ABCs of EPDs
A major tenet of corporate responsibility is transparency. Corporations are under increasing pressure to understand, report and manage social and environmental externalities – side effects of business operations that businesses have not traditionally been obligated to pay for, or even account for.
In a world of increasing demand for transparency, shouldn’t every company be expected to report the environmental costs of producing their product in a fair and comparable way? Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are designed to do just that. EPDs are a scientifically sound and comparable way to report the environmental impacts of a product, and they just might deliver a new era of corporate transparency.
EPDs can be a key input to the design and manufacture of sustainable products. They empower customers to make sustainable product choices, paving the way for a more sustainable economy. EPDs typically include information on the environmental impact of a product, throughout its lifecycle, from raw material extraction, production and packaging to distribution, end use and disposal, including energy use and efficiency, emissions to air, soil and water and waste generation, as well as traditional product performance and company information. In many ways EPDs mimic the nutrition label on food in that they provide the facts and the transparency needed for informed purchasing decisions, while not offering any judgment as to the “greenness” of the product.
How is an EPD produced?
Step 1: Producing EPDs for any particular product category is a two-step process. The first step includes a one-time process to create a rulebook, called Product Category Rules (PCR). The PCR defines how the particular product EPD will be produced and what will be measured and reported, and it defines guidelines to ensure comparability between products in the category.
To create the PCR, a program operator volunteers or is designated to manage the creation of the PCR and subsequently establishes a committee of interested and expert stakeholders to develop it. The program committee works collaboratively under the direction of the program operator to produce the PCR, and an external party verifies the final PCR. This verification is performed by a group of third-party experts who must have knowledge of both the product and of lifecycle analysis.
The International Standards Organization (ISO) has created guideline standards for how the whole process is completed. These guidelines are documented in ISO 14025 “Environmental labels and declarations —Type III environmental declarations —Principles and procedures."