Building products are a critical element of a building’s total carbon footprint, but the significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from manufacturing, transportation, and disposal of products are often overlooked. If we, as an industry, are serious about reducing the Building Sector’s carbon impact, we must also get serious about measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of building products.
EPDs, or Environmental Product Declarations, are currently the gold standard in determining and reporting carbon footprints. EPDs are technically referred to as ‘Type III Ecolabels’ (and follow a robust family of ISO standards), but you can loosely think of them as nutrition labels for building products. Instead of fats and carbohydrates, EPDs list environmental impacts such as the global warming impact (the carbon footprint), impact on ozone depletion, acidification potential, and more.
A handful of manufacturers have already developed EPDs for their products, however, to truly understand and reduce impacts on a larger scale, it is critical that many more jump into the ring. Increasing the volume of EPDs will also encourage economies of scale, reducing the price and time commitment for manufacturers and incentivizing user-friendly communication.
The proposed LEED v4 credit is a step in the right direction. It provides one point for using at least 20% of permanently installed products that achieve one of the following:
A public, critically reviewed life-cycle assessment (valued as 1/4 of a product)
An industry-wide EPD that contains average impacts for that industry (valued as 1/2 of a product)
A product-specific EPD (valued as a whole product)
This credit would incentivize product disclosure while putting a high value on product-specific data.