Q&A with Jeff Vickers - EPD's

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An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) tells the environmental story of a product over its life cycle. It is accurate, independently verified and globally recognised.

  • EPDs allow architects and specifiers to understand the impacts of products across their full supply chain and to undertake direct product comparisons.
  • EPDs allow manufacturers to objectively assess and confidently declare the environmental performance of their products to gain competitive advantage.
  • EPDs enable developers to earn points under green building and infrastructure rating systems like Green Star, LEED and ISCA.

An EPD includes information on:

  • Resources and energy used by or in the making and use of the product or service.
  • Relevant environmental impacts, including the carbon footprint.
  • The functional properties of the product or service, together with the product’s material composition.

Interest in EPDs is growing rapidly with over 50 EPDs already published in Australasia (read here) and over 6000 globally.

Julia Wagener, Sustainability Manager at Fletcher Building and Jeff Vickers, Technical Director at thinkstep ANZ discussed with PrefabNZ the motivation to produce EPDs and how they can be used to design better buildings in a webinar followed by Q&A. Since there was not enough time to address all questions Jeff Vickers has answered those below:

If there are any further questions, please contact Jeff Vickers directly:

Why has the pickup of EPDs in Australia and New Zealand been so slow?

EPD Australasia was only founded 5 years ago. And only since about that time have green building and infrastructure rating tools awarded credits for EPDs. The driver to publish EPDs has therefore not been around for long.

If more developers and architects ask for EPDs, more material manufacturers will be motivated to publish them.

What is the difference between an EPD and an environmental label?

Environmental declarations and environmental labels provide complementary information, depending on the purpose and target audience of the information. Both are based on international standards and independent verification.

An EPD provides verified, objective and detailed data and facts about the life cycle environmental impact of a product. The reference standards are ISO 14025 for the management of a programme for type III environmental declarations and ISO 14040/14044 for the procedure to carry out a life cycle assessment (LCA).

An environmental label is a third-party verified demonstration that the product fulfils certain environmental criteria defined by the programme owner. It is a type I label following ISO 14024.

Will this EPD mean that building costs will go up?

This is unlikely. One of the main aims of having EPDs is to design low-impact buildings. There is often a link between environmental footprint and cost, so having EPDs may also support you to design buildings that have a lower total cost of ownership as well as a lower footprint.

In markets such as New Zealand where EPDs are relatively new, they are typically seen as a market differentiator and financed as part of a marketing budget. In markets where EPDs are more established, they just part of doing business.

Has there been a trend to inflate prices of products with EPD?

I can’t think of an example anywhere in the world where a building product manufacturer has used EPDs to increase their prices.

The consumer always pays whether BRANZ appraisal, Codemark and now EPD, etc. Big business like Fletcher will be doing this for financial gain - no other reason. Possibly even wooing government to make this mandatory (certainly on government projects) so it cuts out competitors who do not have a EPD, further cementing Fletcher's hold on the NZ market and exorbitant construction costs. Your thoughts?

One of the first EPDs on the New Zealand market was from David Trubridge, a small business. They are not only for large manufacturers. And because they are based on international standards, they can be used by any manufacturer anywhere in the world, meaning that they do not favour local manufacturers.

EPDs lead to improving the environmental performance of products and they enable the design of green, low-impact buildings. That’s why they are favoured by rating tools and therefore should offer a market advantage.

How time and cost for EPDs on common building materials could be reduced?

Industry-average EPDs are one good strategy to achieve this. We have also worked with various industry associations internationally to build EPD creator tools that help to standardise the process and reduce the level of investment per manufacturer.

According to the State of Victoria, Australia Portland Cement presently accounts for 8% of global CO2 emissions, i.e more than that of the total global vehicle fleet, and worse still they believe by 2050 it will account for 26% of the global emissions. Is this sort of thing spelt out in Allied Concrete’s EPD?

Allied Concrete’s EPD provides the actual carbon footprint related to its own supply chain, as is the case with all EPDs.

It is certainly true that cement is a carbon-intensive material to produce. Some manufacturers have implemented strategies to reduce the environmental impact of cement, such as replacing coal with biomass, or to replace some of the Portland cement in concrete with low-impact cementitious materials such as fly ash (a waste product from coal-fired power stations), ground-granulated blast furnace slag (a waste product from steel furnaces) or volcanic ash. If those initiatives are in place, they are reflected in the EPDs of that particular manufacturer.

Suspecting that EPD and sustainability is in parallel, what are the product's recycle and reuse possibilities rather than being based mainly on embodied energy?

EPDs report the results of a life cycle assessment (LCA), a method designed to calculate the environmental footprint of a product over its full life – from ‘cradle to grave’ or from ‘cradle to cradle’. Reporting on embodied impacts is mandatory, while reporting on end-of-life potential is optional. Many EPDs in the Australasian market do report on the recycling and reuse potential of the finished product. E.g. this is done for all steel EPDs and most of the wood product EPDs within Australasia.

Interesting talk - thanks. I hadn't heard of EPD's yet either! As an architect, I am very interested in specifying products that have a lower life-cycle cost and lower environmental impact so I'm glad product manufacturers are coming onboard.

Great! Thanks for the positive feedback

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