Ecolabels and EPDs - Why both?
In a world of multi-dimensional environmental challenges and dynamic climate goals, it’s understandable that the growing number of labels meant to help us understand a product's environmental impact might also be confusing, right? Not everyone has time to sift through dozens of green label descriptions to try to comprehend which to use and for what purpose.
Let’s try to clear away some of the fog.
Ecolabels and certifications - setting a higher bar
An ecolabel or green certification is a mark placed on a product that indicates that this product has met a higher standard or industry standards set by the certification organization. Manufacturers pay for third-party organizations to certify that they have met the more demanding requirements.
Ecolabels and Certifications typically focus on a single attribute and/or product category. For example, Energy Star certification centers around products that consume energy, applicable to products across diverse categories, such as office electronics, kitchen appliances, HVAC, and more. Other ecolabels look at the entire process of manufacturing and assembly in a major product category. An example of this would be FloorScore Certification, which looks only at flooring materials. Or BIFMA, the non-profit business and institutional furniture manufacturers association that has created not one, but two labels in the furnishing space -one to highlight sustainable, environmentally, and socially responsible products, known as LEVEL® certification based on meeting requirements in the ANSI/BIFMA e3 sustainability standard, and another, BIFMA Compliant®, based on ISO 17025 testing for conformance to 9 ANSI/BIFMA safety and performance standards.
Overall, these organizations dive deep into a targeted area, set standards that drive improvement and innovation, incorporate guidance and participation from their membership, and continue to raise the bar as the industry evolves.
Environmental Product Declarations - just the data, please
Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), fueled by in-depth Life Cycle Analyses of environmental impact from creation to installation (cradle-to-gate) or creation to demolition (cradle-to-grave), are a comprehensive environmental measure of a product's entire cycle. They are chalk full of quantitative data that is reviewed by independent organizations for how the data was measured, and then published by the manufacturer for a buyer’s own interpretation. EPDs provide detailed insight into a collection of impact areas such as recycled content of materials, global warming potential, stratospheric ozone depletion potential, acidification potential, eutrophication potential, photochemical ozone creation potential, and abiotic depletion potential-fossil fuels.
Simple enough, huh?
The big buzz around EPDs is the measure of Global Warming Potential (GWP) - a measure of the carbon impact of the product, be that soup-to-main-course or soup-to-desert. But how does the buyer know which is a better product from an EPD? Are all sustainable impacts captured in the EPD? And can the individual impacts of the products selected for a building project be added together to measure the impact of the project overall?
EPDs and Ecolabels - getting the benefits of both
While it may seem as though it takes a rocket scientist to interpret the results of a Life Cycle Analysis or an EPD – never mind comparing EPDs across products -some ecolabels and organizations have stepped up to take on that challenge. Certifications such as Cradle to Cradle Certified® have been designed to help a buyer understand whether the results discovered through an LCA analysis means that a product has been produced responsibly with limited consequences to the environment. BuildingTransparency.org has also created a free tool called EC3 that is designed to make product-level EPDs easier to understand and compare. Carbon-intensive construction materials like cement and steel are the major products covered in EC3 today, but as more building product manufacturers publish EPD’s, the application for EC3 will broaden.
It is important to note that a manufacturer who has published an EPD for their products is taking a major step in marketplace transparency and has assumed an individually proactive role in identifying and targeting major areas of improvement for their organization. In this way, they are supplementing the efforts of ecolabels to continually raise the bar across the board.
So there you have it folks - a bird’s eye view of this burgeoning area of sustainable responsibility. But we’ve only scratched the surface...did we forget to mention Health Product Declarations and building rating systems like LEED? If you don’t want to miss any, check us out!