Environmental Product Declarations, or EPDs as they are called in shorthand, are market-facing reports of a product’s environmental impacts as studied in a Life Cycle Assessment or LCA. EPDs have been published for thousands of products, allowing building owners, architects, and contractors to understand the impacts a product has and increasingly use this information to specify lower carbon impact versions of products for building projects.
EPDs in the LEED® Green Building Scheme
Launched in 2011, the SCS EPD Program is one of the oldest and largest EPD programs in North America. EPDs have steadily gained traction since about 2015, aided in large part by the recognition of EPDs in the LEED® green building scheme. Products that have EPDs contribute to credits in LEED building certification. Companies that publish EPDs provide a high level of verified transparency into the impacts of their products on the environment.
EPDs can contribute to two points under LEED. One point is for disclosure – that is, publishing an EPD. The second point is for performance, including Embodied Carbon and LCA Optimization. The SCS EPD program offers documentation for products seeking points for both disclosure and performance.
There are two ways to demonstrate LCA Optimization. One is to show improvement in a product-specific EPD as compared to an industry-wide EPD if the company participated in such an EPD. The other pathway is to compare two product-specific EPDs from the same company over time to demonstrate improvement.
How to Optimize an EPD
Many early adopters of EPDs are now updating them as they expire at the end of their five-year validity. This provides manufacturers the opportunity to make the comparison of impacts over time and capture the results of improvements or efficiencies realized in manufacturing or other areas of the supply chain. Comparisons are documented in an “Optimization Report,” which allows products to contribute to both EPD credits.
One company that recently published optimized EPDs under the SCS EPD Program is Sloan Valve Company. Sloan first published an EPD for its Sensor Flushometer in 2017. Upon completing a new LCA, Sloan was able to demonstrate a 10% reduction in global warming potential impact as verified and reported in its Optimization Report. As required, this report includes a summary of the initiatives that facilitated the company in reaching the reduction. The Optimization Report is verified by an external third-party and allows Sloan to contribute to the EPD Optimization credit as one product. In August Sloan published three Optimization Reports for flushometers.
EPD Optimization is focused first and foremost on greenhouse gas warming potential, calculated over a one-hundred-year timeframe (GWP-100). With the increasing level of interest in the embodied carbon in building products, this focus makes abundant sense. A product cannot earn optimization without demonstrating a reduction in GWP. Reductions up to 10% allow a product to count as one optimized product, contributing toward a credit that requires five optimized products to earn the full point. If the reduction exceeds 10%, the product can count as 1.5 optimized products; and if it exceeds a 20% GWP reduction and has a 5% reduction in two additional impact categories, it can be weighted as two optimized products toward the credit.
Overcoming EPD Optimization Hurdles
There are a few hurdles to overcome in pursuing EPD optimization. First, the product category rule (PCR) used in the base-case EPD must be the same as used for the new EPD. This can be tricky, with PCRs being updated at least every five years and sometimes more frequently. The other thing to be mindful of is that the results need to have parity. This means the LCA modeling needs to be in the same software and LCA database as the base case. These are important considerations when contemplating pursuing optimization.
EPD Optimization provides third-party verified documentation that supports the very purpose of EPDs: to measure, report, and then improve on a product’s environmental impact. It makes sense that work to mitigate environmental impacts would be rewarded by increased recognition in LEED. Improvement should be the goal of each and every EPD renewal.