Life cycle assessment has proven its business value for achieving a better understanding of environmental impacts associated with the full life cycle of a company’s products and services. This, in turn, enables better decision-making in selection of materials, suppliers, technologies as well as optimizing production processes and operations to improve environmental performance. Increasingly, companies and industry sectors also recognize the business value unlocked by LCA to demonstrate the environmental benefits of their products and services to the marketplace in a credible and transparent manner. Many leading companies around the world are using globally recognized Type III Environmental Declarations, developed in accordance with the requirements of the ISO 14025 standard, to communicate the environmental performance of their products.
The primary goal of Type III Environmental Declarations, commonly referred to as Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), is to promote demand for products that have lower adverse environmental impacts, through communication of science-based, verifiable and accurate information, thereby stimulating market-driven continuous improvement of environmental performance. The EPD is an independently verified declaration of a product’s key environmental impacts, encompassing all stages of a product’s life cycle including materials extraction, production, transportation, installation, use and end of life stages. The environmental impacts, including everything from energy, water and materials consumption to waste generation and emissions, are quantified based on Life Cycle Assessment studies conducted in accordance with the ISO 14040/14044 standards and a set of product-specific rules and specifications developed and independently verified in an open, transparent and inclusive process that includes consultation with relevant stakeholder groups.
The most commonly reported environmental impact categories used are:
- Global Warming Potential
- Ozone Depletion
- Photooxidant Formation
- Emissions to air and water
The EPD also provides additional quantitative or qualitative environmental information that is material to the product and the intended use of the declaration (see “EPD Content” section below).
EPD’s are used for informed decision-making but they are NOT comparative assertions in and of themselves. They communicate key environmental impacts across the product life cycle, leaving any relative weighting/scoring and judgments regarding those impacts in the hands of the users, depending on their relative importance for the intended application and context.
The preparation of an EPD is typically commissioned by a manufacturer and performed by an independent organization (EPD Program Operator) on the basis of pre-defined Product Category Rules (PCR). PCRs contain criteria and standardized rules for LCA methodology applicable to individual product groups and standardized format and content for reporting the results. The PCRs are developed by the Program Operator in accordance with ISO 14025, using a defined process that includes consultation with identified stakeholders with expertise in life cycle assessment as well as those who are knowledgeable about the product and industry sector.
Environmental Product Declarations are subject to independent verification to confirm that they comply with the applicable international standards and the Product Category Rules. Independent verification of EPDs may be conducted by an internal reviewer for business-to-business (B-to-B) situations, and by a third party verifier for business-to-consumer (B-to-C) applications. The program operator appoints the verifier and establishes a transparent verification procedure.
Once verified, the EPD can be officially registered and entered into a public repository. The public database/repository makes it possible for users to access scientifically verified information about environmental impacts of products in a standardized format and to compare the environmental performance of products within a product category. The manufacturer owns the EPD for their product and they receive the right to use the EPD Program Operator logo on their EPD for procurement programs or environmental marketing claims.
The figure below outlines the roles and responsibilities of the entities involved in the preparation of the LCA, PCR and the EPD.
Organization, Product and Process Description
- Performance-based functional unit
- System boundaries (typically cradle-to-gate for B-to-B and cradle-to-grave for B-to-C applications)
- Criteria, methodology, parameters, data collection and management processes of the LCA study
- Environmental impacts assessment results based on life cycle inventory (LCI) data (materials and energy inflows and outflows)
Other environmental information that may be required
- Description of list of materials and chemical substances.
- Data derived from LCA but not communicated in the typical LCI or LCIA based formats, e.g. recycled material content.
- Data that is not part of the product’s LCA study, but is still based on consideration of the product’s life cycle and is a key part of the product’s environmental profile, e.g. information on toxic substances.
- Information concerning other issues that are material to the product’s overall environmental performance.
- Documented environmental management system
- ISO 14020: Environmental labels and declarations – General principles
- ISO 14025: Environmental labels and declarations – Type III environmental declarations – principles and procedures
- ISO 14040: Environmental management – Life cycle assessment — Principles and framework
- ISO 14044: Environmental management — Life cycle assessment — Requirements and guidelines
- ISO 21930: Sustainability in building construction – Environmental declaration of building products
The EPD is typically valid for three years. After this period the producer prepares and documents an internal review of the EPD contents and the verifier verifies this review. A periodic review of the basis for environmental labels and declarations accounts for innovations in technology, processes and materials. The underlying information should be updated at a frequency consistent with the pace of innovation or regulatory changes that may affect the declaration.
Sustainability Edge Solutions is a neutral third party that has worked extensively with industry, manufacturers, EPD Program Operators, EPD verifiers and LCA experts to establish EPD programs and PCR development committees in accordance with the ISO 14025 standard.