Category Archives: EPDs

Evolution of the Sustainability Journey: Full Product Disclosure & Transparency

Melissa Vernon

Interface’s sustainability journey began in 1994 when customers started asking us questions about the environmental impact of our company and the fate of the used carpet we manufactured.  Our founder, the late Ray Anderson, heard these questions and knew that we did not have any compelling answers.  Interface complied with environmental laws.  What more should we be doing as a publicly traded, for-profit global manufacturer of petroleum-intensive carpet tile?

Upon reading “The Ecology of Commerce” by Paul Hawken, Anderson was struck by Hawken’s assertion that business has brought us to the brink of environmental degradation, and we can’t rely on government to save us, the power of business must find solutions.

Anderson, an entrepreneur and industrial engineer, took Hawken’s suggestions seriously and on August 31st, 1994, launched Interface towards the vision “To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: People, process, product, place and profits — by 2020 — and in doing so we will become restorative through the power of influence.”

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Ray Anderson’s epiphany, we reflect on the evolution of the sustainability movement and on the 20 years we have been on our sustainability journey.


We offer styles available in a full spectrum of stunning colors never thought possible in post-consumer content carpet.

In the early days, product manufacturers dealt with environmental issues by switching from virgin raw materials to recycled content, and focused on improving energy and water efficiency.  Ecolabels were developed to certify the ‘green’ attributes of products, and some even ventured to evaluate the manufacturing process as well.  Life was simple and straightforward.

At Interface, our focus on sustainability introduced us to new tools for looking at our products and processes.  We began to understand that the environmental impacts of our products extend far beyond the four walls of our factories.  In order to produce the raw materials to make carpet, resources are extracted from the earth, refined and processed to make the components that we assemble into carpet.  Transportation of raw materials and finished goods consumes diesel fuel and releases tailpipe emissions.  Maintenance and cleaning of carpet requires vacuuming which uses electricity generated from power plants, releasing emissions and generating waste.

In 2000, Interface started using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as a decision-making tool to better understand the full environmental impacts associated with the entire life cycle of our products, from raw material extraction and processing, manufacturing, use, transportation, and end of life.  LCA considers the energy and material inputs and the emissions and waste outputs for every process and step along the entire supply chain.  This analysis provides a more comprehensive view of the full impact our products have on the environment.


Interface was the first to earn an EPD and now has four EPDs for four product categories covering more than 90% of our products.

LCA shows the environmental implications of choosing different materials or making products in different ways and also shows the environmental trade-offs you might make. LCA allows us to look at making products in fundamentally different ways, allowing us to see a product or process at all stages

In the late 1990s when redesigning our products to meet our sustainability goals, our carpet designer suggested eliminating one ounce of nylon fiber from the top of the carpet, and found no loss in performance or quality.  Using LCA to study the effect of using one ounce less fiber across our entire annual production, calculations showed that the energy not expended in the production of additional nylon was equivalent to the energy consumption by Interface’s two Georgia production facilities for six months. This ‘embodied energy’ of the nylon fiber, calculated using LCA, was a new lens for viewing environmental impacts.

And thus began Interface’s commitment to searching for deeper understanding of the impact of our company and products and sharing these learnings with our customers through full product transparency.


All Interface modular carpet sold in North America is third party verified climate neutral Cool Carpet. Cool Carpet zeros out all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the entire lifecycle of your product.

LCA illustrates that the largest contribution to the environmental impact of our carpet is not attributable to our own manufacturing processes, but instead nearly 70% is a result of the extraction and processing of raw materials, of which nylon fiber accounts for a majority.  With our eyes open to the full life cycle impacts, our sustainability strategy shifted.  A new focus targeted dematerialization and reducing the use of raw materials per square yard of carpet, especially materials like nylon that have a high embodied energy.  Starting in 2009, our nylon fiber suppliers figured out how to make nylon carpet fiber from post-consumer nylon.  Using recycled materials significantly reduces the embodied energy and environmental impacts.  Today, many Interface carpet styles use 100% recycled nylon fiber, reducing embodied energy by over 40% compared to a carpet made with only 11% recycled content in the nylon fiber.

As the sustainability movement has grown over the last 20 years, ecolabels have proliferated, with over 400 in existence, thus overwhelming the market with too many labeling programs.  Architects, designers, and building owners no longer rely solely on these external assertions, and now want more access to very specific product information so they can make their own informed choices.  The building industry is in the beginning stages of publishing nutrition-label like information through the creation of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), allowing us to make more informed decisions about the materials we select.  EPDs are standardized life-cycle data disclosure tools often likened to the ingredient lists and nutrition facts labels found on food items, except you get data on such things as greenhouse gas emissions and water usage instead of calories and saturated fat.  Any product can have an EPD, just like any kind of food can have a nutrition label, healthy or unhealthy.

Interface is committed to being a leader in the transparency movement.  Interface was the first carpet manufacturer in North America to publish EPDs in 2009, and completed EPDs for all products globally by 2012. EPDs are developed according to guidelines from the International Standards Organization (ISO).  EPDs follow a consistent format reporting raw material ingredients, life cycle assessment results, and are 3rd party verified.  EPDs allow for an apples-to-apples comparison of products and in the carpet industry where many manufacturers have published EPDs, you can begin to identify what a ‘large’ or ‘small’  environmental impact footprint looks like across manufacturers, just as we understand the impact of 180 calorie candy bar on our health.  EPDs can help you see the impact of choosing a carpet with 30 ounces of nylon fiber vs 20 ounces.

The EPD Transparency Summary is a two-page summary of the most critical data presented in an EPD, published and third-party verified by UL Environment, This concise document features our favorite nuggets of EPD data, including carbon footprint, water footprint, and product ingredients.


Since 1995, we have reclaimed more than 270 million pounds of carpet through our carpet reclamation program.

With the transparency of EPDs we are able to show some of the results of our 20 year journey towards sustainability, and the changes that have been made across our entire supply chain, to produce Interface carpet with lower environmental impact.  Thereby offering our customers assurance that quantifiable data is available to support our green claims.  This level of commitment is what is needed to further advance the sustainability movement.

Melissa Vernon is the Director of Sustainable Strategy for Interface in the Americas.  She is responsible for maximizing business opportunities by strategically leveraging Interface’s leadership in sustainable development.  

Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of the WAMOA Journal, courtesy of PTR Communications.

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Product Environmental Performance Requirements

Paul Betram, JR FCSI, DCT, LEED AP

EPD Header

“Green” Product Background

The US Green Building Council and their LEED® Certification programs have led design teams to evaluate building product sustainability attributes that go beyond traditional performance and compliance requirements. Manufacturers have responded to these expanded environmental reporting requirements, which has resulted in several outcomes:

First, a barrage of “green” ecolabels, and third party validated/certified programs with very specific scopes, completely confused the marketplace. The industry has reached a point where most building products and materials are claiming some level of “green” without any standardized method of reporting the true measurement of sustainability (or lack thereof) of a product. So much so the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) developed the Part 260 Guides For The Use Of Environmental Marketing Claims.

This regulatory effort from the FTC, along with LEED® and their recognition of specific third party environmental labels, was an attempt to help manufacturers, designers and consumers better understand the intent of reporting various environmental attributes, such as recycled content, by requiring clearly demonstrated data. The second outcome is the trend towards acceptance of ISO Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) reporting. The broad scope and transparency required in the ISO LCA, and respective EPD (Environmental Product Declaration), are considered to be reliable and creditable environmental footprint data, making it easier for specifiers to make informed product choices.

Moving beyond LCA: The next steps

Kingspan Insulated Panels*, North America, chose to develop a product environmental reporting pathway through an ISO based LCA, and respective Certified EPD. LCA reporting is framed by ISO EPD requirements and contains a variety of information about the entire manufacturing process, including upstream supplier impacts and product environmental characteristics of manufacturing processes based on an ISO compliant LCA. EPDs are based on sound scientific and engineering approaches that can accurately reflect and communicate the environmental aspects contained in the declaration.

The exact type of information is specific to a particular type of product group, determined by Product Category Rules (PCR) to ensure “comparable” LCA reporting within specific product categories. PCR and EPD development requires working with an independent “Program Operator.”

The first responsibility in developing a PCR is to research existing PCRs in a category and then modify as applicable through a consensus based process. Kingspan’s Program Operator utilized The Construction Specifications Institute MasterFormat Structure 07 40 00 Roofing and Siding Panels to register the PCR. Kingspan’s “cradle to grave” (cradle to grave LCA is an assessment that tracks the life of a product from the point of creation until the disposal of the product takes place) LCA provides a measurable baseline to improve manufacturing processes and report environmental performance, including “use phase” benefits and “end of life” of products.

The next step is to identify EPD specifiable environmental performance requirements of products. This multi-facet challenge begs the question, are we specifying LEED®, labels, environmental single attributes or environmental performance requirements, or all of the above? How is the design team able to understand a balanced comprehensive product evaluation that considers functional performance, compliance and environmental and sustainability attributes? In response, CSI (The Construction Specifications Institute) created GreenFormat as an interface to identify specifiable product environmental performance requirements.

There is much to learn about the information that is reported in a LCA and respective EPD, including the scope and understanding how the environmental impacts that are reported compare to other materials.

Basic examples of ISO product standards:

  • ISO 14021:1999, Environmental labels and declarations — Self-declared environmental claims (Type II environmental labeling)
  • ISO 14024:1999, Environmental labels and declarations — Type I environmental 3rd party labeling
  • ISO 14040:20061, Life cycle assessment
  • ISO -21930, Sustainability in building construction
    •    Environmental declaration of building products
  • ISO 14025 for the EPD of building products
    •    PCR – Product Category Rules
  • Set of specific rules, requirements and guidelines for developing Type III environmental declarations
  • ISO 14025 for the EPD of building products
    • PCR – Product Category Rules (CSI MasterFormat-
  • Set of specific rules, requirements and guidelines for developing Type III environmental declarations
  • Responsibilities of the program operator required to register the PCR
    • The program operator shall be responsible for the administration of a Type III environmental declaration
    • The program operator owns  and manages the PCR

*Author Paul Bertram, FCSI, CDT, LEED AP is the Director of Environment & Sustainability
at Kingspan Insulated Panels, North America

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My EPD Journey: A designer’s perspective

Gretchen Holy

EPD HeaderBy now you are probably pretty familiar with the concept of EPDs (thanks to this blog) and how their inclusion in the new LEED Pilot Credit 43 could have a major influence on transparency in the manufacturing industry, not to mention access to robust information for the architectural and design community.

My EPD journey started in the spring of 2010 when I was approached to speak at the U.S. Green Building Council’s Annual Greenbuild Conference on the topic of Radical Transparency: The New Way to Define Green. I began familiarizing myself with the concept of life cycle analysis based EPDs by doing my own research (which was difficult at the time as not many EPDs existed).

As I was preparing for Greenbuild I realized that my journey actually started much earlier; back in 2002, to be exact, on one of my first projects at BNIMThe School of Nursing and Student Community Center for the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. The University’s goal for all furniture and moveable wall selection was to enhance sustainability by minimizing the impact of embodied energy and the resulting carbon dioxide emissions.


In order to accomplish this task BNIM’s internal sustainable consulting group, Elements, developed an extensive questionnaire that was issued to major manufacturers in the form of an RFI. The questionnaire was not a comprehensive sustainability questionnaire, nor was it a scientific life-cycle analysis. Instead it was a series of 47 questions designed to collect key pieces of comparable data. As with any analysis, the margin of success rested on the accuracy of the information provided. A comparative analysis report was created to facilitate product selection. It was a long and arduous process, but in the end we prevailed in identifying products that met the client’s goals. The project won three environmental awards among many other awards for its design. The firm, and our interiors team, continued to use this approach on many subsequent projects. I look back now and think, “How much easier and more precise would that process have been if LCA-based EPDs were in existence!”

The great thing about an EPD (besides its transparency) is that it explains the LCA information in a clear, concise, and consistent manner from product type to product type. My favorite analogy is to think about coffee. (Forget paper vs. plastic, it’s way overused!) Let’s say you are making a trip to your local coffee shop. You have many options to choose from as to how to drink your coffee. If you are getting your coffee to go (and you don’t live in California) you might get coffee in a Styrofoam cup or in a paper cup. Perhaps you are meeting someone at the coffee shop and you intend to stay, then your options might be a ceramic or glass mug. Or perhaps you are very environmentally conscious and you bring your own travel mug. You might be wondering, “What does this have to do with EPDs?” An EPD would allow you to look at the life cycle analysis data of all these different coffee vessels, so you could determine which one had the least environmental impact and enjoy your coffee with a clear conscience.

The same concept holds true no matter the material: carpet vs. porcelain tile; porcelain tile vs. hardwood; hardwood vs. carpet. An LCA-based EPD allows you to compare products that serve the same function and make an educated selection on behalf of your client. It allows you to compare different aspects of a product, such as embodied energy, water used to manufacture, etc. much like single or multi-attribute certifications, but it’s much more robust information. The only thing that could make EPDs better would be a sexy little label to relay the information at-a-glance!

In closing I’ll share one of the best quotes I heard last year at Greenbuild: “Transparency causes self-correcting behavior. It’s not the metrics, it’s peer pressure.” So, kudos to Interface for putting the pressure on their peers! On behalf of all of us fighting the good fight for sustainability, thank you for the opportunity to explain the benefits of EPDs from a designer’s standpoint. Here’s hoping many others pursue increased transparency in the industry!

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Pilot Credit 43: A push for Transparency

Heather Gandonniex

Perspectives on EPDsOn June 15th the USGBC released the Certified Products and Materials Pilot Credit (Pilot Credit 43), encouraging the use of environmentally preferable products and promoting product transparency. The pilot credit provides an opportunity for the construction and design community to understand more about the products we use in our buildings, and for manufacturers to gain much deserved recognition for improving and documenting their products’ environmental impacts.

Pilot Credit 43 outlines two pathways for contribution; the certification pathway and the EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) pathway. The certification pathway rewards manufacturers for validating environmental claims with a third party certification, and for obtaining single and multi-attribute product certifications such as Greenguard and Eco-Logo. The EPD pathway promotes product transparency by allocating credit to products with accompanying life cycle assessment (LCA) data or third party certified EPDs.

*©2001 USGBC. To view full pilot credit, including this chart visit

The chart above shows the greatest reward is given to products that have Type 1 (multi-attribute) Certification based on an EPD, and a product specific Third Party Certified Type III EPD.

This credit also rewards products that have both certifications and EPDs by allowing design teams to combine multipliers in each credit pathway. This is important because product certifications often don’t say anything about a product’s specific life cycle based environmental impacts. EPDs are not a performance based eco-label; they report on a product’s environmental impacts. Combine the two and voila! You now understand if the product is environmentally preferable AND you have a detailed disclosure of the product’s life cycle based environmental impacts, like its carbon footprint, for example.

There is a lot of buzz around life cycle assessment and Environmental Product Declarations. Th

ere is also a lot of confusion. Let’s try to clear that up!

An EPD is a third party verified, internally recognized, single comprehensive disclosure of a product’s environmental impact – throughout its life cycle. Properly implemented EPDs have the potential to transform how products are manufactured and specified.

The information derived via the EPD generation process provides manufacturers with scientifically based insights into the life cycle impacts of their products. With this information, manufacturers can act strategically to improve product performance.

For the design and construction community, EPDs help move the dialogue beyond single attributes to more holistic measures of environmental performance. Used appropriately, this can result in the increased selection and use of environmentally preferable products.

So, how do we create an EPD? And, how are we able to use the information contained in an EPD to compare environmental impacts?

To create an EPD, we follow the process detailed in ISO 14025.

*Image: © 2011 UL Environment Inc.

As you can see in the image, EPDs are based on Product Category Rules (PCRs). PCRs determine what information is contained in an EPD and how the life cycle assessment is conducted by the manufacturer.

PCRs enable us to compare product environmental impacts within a specific product category by setting common guidelines for life cycle based environmental information (and the additional environmental and product specific information reported in EPDs).

Thought leaders in the building community are supportive of the USGBC’s effort to increase product transparency. Last week I had the opportunity to spend time with Kirsten Ritchie, Gensler’s Director of Sustainable Design. We discussed the pilot credit and are encouraged by the USGBC’s development of mechanisms to reward greater product transparency. Kirsten summed it up best by saying, “I’m strongly supportive of project teams pursuing innovation (pilot) credits tied to the use and disclosure of life cycle data through EPDs. We need to get life cycle based environmental information out to the marketplace to support smarter product selection decisions, particularly carbon footprint.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Heather Gadonniex is the EPD Program Manager at UL Environment, and has been an active member of the green building community for over a decade. Opinions represented in this post are solely those of the author.

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