thinkstep’s proven solutions in the growing market for EN 15804 EPD

The number of Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) verified to EN 15804 is growing rapidly. For the past couple of years, I have been monitoring the number of EPD produced within each of the construction EPD programmes around the world, and my infographic shows there were more than 3600 EPD verified to comply with EN 15804 at the start of this year.

This rise is largely a consequence, firstly of regulation, e.g. in France and Belgium the requirement for EPD to support environmental claims about products and in the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland the requirements to undertake Building Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for some buildings; secondly, the increased recognition of EPD in Building Assessment schemes such as BREEAM, LEED and Greenstar, with the new Irish scheme, Housing Performance Index being the latest to provide credits for products with EPD; and thirdly the interest in using EPD within Green Public Procurement, with Stattsbygg in Norway, for example, asking for EPD as part of their procurement process.

ECO Platform, the organisation representing all the European EPD Programmes, is also assisting by providing a central registry of EcoPlatform EPD from all the member programmes where the ECO Platform verification guidelines have been followed.  Companies pay an additional fee of up to 100 euro to have the EPD listed on ECO Platform, and take up has been good for EPD from the UK and Scandinavia, but there are far fewer (as a proportion of total EPD registered) from Germany and Spain and none from France. However both France and Germany have excellent, searchable EPD databases of their own (see inies and oekobau.dat), and have also made their EPD databases easily available for Building LCA tools.

Trade associations have initially dealt the demand for EPD by producing “generic EPD”, providing the impact of products using data from all, or a representative sample of their members. These EPD provide a good indication of impact for the most commonly specified products, or the average impact of a range of products – Architects and Consultants can use them in Building LCA or Embodied Carbon assessments to understand the relative impact of different building solutions at a stage in the design process when specific manufacturer’s products are not being considered.

But increasingly, there is concern that generic EPD might be hiding the impact of poorly performing products. For this reason, LEED for example, gives only half the credit for a trade association EPD compared to a manufacturer specific EPD.  This is driving the search for solutions which can enable manufacturers to provide specific EPD not just as an average for a range of their own products, but for specific products.

thinkstep has been working with its trade association and manufacturing clients for many years to provide proven solutions for EPD at scale.  These solutions fall into three main categories.

1 GaBi Envision tools.

GaBi is thinkstep’s market leading LCA software, where trained users develop LCA models to represent cradle to gate or grave production, allowing  environmental impacts to be calculated.  By adding the Envision interface to the underlying GaBi model, the complexities of the LCA modelling can be hidden and users with minimal training can enter key product data to allow specific EPD results to be calculated. During the development of the LCA model for an Envision tool, all the production variables, such as input materials, energy sources, transport and waste routes e.t.c. are considered and those variables which have a significant impact on the different specific products are parameterised, allowing the underlying LCA model to be altered for each product. The Envision tool includes a report which provides all the parameters entered into the tool, together with the EPD Indicator results and any tables based on the LCA which need to be included in the EPD and project report,  for example listing input materials or breaking down the source of impacts.

Envision EPD tools such as those produced by thinkstep for UK Cement for the Mineral Products Association or for steel products for UK CARES can be verified by EPD programmes using a slightly more expensive tool verification process, and then “locked down” so that the underlying LCA model cannot be altered by the users.  The resulting EPD from the verified tool are then able to be verified and registered by the EPD programmes much more quickly and cheaply.  Some trade association clients are looking to operate these tools as a service to their members, for example Timber Trade Federation and British Precast.  Others, provide licences to their members to use the tools directly, and some contract thinkstep to operate the tools on behalf of their members.   We also have manufacturing clients using GaBi who develop Envision tools from their own LCA models.

IBU was the first EPD programme to verify EPD Tools, but thinkstep has now developed Envision EPD tools which have been verified with BRE and the International EPD programme (Environdec).

2 EPD solutions linking to ERP systems.

For clients like Zumtobel and Tarmac, we have developed EPD solutions which link our GaBi LCA data with production data in their ERP systems. Again, the tools can be verified by EPD programmes.  This means Zumtobel are able to link the manufacturing and Bill of Materials data for any of their 10,000 products with the upstream LCA data to produce EPD in seconds which can then be verified quickly and cheaply if required.

3 Model EPD

There are many products which are high impact per kg, but used in very small quantities in the building, for example adhesives. FEICA, the Association of the European adhesive and sealant industry, worked with thinkstep and IBU to develop the Model EPD solution.  For adhesives, previous LCA studies had shown that the significant impacts were associated with the raw materials, rather than manufacturing, and that Climate change (Global Warming Potential – GWP), Non-renewable Primary Energy (NRPE) and Photochemical Ozone Creation Potential (POCP) were the most dominant impacts.  The model EPD project involved reviewing all the product ranges produced by FEICA members and grouping them into sub-groups based on function and impact.  Each input material was also evaluated in terms of its resulting impact on GWP, NRPE and POCP and given a normalised score.  The worst case product in each functional sub-group was then assessed, and the normalised score for its input materials calculated.  Any manufacturer can then use this worst case model EPD if their product has the same function and their input materials have a lower normalised score than the Model EPD.  If their product has a significantly lower normalised score, then they can be confident in developing their own specific EPD which will have lower impacts, taking the guesswork out of this normally fraught choice.  The Model EPD Approach for FEICA was verified by the German EPD programme, IBU, and once a manufacturer has demonstrated his products meet the criteria, the Model EPD can then be registered with IBU and made available to downstream manufacturers using adhesives who can be secure that their supplier is not “hiding” behind average data.  And of course, because the Model EPD calculations are much quicker than a normal LCA, the cost to produce a Model EPD is hugely reduced.  The FEICA Model EPD concept has been approved by IBU and BRE and the approach could be suitable for a range of other products such as coatings.


About constructionlca

Co-author Green Guide to Specification, expert in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), EPDs and sustainability for the construction materials sector Researching Building LCA and how we can increase uptake at the Open University. Tweets as @constructionlca
This entry was posted in Embodied Impacts, EN 15804, Environmental Product Declarations, EPD, LCA and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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