Why Environmental Product Declarations are a key topic you need to understand

The construction sector has been dialling up its approach to sustainability for decades, adding new resources to the sustainability toolkit year on year. Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are one of the latest additions helping developers and specifiers to advance sustainability goals. Used to compare and assess the environmental impact of products, they’re bringing transparency and choice to the construction market.

EPDs are comprehensive, standardised reports that detail the environmental impact of a product. They’re created using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology, which measures, among several impact categories, CO2 emissions throughout the product’s life – from raw material extraction through to transport, manufacturing, application, and end of life use, including recycling potential.

In the plastic pipe sector, for example, one of the most relevant impact measured is Global Warming Potential (GWP) in kg of CO2-eq. The GWP is an indicator of potential global warming due to emissions of greenhouse gases to air.

Thanks to the specifics and controls around their creation, EPDs are recognised as a standardised baseline for product comparison. By offering transparent, objective information about products’ carbon footprints, water footprints and energy consumption, they help consumers and regulators to make more informed sustainability comparisons and decisions.

“EPDs are credible and reliable because they use a consistent, science-based measurement and always include third party verification,” says Wavin LCA project manager Matteo Tagliaferri.

Are EPDs for the construction industry on the regulatory horizon?

The construction industry is awash with information about the carbon intensity of industrial products but urgently needs to simplify and streamline sustainability information. This was highlighted in the first Building to net zero: costing carbon in construction report that called on the government to introduce “measures requiring suppliers who wish to make an environmental claim about a construction product to produce an EPD to substantiate it”.

Government backing of EPDs in the future makes sense, particularly given its net zero commitments. In its Promoting Net Zero Carbon and Sustainability In Construction Guidance Note the government outlines: “[That] for the UK to meet its statutory climate targets, including its carbon budgets, requirements are only likely to increase in their stringency. Thus, being forward thinking and innovative, especially on high-value construction projects, is in the interests of both the government and industry.”

Wavin strongly supports this stance as the firm says that sustainability is at the core of everything it does. Using innovation and data-driven targets, Wavin says that it strives to manufacture products with the lowest environmental impact possible, and to provide our customers with full, scientific transparency on the impact each product has. This commitment means that the firm has been investing in EPDs for years – long before the rumblings of regulatory change began. Wavin recognises EPDs as a powerful accelerator of the construction industry’s journey to carbon net zero and the firms says that it has seen interest in them growing year on year.

EPDs are a game changer

As more EPDs hit the market, specifiers, architects and developers are better able to understand the environmental footprint of their construction projects and completed buildings. These insights enable the creation of more materially efficient and environmentally friendly buildings.
Making informed product choices at the specification stage can reduce buildings’ CO2 footprints, as well as emissions and operating costs throughout their lifecycles. Considering EPDs when selecting building materials for a new development helps to support internal sustainability initiatives and ensure compliance with external targets. Directly comparing products using EPDs is also a credible way to prioritise “green” building materials, that can contribute credits towards green building certifications such as BREEAM or LEED.

EPDs are also important when it comes to controlling building waste. By offering end of life scenarios, they help to encourage the re-use and recycling of building materials.

“There are lots of ways we factor sustainability in,” explains Wavin BIM coordinator Adam Salt. “A lot of our products are made from recycled materials and we’re constantly developing more efficient products. This is key because using less has a knock-on effect – less waste, fewer deliveries, fewer repairs and so on.”

How EPDs push beyond product comparison

EPDs are more than a tool to give clients a stronger handle on environmental product comparison. Used to their fullest extent, EPDs are a great asset in product development and provide strong benchmarks against which manufacturers can improve the environmental credentials of products. As more EPDs hit the market, healthy competition will also encourage increased sustainability in manufacturing.

Read the full story on how Wavin is implementing EPDs here


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