New Green Star opportunities with Environmental Product Declarations

18 Feb 2015Archived News Rob Rouwette Climate Change Matters

For years it has been difficult for the property sector to properly assess the environmental performance of materials and construction products. The lack of a common language meant suppliers would communicate their credentials in a variety of ways, making it difficult to assess and compare products. The Australasian EPD® Programme overcomes this problem.

EPDs are a relatively novel concept in Australia, but have been around for more than 15 years in parts of Europe. EPDs are central to the EU’s environmental policy for sustainable building and construction. Most major building material manufacturers in Europe have produced EPDs.

GBCA support for EPDs in Australia

To stimulate the development of robust EPDs in Australia, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) now rewards projects (through Green Star credits) that use a significant amount of building materials that come with a verified EPD. This has driven requests for suppliers to provide materials with EPDs to Green Star rated projects. First movers amongst material suppliers will obviously have competitive advantage bidding into Green Star projects.

An alternative pathway towards sustainable buildings in Green Star tools allows a detailed whole-of-building LCA to demonstrate reductions in environmental impacts across a range of indicators. EPDs can directly feed manufacturer-specific environmental product data into some of the tools that are being used to assess buildings, thus providing another route to market for savvy manufacturers.

Energetics sees a clear business case for other stakeholders and related sectors to adopt a similar approach. The current myriad of rating tools and materials calculators could be supplied with robust data from verified EPDs. The partial harmonisation of data requirements and assessment methods that could come with a broader adoption of EPDs will reduce costs, minimise risks and guide strategic improvements for tool owners and material suppliers alike.

What is an EPD?

The International EPD® System defines “An Environmental Product Declaration, EPD®, as a verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable information about the life-cycle environmental impact of products.” In effect, EPD summarises a product-LCA complemented with other relevant information such as social responsibility, quality control, environmental management, according to a standardised format. EPDs are based on specific rules for different product groups (Product Category Rules - PCR) ensuring that EPDs within the same group of products are fully comparable.

In order for any declaration to be accepted, it needs to be trustworthy, robust and verifiable. Australasian EPDs for the building and construction sector are based on the EN15804:2012 standard, which is widely regarded as the most sophisticated EPD standard for construction products. The standard has been developed through a lengthy consultation process that involved the European construction sector, many LCA experts and other stakeholders. The result is a balanced document that stipulates a detailed and transparent approach to Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

The missing link between environmental data about a product and users of that data

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are the missing link between product level environmental data and users of these data (i.e. decision makers, specifiers, designers, architects, etc.). Each registered EPD and the underlying LCA has undergone an extensive review by a recognised independent verifier, thereby significantly increasing the reliability of the EPD. The consistent format allows the value chain to assess each product as required, based on application and functionality.

The non-judgemental character of EPDs (they quantify and qualify environmental performance; there is no performance threshold for achieving an EPD) means that every supplier is able to participate in the EPD Programme. The best performers amongst their peers are likely to communicate their performance more aggressively, while others might use the EPDs to benchmark their operations and embark on a continuous improvement process.

Who is driving the Australasian EPD® Programme?

The Australasian EPD® Programme was established by ALCAS (Australian Life Cycle Assessment Society) and LCANZ (Life Cycle Association of New Zealand), based on the framework set up by the International EPD® System in Sweden. Co-operation with a reputable international partner benefits the Australasian EPD® Programme and participating businesses through the use of well-established processes and best-practice standards (ISO14025:2006 and EN15804:2012).

The alignment means that Australasian EPDs are recognised not just in Australia and New Zealand, but also in other regions where the International EPD System operates. Manufacturers operating in different countries thus less likely have to duplicate efforts.

How is an EPD  developed?

  • Product Category Rules are at the foundation of an EPD. Each product area needs specific rules, to enable comparability between different EPDs. The first step in developing an EPD is to establish whether there is an applicable existing PCR or whether a new PCR needs to be developed. Any stakeholder may initiate the creation of a new PCR as well as participate in an open consultation process. PCR documents are published online as guidance documents for developing EPDs. Transparency is a key feature of this process.

  • Once a PCR is available, a Life Cycle Assessment is carried out in line with the PCR and the General Programme Instructions. The LCA results and other prescribed information are converted to an EPD format, which is then reviewed by an independent verifier.

  • The verified and approved EPD needs to be registered with the Australasian EPD Programme so that the quality of the EPD can be communicated through use of their logo. EPDs are valid for three years, after which they need to be updated.

Energetics can help:

Energetics can assist you with every step in the development of an EPD (or PCR). Our senior consultant Rob Rouwette has developed and reviewed multiple EPDs in Europe between 1999 and 2006. Rob’s credentials as a recognised independent verifier have been confirmed by the International EPD System.

We can provide strategic advice on the use of EPDs based on our international experience and outlook, develop your EPDs, assist with developing relevant PCRs, independently review third-party EPDs and provide insights or training on all LCA related aspects.

Details of the upcoming Green Star EPD webinar hosted by Green Building Council Australia are available on their website.  

 

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Rob Rouwette

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