Why use an EPD?
From a purchaser´s point of view, EPDs are designed to allow comparisons between similar products’ environmental performance. Furthermore, an EPD must be based on a life cycle assessment of the product’s significant environmental aspects.
From a producers’ or suppliers’ point of view, there are two very good reasons to establish an EPD:
• to learn more about a product’s environmental strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for improvement
• to communicate a product’s environmental profile in an objective and credible way
That a product has an EPD is no guarantee that the product is less harmful to the environment than a competing product. However, it shows that the manufacturing company has an in-depth knowledge about its product’s environmental performance and is sharing that information openly.
What is the difference between generic and specific data?
One of the difficulties faced by specifiers when making decisions about what to use is that most environmental profiling information is available for specific products and then only for a very limited range. Information on generic materials is much harder to find.
All data used in a life cycle assessment represent the characteristics of the processes in the product system being studied. However, the source of the data can be site-specific – i.e., representing the specific site in which the declared product is manufactured – or generic, i.e. representing an average of data from the process technologies used to manufacture the product in question.
Interpretation of EPDs
There is no one way of interpreting the values of an EPD. EPDs for two similar products should be based on the same product category rules for the life cycle assessment, thus should be able to determine which of the two is best from an environmental point of view by comparing the data. When there is no similar product to compare with, comparing the data to an average European could make them more understandable. Sometimes the EPD itself contains a comparison with an older version of the product or an alternative way of using the product. This could also facilitate the interpretation.
Creating EPD in the EPD® System
The international EPD® system is operated by an international panel and was originally driven by the Swedish Environmental Management Council (SEMCO).
The programme operator is responsible for providing general guidelines for the overall aim and methodological structure. The system is part of the Global Type III Environmental Product Declarations Network (GEDnet).
The EPD® system® is one of several available EPD programmes, however it is the only programme at present with international applicability. From the point of view of a company or an organisation creating an EPD, the overall procedure includes the following steps:
• consider available Product Category Rules (PCR) and create a PCR document
• collect and calculate LCA-based and other types of information to be included in the EPD
• compile information for reporting
• verification and registration
To be able to add up LCA-based information in the supply chain and to compare different EPDs, similar calculation rules have to be used. Groups of products can, however, differ in their inherent environmental performance and these variations need to be reflected in the calculation rules. Because of these differences, rules specific to a certain product group, so-called product-category rules may have to be prepared.
Product category rule for preparing an EPD for corrosion protection of fabricated steel products
A PCR has been established for galvanized steel in 2006 published by the SEMCO. The PCR is applicable to metallic, inorganic and organic coatings as well as for stainless or weathering steels. The functional unit is one year of protection for a given geometry of steel plate.
The PCR required statement of the following categories in a related EPD:
• use of non-renewable resources
• use of renewable resources
• global warming (kg CO2 equ)
• ozone depletion (kg CFC-11 equ)
• acidification (mol H+)
• eutrophication (kg O2)
• photochemical oxidant formation (kg C2H2 equ)
This PCR document is currently being used as the basis for a sectoral EPD for galvanizing, that will soon be published by EGGA.
As an ambition to tailor-made EPD information for specific environmental issues, the International EPD® system introduces so-called Climate Declarations, concentrating on all aspects of relevance for climate issues including all greenhouse gases and covering all stages of the life cycle from raw material acquisition to final waste handling. A climate declaration is indeed a global concept as it deals with human activities usually occurring in different countries around the world as a result of international trade.
As an ambition to tailor-made EPD information for specific environmental issues, the International EPD® system introduces so-called Climate Declarations, concentrating on all aspects of relevance for climate issues including all green house gases and covering all stages of the life cycle from raw material acquisition to final waste handling. A climate declaration is indeed a global concept as it deals with human activities usually occurring in different countries around the world as a result of international trade.
There are many advantages with climate declarations – they are based on scientifically-sound methods for collecting and interpreting life cycle data, are neutral, developed and reported in a similar way, the information is comparable between different declarations and the information is quality-assured through external verification and certification.
Through an official registration they are easy-to-access, and thereby available to anyone.
With these characteristics, climate declarations should be a welcomed contribution in the ongoing climate debate, bringing a holistic, factual-based and credible perspective on the market about the climate influence from various human activities and products.