EPD Australasia

I use EPDs every day… and here’s how

By Ciere Kenny, Sustainable Futures Consultant, Lendlease

I have been working for Lendlease for almost 5 years as an internal Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and embodied carbon specialist. My role revolves around engaging with the business at a project

 

and portfolio level at key decision-making stages to leverage LCA data and facilitate informed choices.

One of the most frequently used bookmarks on my browser is the EPD Australasia website (and to be fair to my other bookmarks I also have a few other EPD websites for the different geographical regions Lendlease operates in). The reason being, EPDs are a crucial datapoint for informed decision making, and I use them every day.

Lendlease has set itself an ambitious Mission Zero target of Absolute Zero by 2040 for our Scope 1, 2 & 3 emissions. Absolute Zero meaning we are getting there with no offsets (and as I like to say, no excuses!). This will require us to drastically change the way we build, design, and interact with our supply chain to ensure we leave a liveable world for generations to come. The majority of Lendlease’s emissions are in our Scope 3, predominately from the emissions associated with the manufacture of our building materials. There is much that can and must be done from a strategy and design perspective to decarbonise, however there is no way that we are going to get there without closely collaborating with our supply chain and bringing them on this journey with us. That journey may include identifying new technologies, materials, and service models. However, it’s clear that the journey for each product must begin with good measurement and transparency on emissions.

LCAs for buildings are complex in the sheer amount of materials and products that go into them. As with all LCA there is a preferred hierarchy of data to ensure that the LCA model accurately reflects the geographical region, manufacturing process, manufacturing technology, and temporal relevance of each material. In the context of running LCAs for projects to facilitate decision making, EPDs are incredibly valuable as they provide verified environmental impacts specific to that supplier’s product that will be installed on site.

In the murky world of sustainability claims, glossy brochures, vague statements on company websites, and greenwashing, EPDs provide clarity, assurance, and transparency on environmental impacts. Knowing that products who have an EPD had to follow EN15804, ISO 14044/40, and adhere to the relevant Product Category Rules gives me confidence that the emissions intensity stated covers the system boundary and environmental indicators that is relevant to my assessment, and has followed a methodology that aligns with our criteria for completeness and accuracy. Most importantly the third-party verification gives further credence to the results, creates accountability in the industry, and is the most defining difference between the science of EPDs and the wild west of greenwashing. This confidence in the reported emissions intensity is incredibly relevant when making side by side comparisons of products and providing advice to those making procurement decisions on a project or portfolio level. EPDs can also provide other important information on the LCI datasets used, age of data, declaration on any averaging of data, assumptions / exclusions made, description of manufacturing processes, geographical location of manufacturing facilities, percentage of recycled content, material composition, and more. Currently, no other single document out there holds this amount of information relevant to my decision making all in one place. And that information is powerful.

As an added bonus to this treasure trove of data, EPDs are also recognised by rating tools such as Green Star / LEED/ BREEAM and rewarded with contributing to points under certain credits. It is far easier to make the case for selecting a product that not only meets all performance requirements and other due diligence criteria, but is transparent in its emissions and benefits rating tool criteria. Having an EPD does not inherently make a product sustainable, but it does demonstrate the important step of a supplier investing in understanding where their emissions come from and being willing to openly share this with their clients. In an industry that has a history of being incredibly competitive, sustainability is one space where it is widely recognised that collaboration is necessary to get to where we need to go. Over the years as that EPD is renewed, it can also serve as an official record of the decarbonisation of that product due to the manufacturer’s efforts to reduce their footprint.

I use EPDs most frequently as part of an iterative LCA process. LCA is an amazing way to measure environmental impact, however at the end of the day it remains just that … a measure. To unlock the true power of LCA, it must be conducted iteratively alongside the progression of the design (as opposed to a “post-mortem” approach after all decisions are locked in). LCA should be leveraged at a strategic business and portfolio level, however the example below is at a project level.

A preliminary LCA should be conducted early on at opportunity and origination stage to inform the development brief and set ambitious yet viable targets for the project. At early concept design, fast and agile LCAs should be conducted as major decisions about the building’s structure, layout, and envelope are made. Also at this stage a reduction roadmap is developed to demonstrate how the project will hit its embodied carbon target. As part of developing this roadmap I can use EPDs to inform potential reduction scenarios and suggest low embodied carbon products early on to project team. EPDs really shine during the tender and procurement phase. All suppliers for key works packages that have been identified are asked to provide EPDs in the specification and as part of the tender process. We then run these EPDs through our existing LCA and compare how these products help or hinder our embodied carbon target. A preferred product from a sustainability standpoint is identified and communicated and is then overlayed with other project criteria. When different suppliers offer solutions that meet the same or similar price points, logistic capability, and satisfies all performance criteria, sustainability can be an important differentiator. As procurement decisions are finalised and we reach detailed design, a full and complete LCA is conducted and EPDs are collected for rating tool submission.

EPDs are so vital for my role… and in my opinion there are not nearly enough of them. I implore the market that if you don’t already have an EPD to invest in getting one. There is a huge demand for them. If you were waiting for your demand signal, this is it. If you already have an EPD, invest in making it more refined to be specific to smaller geographical regions, or better yet specific mills / manufacturing facilities. If you have an EPD for one of your products, consider investing in EPDs for more of them. The cost, effort, and time that is required for an EPD is not overlooked or underestimated. I understand that it’s not a small ask. However, in this world where companies are racing to decarbonise their supply chain, and increased transparency is becoming a BAU requirement, it’s an investment worth making. I look forward with optimism to see a huge uptick in the amount of EPDs in the market, and am excited to work with our suppliers on this journey to zero.

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