Every facility has initial environmental footprint that is represented by the sum of the parts. Each material/component, product, or system is part of the environmental impact equation in whole building LCA (Life Cycle Analysis). LCA is one of the current accepted pathways to assess these embedded material burdens. Currently, through ASTM E 60 (Sustainability), there is standard development for a “Standard Practice for Minimum Criteria for Comparing Whole Building Life Cycle Assessments for Use with Building Codes, Standards and Rating Systems. The basic purpose for this Standard Practice is to support the use of whole building Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in building codes and building rating systems by ensuring that comparative assessments of final whole building designs relative to reference building designs take account of the relevant building features, life cycle stages, and related activities in similar fashion for both the reference and final building designs of the same building.
ISO Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) were developed as standard way to report ISO based Life Cycle Assessments of manufacturing processes of end products and their up-stream and down-stream material components. These assessments are recognized in LEED V.4, Green Globes and the IGCC (International Green Construction Code.
An EPD takes into account the energy use and environmental impact of all phases of a material or product’s life in order to reflect its overall environmental impact. The EPD provides detailed, and verified and comparable data for attributes of a given product in areas such as durability, maintenance costs, use phase performance, demolition and end-of-life recovery. This data allows construction professionals to learn about a material based on its “cradle-to-gate/grave” impacts and; this information is then available to be considered in a “whole-building” lifecycle assessment.
There are two classifications of Type III EPDs: Industry Wide EPDs, which are data aggregated to a product category, and Product Specific Declarations, which are manufacturer product -specific for a family of products.
PCRs or Product Category Rules are a set of specific rules and guidelines for developing Type III EPDs for a product category like insulated metal panels. They describe the scope and methodology for performing a Life-cycle Assessment (LCA), the data foundation for an EPD, and provide detailed requirements for additional environmental and health information that must be disclosed in the EPD.
At this point, it’s important to ask a few questions: Will designers use EPDs? If so, how? And, if so, what importance will EPDs have versus other product selection criteria? Will EPDs be used as a basis for comparing products to evaluate the specification, or will designers simply check the box that states an EPD has been completed in order to obtain another rating point? As EPDs gain in importance, will other criteria such as functional performance, compliance, building service life, durability, and life safety be compromised?
The guiding principles for EPD programs are:
Voluntariness - EPD programs are to be voluntary in nature
Openness and consultation - EPD programs implement a formal 3rd party consultation structure for the participation of all interested parties
Product functionality - EPD programs are to ensure that the fitness for purpose of the product and levels of performance are taken into account
Transparent - EPD programs must be able to demonstrate transparency through all stages if their development and operation, implying that information shall be available to interested parties for inspection and comment where appropriate
Accessible - EPD programs are to ensure that application and participation are open to all potential applicants fulfilling the specific data requirements for a given product category and the other program requirements and that they are authorized to publish the declaration and, if being a part of the program, entitled to be granted a license
Scientific character - EPD programs are to be consistent with the principles of ISO 14025 methodology that can accurately reflect and communicate the environmental aspects contained in the declaration
Even with the transparent structure of ISO EPDs, attempting to compare the life-cycle assessment of products is still challenging unless there is actually a comparative analysis LCA conducted.
New tools such as The Tally application allows architects and engineers working in Revit® software to quantify the environmental impact of building materials for whole building analysis as well as comparative analyses of design options. While working on a Revit model, the user can define relationships between BIM elements and construction materials from the Tally database. The result is Life Cycle Assessment on demand, and an important layer of decision-making information within the same time frame, pace, and environment that building designs are generated. As a Revit application, Tally is easy to use and requires no special modeling practices.
It is important to emphasize that an EPD does not make a product “Green”. The EPD provides specific product data on a standardized report of environmental impacts. There will be positive and negative impacts with all materials and part of that understanding must include “trade-offs” in relationship to functional performance, compliance and other material assessment criteria such as found in CSI’s Project Delivery Practice Guide and Sustainable Design and Construction Practice Guide.