Environmental Product Declaration

May 10, 2018 | Brent Trenga, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP | Kingspan Insulated Panels

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As part of a series on sustainability and health & wellbeing certifications, we’ll be analyzing each certificate and purpose in more detail. Here, we focus on Environmental Product Declarations.
 
An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is a comprehensive, internationally-harmonized report that documents the ways in which a product affects the environment throughout its lifecycle.
 
EPDs tell the life cycle story of a product in a report, focusing on information about a product’s environmental impacts (i.e. global warming potential, smog creation, ozone depletion and water pollution). It can also include other impacts like land use changes, potential toxicity risks, as well as corporate environmental initiatives that are of particular interest to the discloser.
 
The relevant standard for Environmental Product Declarations is ISO 14025, developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), where they are referred to as “type II environmental declarations”.  
 
Kingspan Insulated Panels North America created the first of its kind cradle-to-grave UL-certified ISO-compliant EPD in September of 2011. Kingspan’s EPDs are third-party certified by Underwriters Laboratories and are part of the greater effort for transparency and sustainability.
 
An information source, not a rating
 
It’s important to note that an EPD is not an evaluation of a construction material but rather a source of information regarding its ingredients and potential impacts throughout the material’s life cycle. EPDs are based on international standards and are verified by independent examiners. With the help of EPDs, architects are able to choose the right materials to create certified sustainable buildings.
 
While EPDs do educate consumers about the product, architects should realize that it is for disclosure purposes only, and does not indicate the product is environmentally superior to an alternative.
 
Taking action now
 
I was sitting in a keynote speech given by Ed Mazria, founder of Architecture 2030, when his words struck me like a ton of bricks. If we don’t start looking at the embodied energy in our building products, we have zero chance of keeping global average temperature rise below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
 
Its time to start quantifying the embodied environmental impact of the entire building and not just chasing points in LEED by collecting EPDs. These documents on their own just scratch the surface of what we can do with the data.
 
In theory, building information modeling (BIM) ought to provide designers with the detailed bill of materials (BOM) necessary to perform a Life Cycle Assessment during project delivery. But in reality, BIM models often do not reflect the actual volume of materials.
 
Harnessing the intended value of EPDs
 
In 2008, seeking to leverage the power of Revit modeling software with the existing LCA data for building materials, KT Innovations (an affiliate of KieranTimberlake) developed a ground-breaking tool called Tally. This software allows the A+D teams working in Revit to quantify the environmental impact of building materials for whole building analysis, as well as comparative analyses of design options.
 
While working on a Revit model, the project team can define relationships between BIM elements and construction materials from the Tally database. The result is Life Cycle Assessment on demand, and an important layer of decision-making information within the same time frame, pace, and environment that building designs are generated. Simply put BIM, combined with LCA product data integrated into tools like Tally, provides architects with the data to optimize buildings, resulting in smaller carbon footprints.
 
EPDs should be more than just a box to tick for LEED credits. Let’s remember that the intent of the credit is to drive material selection with the aim of reducing the amount of carbon needed to actually build the building in the first place.
 

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