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Proving your green credentials

We are living in a world that is becoming increasingly globalised. There’s also a much greater focus on the environment and cutting carbon emissions. Businesses competing in globalised markets now require verified and comparable documentation of the environmental performance of products and services throughout the lifecycle.

BASED IN OSLO, Norway, The Norwegian EPD Foundation (EPD-Norway) helps businesses to communicate the environmental performance of their products through verified and understandable environmental declarations. The program ensures that the development of EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations) for all types of products are carried out in accordance with the requirements set out in ISO 14025, ISO 21930 and associated industry standards (EN 15804 for Building Materials). EPD-Norway cooperates with other EPD program operators around the world that also follow ISO 14025. Almost every European country has at least one EPD program operator. Many other countries around the world have equivalent EPD program operators.

What is an EPD?
Recognised in Norway and internationally, an EPD provides a standard way of declaring the impacts of manufacturing and using products through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). An EPD is a concise document that summarises the environmental profile of a component, finished product or service in a standardised and objective way. It is created on the basis of an LCA according to ISO 14040-14044. These standardised methods ensure that environmental information within the same product category can be compared from product to product, regardless of region or country. 

Since 2015, Håkon Hauan has been Managing Director of EPD-Norway. He comments: “I’m not an engineer. I studied International Economics and Administration at the Norwegian Business School in Oslo. From 1992, I worked as Director for Agfa Gevaert and CEO for Philips Norway. I also worked abroad for many years, including working for the Norwegian Government as CEO for Innovation in Spain, where I was responsible for environmental [EEA] grants and projects within Renewable Energy and the Environment. This role and my interest in the environment ultimately led me to apply for a position at EPD-Norway.”

EPD-Norway is a type III environmental declaration program operator under ISO 14025. The program has established a system for verification, registration and publication of EPDs, as well as the maintenance of registers for EPD and PCR (Product Category Rules). EPD-Norway is a co-founder and member of the ECO Platform, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to harmonise the development of the use of EN 15804 in EPDs for contruction materials. Håkon was recently appointed as President of the ECO Platform.

Who should have an EPD?
The target audience for EPD applications is primarily Business-to-Business (B2B) but does not exclude B2C (Business-to-Consumers). To date, most EPD applications have come from the Building & Construction Industry – the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions but also the sector with the greatest potential to reduce carbon emissions – with applications also coming from other industry sectors. Lighting, for example, comes under the ‘Building Materials’ category.

As Håkon Hauan states: “The purpose of an EPD is to enable the customer to compare the environmental profile and make an assessment and choice based on the environmental declaration. Anything from office furniture, glass and concrete used in a building project, to lighting, roofing, aluminium and asphalt, can be environmentally declared. The key is that an EPD is independently verified to ensure objectivity, comparability and credibility.”



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"So cost isn't the only factor any longer, it's also going to be about the carbon footprint too, which may change the buying behaviour for many companies now and in the future."

What are the benefits?
Taking the Construction Industry as an example, products are assessed using a single set of Product Category Rules (PCR) to ensure consistent reporting for similar products. EPD for construction products in Europe use the European standard EN 15804 as key fundament for all PCRs, which ensures that the information provided uses the same Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) rules. This means the same environmental indicators are used, allowing lots of different products to be brought together to provide the environmental impacts for a building. An EPD should always be independently verified by a third party expert familiar with the product category.

“The benefits can be significant in today’s globalised markets and give you a real competitive advantage over other suppliers who do not have an EPD,” explains Håkon. “Originally, EPDs were provided in printed documents or as static pdfs. This resulted in enormous manual effort, as the data from a pdf cannot be read by software such as building LCA tools. So we needed digital EPDs.”

He continues: “Now, we can provide a digital EPD in an XML file format that can be read and used by building LCA tools. This format has the flexibility to adapt to future requirements or different national specifications and underlying standards.” What this means is that EPDs can enable a company’s sales and marketing teams to make credible and verifiable environmental claims about their products, which enhances that company’s own credibility and allows comparisons against similar products. 

Håkon explains further: “EPDs can be used as effective sales tools. They can be used as source information in the procurement and purchase of products. They give buyers and specifiers the confidence of knowing that the environmental performance of a specific product has been reviewed and verified by an independent expert with expertise in life cycle assessment.” 

“We are seeing companies using their EPDs globally, not just in the European country where they applied for the EPD. In Europe, the key driver is the Construction Industry as they need to measure and provide proof of their environmental performance. However, in France, the biggest sector for EPDs is the electrical/technical industry. If you go to South Korea, it’s electronics. So it does differ from country to country.”


How can you get an EPD?
Håkon advises that as a first step, companies considering EPDs that have multiple manufacturing sites around the world, should standardise and use one EPD program operator globally. This ‘centralised’ strategy is the most cost effective. Second, they should automate the EPD generation process, which means they should no longer pay for third-party EPD consultants to generate EPDs manually, which is expensive and time consuming.

“The good news is that software providers now offer EPDgenerating tools with built-in ISO standards, LCA calculations, all the environmental indicators, the bill of materials for the different products and so on,” explains Håkon. EPD documentation should be ‘digital’ to interface easily with Building Information Modelling (BIM) tools. A digital EPD can also prove very useful if a building project is aiming for a BREEAM rating, an internationally-recognised sustainability assessment method for planning building and infrastructure projects.

“There are not too many lighting manufacturers with EPDs yet, but there is a manufacturer in Germany with one and some others dotted around Europe. Perhaps Glamox could take a lead in this area!” enthuses Håkon. 

Digital, automated route is best
“It depends on the company and how it’s structured, but I would go the digital, automated EPD route from day one. You’ll need to make some kind of background work on EPDs. Most are based on standards and PCRs, so you’ll find existing rules for concrete, windows, piping and lighting and so on. These rules are international, at least within the Construction industry in Europe. So there are rules already available for lighting, but these can be developed further.”

For a company that’s considering an EPD, they may have thousands of different products, but 10% of the products they sell represent 90% of their sales turnover. In this case, you start with EPDs for those products for quick wins and build up from there. For Glamox, you could start with those lighting products that could support a customer’s BREEAM certification objectives.”

More sustainable value chain
One aim of EPD is to help you document and ultimately reduce your company’s carbon footprint. As Håkon states: “It makes you look at where you are buying all your raw materials, components and sub-assemblies. When firms start using EPDs, they become very aware of where they are buying their raw materials. For example, Glamox would use a lot of aluminium in its lighting products. If you buy aluminium from China, it is likely to have a ten times higher carbon footprint than aluminium from a European supplier. So cost isn’t the only factor any longer, it’s also going to be about the carbon footprint too, which may change the buying behaviour for many companies now and in the future.”


Source: EPD Facts & Figures - Eco Platform en (eco-platform.org)