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What Is an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD)? An Overview

If you want a science-backed sustainable business, you have to quantify your impact. With countries around the world tightening environmental legislation and consumers becoming more savvy, it’s not enough to use vague language that promises more green practices. You must prove your company’s footprint and measure its progress.

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are yet another third-party report that helps your company evaluate its impact and shows stakeholders the state of your business. So, what is an EPD, and what is its purpose? Here’s our guide.

What Is An EPD (Environmental Product Declaration)?

An EPD is a Type III (ISO 14025 standard) environmental declaration that reports on a product’s social and environmental impact. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) footprint calculations provide the basis for the report; the EPD outlines the important bits from the Life Cycle Assessment, transparently reporting the product’s environmental impact without revealing sensitive product and company information. 

Basically, it’s an ingredients list, except instead of reporting on the number of calories and amount of sugar, it reports a product’s carbon footprint and water usage. Although EPDs are most common in the construction sector, any product can carry one.

While Environmental Product Declarations are generally voluntary, the growing ubiquity of global environmental reporting legislation is slowly making them mandatory. On top of this, many customers and investors are coming to expect such documentation surrounding products, especially from companies claiming to be green. Because Environmental Product Declarations are based on trusted international standards—the International Organization of Standardization (ISO)—they are treated as superior to other reporting labels such as self-declared labels.

Here is an example of an EPD for panels by Armstrong Ceiling and Wall Solutions. As you can see, it provides a thorough analysis of the environmental and social impacts of the product while being simple to read and digest by a general audience.

What Is The Purpose Of An EPD?

An Environmental Product Declaration does not mark a product as environmentally superior. Rather, it outlines a product’s cradle-to-grave social and environmental impact. As a purely objective document, it provides transparency so that stakeholders can understand the product’s footprint and make important decisions from that information. It also provides proof that products truly have the lower environmental impact that they claim, improving their sellability. 

Because EPDs are meant for commercial use, they are more compact and easier to read and understand than internal documents, like a Life Cycle Assessment. A verified EPD is required for certain green certifications, such as LEED, BREEAM, and GreenStar. 

Environmental Product Declaration labels, like other trusted green standards, can help companies stay ahead of potential environmental legislation. Furthermore, they provide undeniable proof of a company’s impact, which will improve its reputation and help avoid greenwashing accusations. 

When it comes down to it, companies that are truly serious about sustainability need to invest in these types of reports to confirm their green practices and highlight areas where they might improve.

Want to know where your business stands? Get your sustainability scorecard with our quiz:

What Is Required For An EPD?

Because a verified EPD follows stringent standards and methodologies, it needs quite a bit of data and documentation. These requirements are all connected, so it’s important to thoroughly research all of the steps before committing to each one. For example, your Program Operator will have certain requirements for your Product Category Rule which will, in turn, have certain requirements for the Life Cycle Assessment, etc. Let’s take a closer look.

Program Operator (PO) 

First, you’ll need to choose a Program Operator. POs are independent agencies that administer the EPD. They are in charge of the requirements of your Environmental Product Declaration and ensure that certain standards are followed and the EPD is done correctly. Not all EPD Program Operators are the same, and the one that you choose will depend upon your sector, the laws of the countries in which you operate, and product type. 

Here are some POs and when they might be used:

  • MRPI offers PO services for construction companies that operate in the Netherlands. 
  • EPD International offers PO services for global manufacturers and service providers.
  • BRE Group is a UK-based PO service that works primarily with construction products. 
  • INIES offers PO services for electrical and climate engineering equipment sold in France. 
  • SCS Global Services offers PO services for multiple industries in multiple countries. It’s one of the largest verification entities.

Product Category Rule (PCR)

A Product Category Rule is an industry-specific document that outlines exactly what is needed to conduct a Life Cycle Assessment and EPD report. Your PCR will need to follow the guidelines of your PO, and it will be determined by the type of product that’s seeking the EPD report. If you’re unsure of which PCR you should go with, a sustainability consultant will be able to guide you.

The overall purpose of a PCR is to ensure that products in certain categories are analyzed in the same way. By standardizing EPDs by category, it allows for different products to be accurately compared. Part of the purpose of an Environmental Product Declaration is to transparently show stakeholders a product’s environmental impact so that they can choose the product that they need. Therefore, they must be able to compare the impact of two different products and trust that the comparison is fair. A PCR makes that possible.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

An LCA report is an analysis of a product’s potential impact throughout its entire life cycle stages, from material extraction to disposal and degradation. It provides a thorough analysis of impact, including a product’s carbon footprint, water usage, waste generation, global warming potential, and more. 

An LCA study is done by first compiling all of the data surrounding energy and material inputs and environmental impacts, evaluating potential impacts, and providing a final interpretation of those results. It should be completed using trusted and verified software to ensure accuracy.

Life Cycle Assessments are imperative for Environmental Product Declarations. An EPD is essentially the short version of an LCA. While an LCA report may contain sensitive company information that you might not want to be made public, the EPD summarizes the LCA in a way that transparently communicates the product’s environmental and social impact without sharing sensitive information. 

See how EcoCart’s sustainability experts can help you conduct analyses about the environmental impact of your products with a Life Cycle Analysis.

product life cycle

Third-Party Verification

Any time your company participates in any sort of environmental reporting, offsetting, or labeling, it requires third-party verification. The same holds true for an Environmental Product Declaration. 

Third-party verification ensures that your LCA and EPD are thorough, accurate, and follow the proper standards. Having an unbiased expert review these reports, guarantees that the reports are solid. This will free your company from potential greenwashing accusations, confirm that your reports are correct, and provide ironclad proof of your product’s impact. The third-party verifier needs to comply with both your PO and PCR verification protocol. 

Once the verifier has done their assessment, you can then implement their feedback. These processes are not easy, so don’t be concerned if your first third-party verification report comes back asking for more data. If your LCA or Environmental Product Declaration is deemed insufficient, it simply means that you need to gather more information and revise the reports. This is where sustainability consulting might come in handy to comply with.

Once you’ve chosen a PO and a PCR, conducted an LCA, and had it all verified by a third party, it can all be summed up in your Environmental Product Declaration.

Conclusion

An Environmental Product Declaration is an important report to prove your company’s low environmental impact, especially in the construction sector. If you are a company seeking a LEED, BREEAM, or similar green certification, then preparing an EPD is essential.

Sustainability reports and certifications aren’t easy to accomplish. It takes a ton of data and resources both from your company and its suppliers, which may require months of work. But, you don’t have to go on your sustainability journey alone. EcoCart offers a few different services to help companies reach their carbon emissions goals, including a carbon dashboard, making it a little bit simpler to track product data and reach sustainability KPIs

Interested in learning more? Reach out to our team for a demo today. 

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