Environmental product declaration services

mid-rise wood building under construction

Environmental product declarations (EPDs) are a standardized way for manufacturers to report quantified environmental impacts of their products. They are developed in compliance with well-established ISO guidelines to ensure that rigorous and transparent procedures are followed. The following ISO standards apply to developing and publishing EPDs: 14040, 14044, 14025, and 21930.

FPInnovations has been an ISO-compliant Environmental product declarations program operator since 2011 and published the first product category rules (PCRs) for North American architectural and structural wood products — the first in North America relevant to wood that addressed lumber, plywood, and most other primary and secondary products made from wood. FPInnovations has also published PCRs for pulp, paper, and paperboard products, tissue, and containerboards, as well as corrugated boxes, enabling the pulp and paper sector and corrugated product manufacturers to publish EPDs.

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About EPDs

ISO guidelines for LCA
  • ISO 14040:2006, Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Principles and framework
  • ISO 14044:2006, Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Requirements and guidelines
ISO guidelines for developing and publishing EPDs
  • ISO 14025:2006, Environmental labels and declarations — Type III environmental declarations — Principles and procedures
    This standard contains the principles and procedures for developing EPD programs and EPDs.
  • ISO 21930:2017, Sustainability in buildings and civil engineering works — Core rules for environmental product declarations of construction products and services
    This standard applies to developing and publishing EPDs for construction products.
EPDs are mini LCA reports

The information reported in an Environmental product declaration is primarily derived from life cycle assessment (LCA), a widely used analytical method for measuring flows between a product and air, land and water. Guided by ISO standards, LCA develops an inventory of the resources consumed and wastes and other emissions created due to a product over its entire or partial lifespan. LCA estimates the environmental consequences of those flows to and from nature. LCA studies are often peer-reviewed by a third-party individual or a three-person critical review panel.

EPDs follow common rules

The development of an EPD must follow a set of rules specific to its product group to ensure credibility and the comparability of EPDs for similar products. These product category rules (PCRs) apply to all products in the group. In other words, a PCR functions like a standard for EPDs in a product group. Per ISO standards, only EPD program operators can develop PCRs, which are created through a lengthy consultative and peer-review process following ISO standards. ISO 14025:2006 is the general standard that applies to the development of any PCR. PCR developments follow technical guidelines stated in ISO/TS 14027. As for construction products, ISO 21930:2017 also applies.

The purpose of EPDs

Manufacturers conduct LCA studies and publish EPDs for a few reasons. Usually, the starting point is a desire to better understand the environmental footprint of a product before making any changes. LCA provides a benchmark for future improvements, and it identifies environmental “hot spots” in the product life cycle so that changes can be targeted effectively. Manufacturers sometimes make their LCA reports publicly available, although these lengthy and highly technical documents don’t hold much appeal to a non-LCA audience. EPDs fill the gap for manufacturers that want to transparently disclose LCA performance data in a format that is readable by their customers. EPDs can also be used by buyers who wish to do a side-by-side comparison of products, provided that both EPDs follow the same rules.

Manufacturer-specific EPDs versus industry-wide EPDs

EPDs are emerging in two different categories: specific and generic. For a manufacturer-specific EPD, an individual company conducts LCA specific to its own operations and develops EPDs for particular brand-name products. Manufacturers may wish to do this if their products have a substantially different environmental profile than the equivalent from other suppliers. With generic EPDs, typically an industry group such as a trade association conducts LCA involving multiple suppliers of a product type to develop average data. This is an appropriate approach for a commodity such as lumber where manufacturing occurs in numerous facilities and the processes do not differ greatly. Generic EPDs also help spread the cost of the background LCA across multiple organizations.

EPD features and limitations

EPDs contain LCA data for a product, that is, information on environmental impacts from raw material extraction, releases to air, water and soil, and waste generated over all or part of the product’s life.
The information is intended to help inform purchasing decisions, as with nutrition labels on food packages. The purchaser can be another business (who might roll this data into an EPD for a composite product) or can be a consumer.
For consumers and other non-LCA practitioners, the information in an EPD may be unfamiliar. Readers may need to first gain some basic education in LCA in order to understand the terminology and for interpretive context. This may be similar to the learning process when nutrition labels first emerged.
EPD information is reliable due to a strong foundation of international standards and the review and verification process for LCA studies and EPDs.
EPDs are transparent about assumptions, scope and boundaries in the underlying LCA. This is important to readers comparing two EPDs.
LCA and EPDs address only some of the factors relevant to sustainability. While this is obvious to LCA practitioners, readers of EPDs that are new to the world of LCA may misunderstand the boundary of LCA. LCA is not a comprehensive environmental metric.
EPDs are not a replacement for non-LCA metrics and certifications such as those for sustainable forest management. Readers of EPDs that make this mistake are advised to learn more about LCA and EPDs in general. However, EPDs can contain non-LCA information on a voluntary basis, if the EPD owner believes this additional information is relevant or useful. For example, an EPD may mention a company’s commitment to other aspects of sustainability, and may list various environmental attributes or certifications, but the EPD does not replace actual documentation for those certifications.
The LCA study underlying an EPD will typically not include land use impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem functions, because there is not yet an internationally accepted methodology for doing so within LCA. Manufacturers would report on these impacts through a means other than an EPD.
By definition, LCA results are best estimates rather than a measure of absolute performance. LCA typically addresses mid-point impacts (for example, global warming is reported as a potential impact in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents of all greenhouse gas emissions) rather than end-point impacts (for example, human health impacts that may occur as a result of climate change) due to a high degree of uncertainty in predicting the end-point condition. For this reason, human health impacts are not generally addressed by LCA and are instead approached through other means.
EPDs are not judgmental – there is no implied performance benchmark to enable an EPD to convey the “greenness” of a product. The intention of an EPD is to provide data that enable the buyer to make the judgment.

FPInnovations’ General Program Instructions

Published EPDs

Interested in learning more about EPDs and how to get one?

For more information about Environmental product declarations, contact Lal Mahalle, Senior Scientist and EPD Program Administrator.

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