December 30, 2016 Kelly Ryan

Looking further into LEED v4: Environmental Product Declarations

Photo credit: Michael Bednar

Environmental Product Declarations (EPD’s) are commonly referred to as the “nutrition labels” of the green building industry. Instead of showing fats, carbohydrates, and calories, EPD’s provide information on the environmental impacts of a certain product, such as global warming potential, water consumption, and smog formation. EPD’s take the nitty gritty of a product’s life-cycle analysis and condense it into one document. While it can take up to a year to produce an EPD, more manufacturers are releasing them as demand increases from building architects, consultants, and designers.

EPD’s and LEED v4

 

Photo credit: Belden

As discussed in an earlier post, one of the major upgrades to the new LEED v4 rating system can be seen in the Materials and Resources category. Within the MR category, three new credits were introduced, one of which is titled Building Product Disclosure and Optimization-Environmental Product Declarations (BPDO-EPD). It is within this credit that LEED project teams can earn up to two points for implementing products sourced from manufacturers that have verified EPD’s for those products. While there are multiple types of EPD’s, only Type III EPD’s qualify for complete points within the BPDO-EPD credit. Type III, otherwise known as “product specific” EPD’s, require a full life-cycle assessment and third party certification before being registered by the manufacturer. Product-specific EPD’s also must adhere to the International Standards Organization (ISO) regulation 14025 throughout its entire creation process to qualify towards a LEED project.

The overall goal of EPD’s is to demonstrate transparency for the green building industry. While harder and more time consuming to achieve, Type III EPD’s give project teams a sense of security on the specific environmental impacts of the product that they are working with. Without EPD’s, it is much more challenging to accurately assess the environmental performance of certain products, making the process of LEED certification for project teams more difficult.

 


Photo credit: NRMCA

 

Case Study: Concrete

The National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA), an organization that advocates for and assists concrete mix manufacturers, has quite an impressive EPD program. They have over nine registered product EPD’s between a variety of different concrete mixes and products. In addition, these EPD’s are also third party verified and worth full value in LEED v4. NRMCA also provides a list of their members’ EPD’s that have been certified by other EPD programs.

Recognizing the importance of EPD’s, NRMCA recently sponsored a project to help their members meet the requirements of LEED v4 by providing producers with an industry-wide EPD, worth half a point for the BPDO-EPD credit. First, a cradle-to-gate life-cycle assessment for ready mix concrete was conducted. A significant aspect of the EPD creation process, cradle-to-grate assessments analyze a product’s life cycle from resource extraction (cradle) up to the factory gate (i.e., before it is transported to the consumer). The resulting EPD represented concrete typically used in residential, commercial, and public construction projects in different climate zones and markets. For this EPD to qualify for half a point, concrete producers must have provided data towards the life-cycle assessment and be listed in the EPD.

Another highly respected EPD program comes from the Precast Concrete Institute (PCI). An organization that also assists concrete producers, PCI lists industry wide cradle-to-gate EPD’s for precast concrete, which contain data from products of PCI members. PCI also provides technical resources to its members for producing and registering their own EPD’s.

Overall, these programs make it much simpler for LEED project teams to verify which products will count towards certification. With concrete products playing such a large role in the building industry, there are now many programs being developed to assist manufacturers with the process of creating an EPD.

While the number of standards and tools needed to produce a legitimate EPD can be overwhelming for manufacturers, the benefits are worth the investment in time and cost. As an infinite number of building products continue to develop, it is crucial to ensure every LEED project team has accurate, easily accessible information regarding life-cycle impacts. With the advent of EPD’s, it’s safe to say building product manufacturing is headed in a positive direction for LEED and the green building industry in general.

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