Where to Use an EPD

Environmental product declarations (EPD) are transparency tools that are useful for a multitude of professionals aiming to understand the environmental impacts of a product, from how it’s manufactured, how it’s used, and how it’s disposed of or recirculated into the system. These environmental transparency tools have also become a standard way to show compliance with sustainable rating system criteria, ‘green’ or high-performance criteria, and even procurement and design requirements. Let’s walk thru a couple of examples of each concept and how EPDs matter to them.

  1. Rating Systems are tools that building teams utilize to help guide design, procurement, construction, and even use-phase decisions throughout the project. These ratings are also used as marketing tools, with more sustainable buildings garnering higher occupancy rates, higher rental income, lower taxes, and other financial incentives. Systems typically include multi-attribute criteria – think energy usage, water savings, and material requirements – that have some required criteria (sometimes called prerequisites) and others that are point-gathering criteria. Most of the leading rating systems have some criteria that requires or rewards the use of EPDs within them.

  2. LEED – the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program has multiple different rating systems that cover a plethora of building types and criteria. Regarding EPDs, the material and resource section outlines criteria awarding the building project credit for gathering 20 EPDs from 5 different manufacturers from essentially any product used in the building. Products vary widely, and typically range from building envelope and insulation to gypsum board, even to paint choices. In addition, the LEED rating system includes a whole building life cycle criteria that EPDs are helpful in accruing points for certification.

  3. Green Globes – this tool also has multiple different rating systems that covers different building types with multi-attribute criteria. The latest version allows a certifying building a sliding scale of points depending upon how many products used in the building have EPDs. Green Globes, like LEED, also has a whole building life cycle criteria that EPDs are helpful in.

  4. NAHB National Green Building Standard – the National Association of Home Builders sustainable standard applies to not only single-family homes, but also multifamily homes. This rating system is also multi-attribute and gives a set number of points if a minimum of 10 different products installed in the project have EPDs.

  5. BREEAM – this rating system out of the UK is the oldest green building rating system and has an international version of the rating system that is used in North America certifications. The rating system is multi-attribute as well and has a material section that rewards the building with points if at least 5 products specified and installed are covered by EPDs. There is also a whole building life cycle criteria that EPDs could be helpful in.

  6. Living Building Challenge – this newer sustainable rating system can be multi-attribute or a single sustainable concept (represented by “petals”). Within the energy petal, criteria exists for a 20% reduction in embodied carbon of primary materials compared to an equivalent baseline building. EPDs can help in showing this reduction.

  7. ‘Green’/Sustainable Codes have been around for a while. The International green Construction Code (IgCC) and ASHRAE 189.1 are examples of model sustainable building codes. Originally these were developed as separate documents and both included language in their material criteria that utilized EPDs as compliance pathways. These two documents are now one in the same as the ASHRAE 189.1 standard language makes up the technical requirements of the IgCC and the EPD language remains a compliance pathway for buildings to meet the material requirements. The IgCC has become the basis for multiple municipal green building codes including but not limited to – Denver, Baltimore, Dallas, and Phoenix and it is also accepted as a compliance pathway to many state-level green building requirements. The State of California’s CALGreen code also has a proposed change for the 2024 version to have global warming potential (GWP) maximums for certain structural products. This proposal would require EPDs for products on buildings over 100,000 sq feet (50,000 sq feet for schools). Additionally, we are seeing local authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) requiring certain products meet specified GWP maximums for those products to be procured in their jurisdictions. EPDs are the vehicle in which to show the GWP limits for comparability.

  8. Many of what are starting to be called ‘Buy Clean Laws’ are passing around the United States, both at the municipal, state, and federal level. These are essentially procurement requirements for certain types of products if they are part of AHJ funded projects. For example, if a state like California is funding the purchase of structural steel for one of their products, the state law sets GWP maximums for steel and the project’s products must adhere to a GWP below that amount. Not only states are doing this, but also local municipalities such as the City of New York and Portland along with civic entities such as the New York/New Jersey Port Authority. To ensure that products are below the GWP limits specified in the procurement laws/requirements, an EPD would be required to provide proof of their environmental impacts.

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Term of the Day

Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e) is a method to compare various greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential. One metric ton of a greenhouse gas is converted to the equivalent number of metric tons of CO2 emissions with the same global warming potential.

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