Environmental Product Declarations

Kessel Nelson

ASTM Debuts New Program

ASTM International is now a program operator, providing a venue for the development of product category rules and verifying environmental product declarations.

Concern for the environment and for our effect on the planet grows day by day, as evidenced by the increasing use of the terms "green" and "sustainability" in everyday language. This concern is not just among individuals. Product manufacturers are taking note of their effect on the planet and are actively working to be more aware of and reduce their impact on the environment.

One of the tools available to help manufacturers assess the true "greenness" of their products is the environmental product declaration - a detailed report outlining a product's effect on the environment over the course of its lifetime.

Now, ASTM International announces the creation of its own EPD program, developed in accordance with International Organization for Standardization 14025 – Environmental Labels and Declarations – Type III Environmental Declarations – Principles and Procedures. In its role as a program operator, ASTM will assist industries in developing product category rules and verifying new EPDs, making sure that all of the proper procedures are followed.

"The program will provide scientifically based, quantifiable information about product parameters such as resource consumption and ozone depletion," says Timothy Brooke, ASTM International's vice president of certification, training and proficiency testing. "This will give both businesses and consumers an understanding of a product's real impact on the environment."

A Four-Point Process

The process of developing an EPD may seem simple - there are only four steps - but each phase requires the cooperation of and input from a number of different sources.

Manufacturers, industry experts and other interested parties gather to discuss their product. During these discussions they develop a detailed set of parameters - the product category rule - to determine the ways in which the product will be examined and how the resulting data will be analyzed and reported. In all cases, the participants start by searching libraries of pre-existing PCRs. If they find one to serve as a basis for their product then they should use it and otherwise fine-tune it to meet their needs. This helps to ensure harmony and continuity among similar products.

Once the PCR is complete it becomes the basis for a life cycle assessment.

When all of the product data defined in the PCR have been collected and compiled, the PCR is used to produce a life cycle assessment. The LCA represents the full environmental impact of the product across its life span - from the gathering of materials and assembly, transportation and storage, through its use in the field, to its eventual destruction and disposal.

The manufacturer uses the PCR, the LCA and any additional environmental data to create an EPD. A number of sources describe EPDs as the environmental equivalent of nutrition labels for products. They show the product's carbon footprint and other information relating to its impact on the environment.

One of ASTM International's primary obligations as a program operator will be to review every EPD to make sure that it was properly prepared. Each one will also be verified to make sure that its contents meet the requirements defined by the PCR and LCA.

Real World Uses and Benefits

Some of the information found in EPDs includes:

  • Material content,
  • Recycled content,
  • Service life,
  • Global warming potential,
  • Water consumption,
  • Emissions to air and water,
  • Waste generation,
  • Ozone depletion potential and
  • Respiratory effects.

Knowing this information makes it possible for any interested party to determine the environmental impact of any product or assembled group of products.

"These documents, EPDs and LCAs, help tell us a more complete story when it comes to products," says Amy Costello, P.E., environmental sustainability manager, Armstrong Worldwide Industries, Inc., Lancaster, Pa. "It's not just about fewer materials ending up in a landfill or more materials being recycled," she says. "For any product, you can see on a quantifiable level the effects that that particular product is having on the environment. And manufacturers are able to see how changing their impact on the environment can affect their bottom line."

Costello remarks that the issue of sustainability always makes a great story. "With sustainability there are always multiple sides to the story," she says. "On one side you can show all of the wonderful things you're doing from an environmental standpoint. And on the other side you can show how your efforts translate into resource and cost savings."

Armstrong Worldwide has developed EPDs for a number of their flooring products. The company realized, as did many other firms in the building and construction industries, that EPDs are quickly becoming a key consideration for the selection of materials. EPDs allow manufacturers to share environmental data about their products while providing designers, architects, builders and other specifiers with a standardized way to compare those products and make informed choices based on environmental considerations.

The excitement over EPDs is not limited to the building and construction industries, notes Rita Schenck, executive director, Institute for Environmental Research and Education, Vashon, Wash. "Companies in every industry are recognizing the value of EPDs," she says.

Interest in the use of EPDs is not limited to the United States. Members of the European Union have shown a great deal of support for products with EPDs. "A number of countries in the European Union support the use of EPDs," notes Schenck. "Soon it may be a requirement for any product sold in the EU to have an EPD registered."

Although there are other international programs, notes Costello, who is also a member of ASTM Committee E60 on Sustainability and a current member of the ASTM board of directors, ASTM's global reputation puts the new EPD program on a different level.

"There are a lot of regional program operators and a couple of international program operators," says Costello. "But until now none of them were run by an organization with the same reputation as ASTM. ASTM is truly a globally recognized entity and because of that this new program will be a truly global one."

For More Information

For more information about developing PCRs and verifying EPDs, contact ASTM's certification and declarations department. In addition, you may also contact Timothy Brooke, ASTM International (phone: 610-832-9729).

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