One green business that’s on the rise right now is that of providing environmental product declarations. The sector recently notched up its 50th EPD and is riding a wave of interest in more disclosure of sustainability impact in all we do – from environmental to social.
According to Dr Barbara Nebel, who initiated the set-up of the EPD program five years ago for Australia and New Zealand, “momentum is picking up”.
Her company thinkstep Australasia that she runs with her partner Matthias Nebel is responsible for half of all EPDs in the region and was the certifying authority for the sector’s 50th EPD, for Tasman Insulation New Zealand for its Pink Batts glass wool insulation segments, blankets and boards.
While the main focus has been construction materials, interest is now spreading to textiles as awareness grows. Nebel says additional aspects such as social impact can be added to an EPD but only the environmental data can be verified.
Among the more unusual EPDs has been one for an entire train and even for toilet tissue.
Growth has been driven by the lack of available data to take a full life cycle approach for green buildings and green infrastructure, she says.
“There is a lack of opportunity for building material manufacturers who undertook life cycle assessment studies to have a platform to communicate the results and share their story in a verified and credible manner.”
Now the company is looking to add a new staff member in Australia right now to assist growth of the company currently staffed by her husband and wife team, with partner Matthias Nebel.
And because a carbon footprint is part of the EPD “nutritional label”, they are becoming increasingly appealing for organisations that recognise they “need to think about what they purchase because that’s part of their carbon footprint.”
“It’s an added benefit to the clients. You get the product with the information attached to it.”
The EPD certification process also provides an opportunity to scrutinise the production chain to identify where processes or inputs can be improved. It also can open up dialogues with suppliers, Dr Nebel said.
She debunks some of the “perceived challenges” associated with the program.
“A lot say ‘oh, but it’s so complicated.’ But it’s no more complicated than the production process.
“You are just following the flows of the materials through the process… If it is a complicated product then maybe it will be a bit complicated, but a simple product will require a simple life cycle analysis.”
Similarly, organisations worry that they will have trouble sourcing all the data required for an EPD.
“But all that data already exists, they have all the inputs because they already order them and pay for them… so far there’s never been a case that the data doesn’t exist… it’s about joining the dots.”
She said that the region’s program is still new but tracking well in line with its performance in other parts of the world. She said that last year was a record year globally for publishing EPDs, with construction and building materials still the main sectors seeking EPD certifications.
“They are also more seeing more coming through in the textile industry because many companies are starting to be scrutinised for transparency.
“It’s going beyond the construction sector. Now mostly in Europe, but the rest of the world it will probably happen.”
What is an EPD?
Nebel’s background includes 20 years working on Life Cycle Assessment for building product, certified LCA practitioner, and a PhD in LCA. She’s also the regional editor for the International Journal for Life Cycle Assessment.
What’s still needed, she says, is more education around EPDs. A simple way to understand them is to say they take the guesswork out of determining the environmental impacts of products without passing judgement.
“It just provides the facts,” Dr Nebel said.
EPDs then serve as the “building blocks” to enable the whole built environment to measure the impact of its environmental footprint, she said.