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.
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.