Profiting from the global growth and harmonisation of EPDs

11
Nov
2017

A webinar on demand featuring speakers from The Australasian EPD Programme, LCANZ and thinkstep was recorded on 12 October 2017 (available here https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/3886945513907045891). Following on from this successful webinar, sustainability expert Florian Nebel from thinkstep has penned this blog which summarises some of the key issues discussed in the webinar.

By Florian Nebel – Sustainability Economist - thinkstep

The global hype around Environmental Product Declarations (EDPs) is real and it’s gathering momentum. Businesses and governments are demanding to understand how their procurement choices impact the environment. Astute organisations are listening. We discuss the future trends surrounding #EPDs and the opportunity for businesses to improve market access, boost return and cement themselves as sustainability leaders.

If Europe and the USA are anything to go by, Environmental Product Declarations (EDPs) will be the next big thing in Australasia. International EPD expert Jane Anderson has watched demand for EPDs explode on both sides of the Atlantic: “In the past five years, we have gone from 400 construction EPDs to over 3600.”

EPDs are still quite new in Australia/NZ but there is a “very strong pipeline” says Stephen Mitchell, Chair of the Australasian EPD Programme.

Jane and Stephen joined Barbara Nebel, Managing Director of thinkstep in Australasia, in a 'Straight from the Horse's Mouth' webinar. They reflected on global trends discussed at two recent international stakeholder events in Europe around Environmental Product Declarations.

What’s driving demand? 

Jane Anderson showed that Australasian EPD uptake is following a similar trajectory to that in Europe and the USA a few years earlier, the rapid growth of EPDs in those markets could be a sign of things to come here. The demand for EPDs can’t be put down to just one factor, says Jane, Principal Consultant with thinkstep in the UK, “Different markets have different drivers but building rating schemes and government regulation have certainly played a significant role.” In Germany, you have the Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) rating system and regulation that large public projects must include building Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as a core, mandatory part of the assessment. In the USA, there’s LEED driving uptake, and in France regulation requires an EPD if you want to attach any type of environmental claim to your building product.

Closer to home, we’re already seeing state governments mandate EPDs as part of the tender process in some projects, says Stephen. The South Sydney Train Project have made it a contractual requirement for the railway cars that will be delivered as part of the project. The trend of rating schemes encouraging uptake is also mirrored in Australia/NZ where “Green Star and ISCA are contributing significantly to demand.” Since the Australasian EPD Programme launched in 2015, there have already been 41 EPDs completed by 19 companies, including Liberty OneSteel, Bluescope Steel, Dulux or the Australian forest industry. 

The incentives are continuing to mount up too. Australasian EPDs are now recognised under the Australian Government’s revised National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS) for Products and Services. The revised Standard states that organisations who have registered an EPD with the Australasian EPD Programme “are able to use a streamlined carbon neutral certification process”. Further details will be published soon. It’s a further for bonus for companies employing life cycle thinking and completing an EPD. It means they can reap the benefits of NCOS without going through the life cycle assessment again. A similar approach is planned for New Zealand.      

What about all the different EPD programmes?    

The number of EPD programmes worldwide has grown in response to demand. For reference, the programme is the system under which the EPD is registered. Down here in Australia/NZ we have the Australasian EPD Programme which is aligned with the International EPD® System, headquartered in Sweden.

The largest programmes are those of Germany, the USA and France; however, newcomers such Turkey, India, and Latin America and our own Australasian programme are generating significant interest too. “It’s a positive development to see the new and existing programmes align themselves under mutual recognition agreements”, says Jane.

This means that an EPD for an Australian/NZ product produced to the requirements of the Australasian EPD Programme can also be registered with the EPD programmes in Germany, Norway, the USA and Spain for example or vice versa, with any subtle differences able to be accounted for in an annex, giving much wider recognition. “Due to mutual recognition, EPDs published with the Australasian programme have access to a huge number of markets.”

Further benefits 

While we’re busy focusing on how an EPD will make our product more specifiable, we shouldn’t forget that LCAs and EPDs allow you to improve the product itself! A life cycle view offers unparalleled insight into environmental impacts and resource consumption at different stages of the production process. In identifying hotspots, not only are you able to make a greener product, you can often reduce cost too.

Businesses have become very good at paying close attention to the inflows and outflows at a macro level, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t extend to a product level too. “Using the detailed analysis of inputs and outputs, many companies find they are able to tune the production process to save water, energy and materials and boost return”, says Barbara. In most EPDs completed by thinkstep in Australia and NZ, “we have identified together with companies, opportunities to save materials, energy or water”. Beyond marketability, this is an immediate, tangible result.

Four future trends 

1. If there’s a criticism of EPDs, it’s that some building rating systems haven’t yet managed to extract full value out of them.

Jane reports that “some schemes treat EPDs as a tick-box exercise which gives credit for using materials which have an EPD rather than using the EPDs to select materials based on environmental impact.” Ultimately, the aim of building rating schemes is to transition to more environmentally friendly buildings. Rating schemes are continuously evolving and, as we approach a point where an EPD for a building product becomes standard, we are likely to see a shift toward credits given on the content of the EPD rather than just its existence.

2. As EPDs are becoming increasingly aligned globally, initiatives are underway to develop a consistent, machine-readable format.

Companies are telling us that their customers want to understand their product choices and their impact on the environment”, says Stephen. “Providing the data in a machine-readable format further improves transparency and ability to assess impacts through the whole life cycle.” It’s another step toward having EPD data seamlessly integrated into more sustainable decision-making processes.

3. While traditionally the domain of LCA experts, the application of EPDs is becoming much more mainstream.

In construction, building software solutions such as BIM and CAD recognise the need for life cycle thinking and work is currently underway to integrate EPDs into software, allowing the environmental footprint to be calculated at the click of a button. “It’s clear that EPDs become most usable when you can use them in building models which are able to auto calculate the quantities of materials used as opposed to using large spreadsheets”, says Jane.

Barbara adds that “Integrated EPD data will empower architects and other building professionals to assess the impacts of different materials early in the design phase without requiring extensive LCA knowledge or dedicated LCA software.”

4. EPDs are not just for the construction sector!

They have been completed locally for products by the likes of Asaleo Care, Zip and David Trubridge. Globally, EPDs are also very popular in the transportation sector (Bombardier produced a second EPDs for a plane recently) and food & beverage sector. “Given the significant impact of agriculture, that sector has great potential here”, says Stephen. For organisations committed to ISO 20400 on Sustainable Procurement, EPDs are a valuable tool in assessing product or service options. In that sense, EPDs are likely to appeal to manufacturers across the board who look to position themselves as sustainable suppliers.

In a nutshell, it’s an exciting time for EPDs, both locally and globally. 

The early adopters are already on board and there has been a phenomenal growth in interest. They’re the gold standard in communicating environmental credentials and there’s no doubt about it, they’re here to stay!

thinkstep’s ‘Straight from the Horse’s Mouth’ webinar "EPDs international trends" is available as Webinar on Demand.