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 www.usgbc.org.

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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