Excerpt 5 from the book ‘Full Product Transparency‘
‘What is an EPD?’
An environmental product declaration (EPD) is a statement of a product’s ‘ingredients’ and environmental impacts across its lifecycle. In the same way that nutritional labels help consumers compare the health benefits of food items, an EPD enables them to compare the environmental impacts of products.
Why an EPD is not just another eco-label
An EPD is not another eco-label. It is a statement of fact about the environmental impacts of a product. There are no ratings, claims or judgement calls to be made, as there are with eco-labels: an EPD itself doesn’t tell you whether a product is good or bad, green or polluting; it just provides the facts to enable better informed decisions.
In the same way that a chocolate bar with a nutritional label is not necessarily any healthier than a chocolate bar without one, having an EPD does not mean a product is ‘better’ or more sustainable. It does, however, enable customers to compare products and choose the ones that have least impact.
EPDs give you the full picture: for example, data on several environmental impact categories. Your product might be good on global warming potential (e.g. low CO2) but have a high acidification potential (e.g. high SO2) and both parameters have to be reported and not cherry-picked by the company.
How are EPDs created?
The methodology used to obtain an EPD is robust, and the assumptions used in the LCA calculations behind it are standardised. This means that manufacturers cannot manipulate assumptions to favour their own product (by calculating an artificially long life-span, for example). The methodology uses internationally recognised standards; an LCA must be conducted in accordance with ISO 14040 and the EPD must be produced in accordance with ISO 14025. All of this must be verified by an independent third party.
What does an EPD tell you?
A good EPD declaration would disclose the following:
• A list of raw materials and their origin
• A list of chemicals and their origin
• A description of raw material processing and production
• Specifications on the manufacturing of the product, including a breakdown of energy consumption and embodied energy, emissions released, treatment of waste, and packaging and transport
• Information on product use and end of life processing, including treatment of any waste and emissions released
• A table with the LCA results per impact category per lifecycle stage
• Evidence and verification for the calculations. All EPDs need to provide a report showing evidence for verification of the calculations and statements in the EPD
Once all these data about the environmental footprint of the product have been verified by an independent third party auditor, they then need to be captured in a clear and concise declaration.
How EPDs provide full product transparency and why that matters
FPT disclosure based on EPDs empowers and enables all customers, whether they are governments, businesses or consumers, to gain a clear understanding of the total environmental and social impact of a product, including at its end of life.
Providing customers with accurate, impartial third party-certified information about the total footprint of a product allows them to vote through their purchasing decision and to buy the right sustainable product. This will not only have a positive impact on the environment and society but also on competition and innovation. It creates a clearly visible level playing field for companies offering similar products within a sector, and it forces them to compete not only on price and quality but on all aspects that go into the making of a product.
EPDs are inexpensive, contrary to the urban myth
Some people argue that EPDs are very expensive and, especially if you have too many product categories, that it becomes unmanageable. This is like arguing that Unilever or Kraft would find it impossible and very expensive to provide the nutrition facts for all their products, given their product range. Yet they manage.
EPDs are expensive if you don’t do the internal work and you ask a consultant to do all the work for you. You would end up paying from €10,000 to €15,000, which is still much less that what many companies pay for some green labels. To put this into perspective, I have seen companies in the building products sector pay more than €50,000 for various types of green labels and certification schemes of dubious independence and robustness.
Once you invest internally and a small part of your corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability team have the ability to perform LCAs, it becomes very inexpensive and EPDs can be done for less than €1000, sometimes even €500. And the information collected is not only of great use externally but for internal purposes and decision-making, mostly substituting for redundant internal reporting.
Next time ‘The Magic Metric That Changed The Car Industry’