October 28, 2015
by James L. Hoff, PhD, DBA
In the November 2015 issue of The Construction Specifier, this author examined the basics surrounding building material disclosure and environmental product declarations (EPDs). But how will the data disclosed by EPDs actually be used?
The continuous improvement of databases of lifecycle information will be a very important function of EPDs, which, in turn, rely on such databases for their own accurate development. In some ways, this can be viewed as a virtuous cycle where each new EPD helps to improve our underlying lifecycle data, which then improves the accuracy of the next EPD.
A second and very important use of the data from EPDs is to help build useful tools to evaluate complicated assemblies of products, which is especially important in the development of relevant whole-building lifecycle assessments (LCAs). Some of the best-known whole building assessment tools relying on these databases include the Athena Impact Estimator, developed by the Athena Institute in Canada, and Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) software program, developed by the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST).
Manufacturer continuous improvement
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14000, Environmental Management, series of standards for LCA and EPDs are very similar to the better-known ISO 9000, Quality Management, series. Both emphasize the importance of continuous improvement in the achievement of higher product quality (in the case of ISO 9000) and product sustainability (in the case of ISO 14000). As part of larger sustainability initiatives, many prominent manufacturers already have adopted ISO 14000 practices to measure and improve their environmental footprint. The use of EPDs will help form a baseline for new levels of product sustainability and reduced environmental impact.
EPDs and the information they provide will be incorporated into numerous emerging green building guidelines and codes—first as a prerequisite for the selection of preferred products, and eventually as a means of additional evaluation based on the actual impacts disclosed. Over the next few years, design professionals will be hearing more and more about LCA in green guidelines, codes, and standards.
Perhaps the best example of the integration of EPDs into green guidelines may be found in the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) Leadership in Energy and Environmental (LEED) rating/certification systems. EPDs already are included in the current version (LEED 2009), or at least in several optional Pilot Credits that may be employed with the current LEED program.
LEED Pilot Credit 43 introduces the use of EPDs as one of several ways to demonstrate that products used in the project are covered by some type of environmental product certification or verification. The emergence of EPDs will also be very helpful in supporting Pilot Credit 1, which involves the use of the Athena Impact Estimator to conduct an LCA of the whole building or one or more major building assemblies. EPDs effectively funnel new data to help expand the scope and reliability of tools like the Impact Estimator.
In the next version of LEED (LEED v4), these pilot credits are integrated into the main body of the guideline. The first credit (Material and Resources [MR] Credit 1, Building Life Cycle Impact Reduction) continues to support the use of tools like the Athena Impact Estimator to evaluate the lifecycle impacts of the whole building. The second credit (MR Credit 2, Material Disclosure and Optimization) promotes the use of EPDs, both generic and proprietary. Specifically, generic EPDs developed by a coalition of manufacturers are allowed a half-credit toward the calculation of at least 20 products with EPDs, while proprietary EPDs developed by a single manufacturer are allowed full credit.
LCA also is being integrated into other green product certification programs. Generally, these certifications are developed under an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or similar consensus process, and they typically include a listing of desired product attributes to be evaluated as part of the certification procedure. Many of these certifications are part product standard and part rating system, assigning points for meeting certain product attributes and awarding overall levels of achievement.
LCA and EPDs are frequently required as one of the many attributes evaluated by these certification programs. Two recent examples of green product certification standards include a new standard for sustainable single-ply roofing membranes developed by NSF (formerly the National Sanitation Foundation) and a proposed standard for thermal insulation currently being developed by Underwriters Laboratories (through their new subsidiary, UL Environment). Both of these standards include EPDs as one credit within a multiple-credit scoring system.
LCA is being added to building codes, most notably the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), which is being adopted by local code jurisdictions as an overlay to current baseline building and energy codes. Currently, IgCC includes whole-building LCA as a jurisdictional elective, meaning the individual jurisdiction can elect to require whole-building LCA. However, in the 2015 version of the IgCC, products with EPDs will be included as a co-equal alternative to products with recycled content, bio-based content, or other single sustainable product attributes.
James L. Hoff, DBA, is an experienced executive and researcher in the building materials industry, retiring as vice president of technology for Firestone Building Products in 2007 after 23 years of service. Hoff currently serves as president of TEGNOS Research, a consulting organization dedicated to expanding understanding of the building envelope. He holds undergraduate degrees in psychology and architectural design, as well as a master’s and doctorate in management. Hoff has published numerous articles on building system performance, quality management, and lifecycle analysis (LCA). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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