Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs): Improving Material Selection Options in the IgCC
The International Green Construction Code
The International Green Construction Code (IgCC) is the first model green code to include sustainability measures for an entire construction project and its site. As an overlay code, it establishes minimum green requirements for buildings by exceeding the companion ICC model codes in the areas of energy efficiency, water usage and waste reduction, as well as focusing attention on health, safety and community welfare.
Green buildings necessarily require careful product and material selection criteria. When the first version of the IgCC was developed in 2012, the material selection chapter used a “single attribute” approach, rewarding single attributes like bio-based content, recycled content, or regionally produced materials. Today, understanding a product’s environmental footprint increasingly considers all attributes (called a multi-attribute approach) across all of the phases of a product’s life, including parameters such as energy consumption during manufacturing, waste impacts during installation and the product’s maintenance requirements. And this approach, importantly, considers potential energy savings the product may offer during the long “use” phase as well as outcomes at its end of life disposition. The International Organization for Standardization, called ISO standards, explains how to apply these multi-attribute, life cycle approaches.
While ISO offers standards and guidance that help companies conduct life cycle assessments of their products, ISO standards can do even more than that. For companies that choose to develop an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) under the ISO 14025 standard, the first step before an EPD is written (in general) is for an industry group to develop and establish a set of Product Category Rules (PCRs) for doing EPDs that contain LCAs. A PCR is a pre-requisite for conducting an EPD – this is covered in the ISO 14025 standard. The standard Product Category Rules (PCRs) are standardized rules for collection and reporting of environmentally-relevant information in an entire product category (like insulation or pipe). Within these rules, a company can better develop an ISO-compliant Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on its product, which measures the product’s impact upon the environment across multiple attributes throughout its life cycle. Then, a company can prepare a report called an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) if they so choose, following the rules set out in this ISO 14025 standard. An EPD is a declaration that discloses the life cycle environmental performance of products and services – it is not a claim of environmental superiority. This comprehensive, third-party-reviewed process and documentation can in turn, make approval decisions and judgments easier to use and understand for code officials, because they can consider an EPD as a verified IgCC compliance report.
Environmental Product Declarations
- An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is a comprehensive report that includes an LCA developed to provide specific environmental information on a product in a common format.
- A properly-developed EPD follows an ISO standard to report information over the entire product life cycle with quantitative measures of key environmental impacts.
- An EPD follows a specific format described in an ISO-compliant Product Category Rule (PCR) and verified by the PCR program operator, listing all of the impacts of a product on the environment.
- EPDs provide information about products from cradle to grave (or cradle) such that designers, specifiers, buyers, code officials and the general public can better understand a product’s specific, as well as overall, environmental impact.
- EPDs make the environmental benefits of energy efficiency and other important aspects of a given product clearer. An EPD is not a claim of environmental superiority for a specific product.
EPDs Improving the Materials Selection Options in the IgCC
The IgCC is a green overlay code that is used in conjunction with the other ICC model codes. An EPD option would be just ONE of several Material and Resource Compliance Pathways in the IgCC.
Product Category Rules
A PCR (Product Category Rule) is defined in ISO 14025 as a set of specific rules, requirements and guidelines for developing Type III environmental declarations for one or more product categories.
- PCRs are developed using a consensus process by interested organizations, peer reviewed, and then third-party verified by a program operator.
- Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) assesses environmental impacts and potential impacts in multiple attribute categories across the stages of a product’s life, from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacturing, distribution, use (energy saved vs. lost during use phase), repair/maintenance and eventual disposal, recycling or recovery.
- LCAs look broadly at environmental impacts rather than focusing on one narrow attribute by:
- Utilizing a recognized global methodology that provides a transparent (third-party reviewed), holistic and balanced approach to product evaluation
- Compiling an inventory of all energy/material inputs and environmental releases
- Evaluating the potential impacts associated with all inputs and releases
- Interpreting the results to help decision makers make informed and technically sound decisions
- The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standard 189.1 accepts LCA as a means of counting toward Material and Resource Compliance Pathways.
Why should I care about EPDs?
- EPDs are becoming more available and are increasingly being used in the U.S. to address a growing market demand for quantified environmental information.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has observed that EPDs are a means of detailing the environmental impacts of materials in buildings.
- EPDs make decisions and judgments more informed and more defensible for code officials making an approval determination.
Is this a big change?
- No. Just as there are many options for choosing how to insulate a wall, EPDs would be one of several Material and Resource Compliance Pathways in the IgCC.
Do EPDs give builders more or fewer choices?
More. Including EPDs in the model code gives builders more compliance options and more choices. The IgCC still includes single attribute materials and resources compliance pathways, EPDs would provide additional compliance choices to builders.
Won’t these processes result in costly requirements that would increase construction costs?
- No. EPDs report environmental impacts over the lifespan of a product, so they function as a useful tool to support product evaluation. They do not require builders to select any particular product, since they are not comparative by nature. The cost of developing EPDs is borne by product manufacturers and does not fall upon builders.
- One of the virtues of an EPD is that it provides information about energy use/savings delivered by the product during its use phase. Given that many buildings are constructed with a 100 year life span, and that energy consumption in buildings is a huge part of their environmental footprint, inclusion of this attribute is highly valuable to an accurate understanding of a product’s full environmental footprint.
- Consumers and businesses increasingly recognize the value of products that lower their monthly energy bills and lighten their home’s environmental footprint not only on the day they move in but for the period of their occupancy and beyond.
Shouldn’t green codes be product-neutral and not favor one product over another?
- Absolutely! EPDs are not a comparable claim of superiority – and are by their nature product and material neutral, since every company that wants to prepare an EPD has to use the same standards and rules for collecting and reporting information.