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CA08 - I Do Declare!
EPDs - Just tell us the truth.
THE TOPIC - EPDs
A few years ago I had a mini health crisis. I had consistent stomach pain for 3 months and was on regular medication. When I asked my doctor what the next steps were to get better, he simply said “you’re going to be on medication for the rest of your life”. As a (relatively) young, and healthy person, I did not take this news very well. Instead, I went to a Naturopath where I was allergy tested. Surprise! Turns out I’m quite allergic to whey protein (no more dairy for me). After cutting out whey, I’m now free of medication and feeling great!
What is the point of that story? After realizing the problem was the food I was eating I became a nutrition label reading addict. Every piece of food was carefully screened for good and bad nutrition. This is the same attitude we need to bring to architectural materials.
So what is an EPD anyways? It’s an Environmental Product Declaration. Simply put, an EPD is a nutrition label for a product, but rather than telling you the ingredients they tell you the emissions and water used to create the material. As I’ve mentioned in previous newsletters, these emissions are listed by lifecycle stages based on a specified unit of measurement. [Tip - make sure you actually check the unit, they can vary widely between product types.]
It’s also important to understand that EPDs come in 2 different types and they are known as Industry Wide or Product Specific. An industry EPD gives emissions values for a typical product type (like XPS or EPS insulation) which takes into account a wide variety of sources. A product-specific EPD represents a single manufacturer. Industry EPDs are helpful for setting benchmarks, but are vague and represent a large range of possible products.
If you want a slightly deeper dive, check out this PDF from the US Department of Transport which is surprisingly informative.
If you are interested in getting an EPD for your product LOOK HERE.
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WHY IT MATTERS
EPDs matter for three primary reasons:
Making informed design decisions on materials
Increased transparency and accountability in the industry
Required to meet regulatory requirements
Let’s dig a little deeper:
1 - Making informed design decisions on materials
If you are going to properly compare the environmental performance of two materials you need to look at their EPD, it’s that simple. The same product from two manufacturers can be very different from an environmental point of view. Making informed decisions is important whether or not you are working on a “certified” project like LEED or Passive House. It matters for everyday design and is something that more and more architects need to be doing.
2 - Increased transparency and accountability in the industry
Imagine a world without nutrition labels on your food. That’s how we will feel about materials in 10 years. We as designers and owners should be able to know what kind of impact our choices have on the environment, and we can only do that through transparency. EPDs are also a great tool to protect against greenwashing. If you are claiming a sustainable product, your EPD will prove it. Having a system for transparency and accountability within the AEC industry is critical if we want to move the needle on climate change.
3 - Required to meet regulatory requirements
As governments and municipalities become more and more interested in carbon emissions in the construction industry EPDs and material specifications will become increasingly important. We are already seeing cities like Vancouver require a reduction in Embodied Carbon, and that mentality is only going to increase. Knowing how to read and interpret an EPD will be an important skill and tool for future regulations.
1 TIP - HOW TO REDUCE
The obvious thing you can do to reduce your footprint is to choose a low-carbon material, but often you have products that don’t have an EPD. How are you supposed to compare these materials to each other? That’s why this week's tip is to begin requesting EPDs from suppliers and manufacturers. Imagine you are allergic to dairy - wouldn’t you ask to see the ingredient list on everything you eat?
Here is an EPD request template created by Building Transparency.
1 RESOURCE - TO HELP YOU ACT
One Click LCA is a great tool in the embodied carbon space. They also produce some amazing resources. Check out their EPD Resource Hub for lots more info on the topic.
PS - I’m a huge fan of “The Office”. If you can nail The Office quote in this newsletter, I’ll feature you in a LinkedIn post. Happy searching!