Environmental Product Declarations and their role in green buildings

02 February 2021

Photo by Psk Slayer on Unsplash

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) can play a crucial role in the green building space. EPDs provide comprehensive and objective information at material, product, and whole building levels, supporting sustainable decision-making while scoring points under green building rating tools.

Hosted by NZGBC’s Danidu (Dani) Wijekoon and Lena Albrecht, the webinar first introduced how producer-specific and industry-wide EPDs qualified for points under their Green Star and Homestar rating tools for commercial and residential buildings, respectively.

With over 100 people dialling in, a lively Q&A session on Environmental Product Declarations followed, featuring Technical Director at thinkstep-anz Jeff Vickers, and Dene Cook, NZ Division Technical Manager at Firth Industries.

The webinar covers:

  • The key difference between an EPD and an Eco Label
  • The increased uptake of EPDs in New Zealand and Australia
  • The adoption of EPDs within government policy and green building rating schemes
  • Firth Concrete’s journey toward gaining an EPD and the variability of their concrete mix to meet customers’ sustainability needs

The nutrition label of environmental tools

Jeff introduced the concept of EPDs, likening them to a nutrition label rather than the Heart Foundation tick. Put another way, EPDs simply provide the data needed to support environmental decision-making at the building level – the carbon footprint, energy consumption, waste production, etc. – whereas eco-labels assess whether a product meets pre-defined criteria or not. Both are important, but they provide different information and are aimed at different audiences. EPDs are particularly useful for business to business communication, while eco-labels also focus on consumer communication.

The rise of EPDs

EPDs have become increasingly prominent in construction sectors around the world with around 8000 EPDs published under the EN15804 standard. In Australia and New Zealand, hundreds of products are covered by EPDs registered under the EPD Australasia Programme.

In addition to their inclusion in green building schemes such as Green Star and Homestar, EPDs are also likely to feature through MBIE’s Building for Climate Change programme. In particular, EPDs are likely to have a role to play in MBIE’s recent consultation on its “Whole-of-life embodied carbon emissions reduction framework” as they contain data on the embodied carbon of products and materials. Building and construction companies such as national concrete producer Firth Industries are already incorporating EPDs into their low-carbon activities.

Firth’s sustainability journey

Dene introduced some of the key sustainability activities at Firth industries, including the company’s new EPD for ready-mixed concrete and its EC3 calculator (Embodied Carbon Concrete Calculator) {Link}, both of which were produced together with thinkstep-anz. “I see the EPD as the start of a process; it is the baseline upon which we now want to improve and improve and improve. For us, the process of attaining the EPD was the most valuable part,” said Dene.

Dene described Firth’s EPD as providing the independently verified proof of its products’ environmental credentials needed for rating tools whereas the EC3 calculator is what will be used to drive change within Firth’s business over the coming years. Unlike conventional manufactured products with fixed composition, the composition of concrete products can be changed at will, meaning that Firth can produce concrete products that meet a customer’s desired level of carbon reduction. Firth has defined five levels ranging from EC10 through to EC50. These levels were calculated according to the carbon footprint of market-average concrete per strength grade from the current version of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia’s IS v2 Materials Calculator, with EC10 representing a 10-20% reduction in carbon footprint and EC50 representing a 50%+ reduction.

Click the link below to hear Jeff and Dene provide answers to a wide range of questions on EPDs, including:

  • What is an EPD?
  • How did you know an EPD was the right choice for Firth?
  • What role do you think EPDs will play in the building industry, especially Building for Climate Change and zero carbon goals?
  • What is the EC3 calculator and where did the idea for the calculator come from?
  • What is the significance of EPDs in the concrete and wider construction industry?
  • Do you see EPDs becoming a regulatory requirement at some point?
  • How is an EPD used in whole-building Life Cycle Assessment under Green Star?
  • Can I use an industry wide-EPD to claim points for a product whose manufacturer did not participate in developing that industry-wide EPD?
  • What is the approximate cost and timeframe for producing an EPD?

You can watch online video here