

Brett Reinhardt, marketing manager of Delano, Minn.-based Industrial Louvers Inc., says thus far his company has only been required to submit data regarding recycled content and regional LEED projects. "As LEED continues to evolve, I would estimate that manufacturers will need to submit additional information including energy and materials used in the manufacturing process," he says.

EPDs help companies attain consistent reporting across the industry. "Contractors and manufacturers have their own way of documenting recycled content, regional materials and VOCs," Reinhardt adds. "Essentially all of the information is the same; however the way the information is presented may vary. Currently you have EPA, OSHA, and LEED concerned about safety and environmental wellbeing. Eliminating redundancies and standardizing processes/documentation will help facilitate the flow of information from the raw material stage up to when the building is occupied, and beyond."

Third-party verification

To assist companies, EPD verification is available from independent third parties. "While today, each contractor or interested professional manages their own information differently, UL Environment recommends all EPDs be sourced directly from the Program Operator, a designation from ISO that UL Environment fulfills," says Paul M. Firth, product manager, UL Environment, Marietta, Ga. "Each Program Operator is supposed to maintain a registry of up-to-date EPDs that interested users are able to access at their convenience. As a Program Operator, UL Environment is able assist a company with the process of creating EPDs. Our experience and dedicated staff make the process much easier and more efficient for companies trying to figure out how to move through the process, from start to finish." Kingspan chose UL and its in-house LCA experts to certify its EPD. Bertram says that Whittier, Calif.-based ICC-Evaluation Service is also a program operator providing similar services.

Additionally, West Conshohocken, Pa.-based ASTM International can work with companies or trade organizations to develop PCRs which are the basis for the EPDs. "ASTM will also be able to assess if the EPDs meet the product category rule requirements, verifying the validity of the EPD," says Schneizer. "While it is still new, the expected benefit from a program such as ASTM's would be to standardize the information so that comparisons could be made among material choices by the customer."

Collins anticipates that ASTM will be a strong leader in the development of rules, categories and structure for EPDs and become an objective source for manufactures seeking to assemble pertinent date for their products and systems. "ASTM represents the latest and perhaps most influential of the third party verifiers for manufacturers and suppliers," he says. "This is further evidence of the seriousness with which the construction industry deals with the environment, recycling, and the extended useful life of building materials."

 

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AAMA and EPDs

Metal Construction News asked Schaumburg, Ill.-based American Architectural Manufacturing Association president and CEO, Rich Walker to describe in his own words the association's involvement with EPDs:

"The ASTM EPD program provides an established infrastructure that can be used for PCR development, offers a collaborative process and the ability to bring all stakeholders together, assists in identifying life cycle assessment experts, identifies related PCR documents and connects to other organizations that are developing PCRs.

"Currently, AAMA, along with a joint group of fenestration industry associations and manufacturer representatives, is developing a Product Category Rules Guidance Document that is to be completed prior to 2014. The document is a response to a widely recognized need for a single ANSI-approved resource to use in developing industry recognized and uniform comparative EPDs and substantive LCAs. When finalized, the PCR document will offer manufacturers the tools needed to provide comprehensive, product specific EPDs to their customers."

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The Impact of EPDs

Metal Construction News asked Scott Kriner, technical director of Chicago-based Metal Construction Association and president of Green Metal Consulting Inc., Macungie, Pa. to comment in his own words on the importance of EPDs:

Green building rating programs such as LEED and Green Globes and codes/standards such as IgCC and ASHRAE 189.1 now include material or whole building LCA provisions. There is more interest today about the environmental impact of building materials or the entire building. This includes metal roof and wall assemblies or systems that are part of the building envelope.

But a LCA on a product or process is complex and the report can be difficult to understand. Hence, the use of EPDs provides a condensed and simpler summary of the environmental impact data from the LCA. This tool is being requested by more of the design community, as part of the growing interest in transparency about all of the building materials, and systems being used in a project. The EPD can summarize a product's environmental impact in a number of impact categories that are defined by EPA and other standards. The LCA or EPD results are useful to a product manufacturer to compare their impact information against that of an industry average assessment, as well as for identifying which materials or processes have the highest impact on the overall results. In essence, it is a quality improvement tool.

The Metal Construction Association completed an industry average gate-to-gate LCA on five processes used in the manufacturing of metal roof and wall products, as well as an industry average, cradle-to-gate LCA on three specific products: insulated metal panels, metal composite material panels and metal cladding (roof/wall). MCA then developed a PCR document that pertains to the three products. Using that PCR, the MCA worked with PE International and UL Environment to develop EPDs. An EPD on insulated metal panels is now available, and work has started on EPD development of metal composite material panels and on metal cladding panels. These documents can be found on the MCA website at www.metalconstruction.org.

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Principles of the International ISO 14025 EPD System

Voluntariness: to be non-mandatory in nature

Transparency: through all stages of development and operation of the program

Accessibility to all interested parties: open to all potential applicants fulfilling program requirements Open stakeholder dialogue and consultation about PCR: to carry out a formal and open stakeholder consultation process to receive input and comments on suggested PCR documents from all interested parties

Product functionality: to ensure that the product functionality, i.e. the intended use of the product and related levels of performance, is taken into account

Scientifically based: building on a methodology to develop EPDs based on scientifically accepted approaches for LCA which reflects and communicates the significant environmental aspects relevant to the product

Confidentiality: to guarantee full confidentiality of specific information that has been identified as such by an organization

Cost-effectiveness: to be based on open, well-established, market-oriented and internationally recognized systems for verification and registration