Smart Building

Creating an EPD: From Product Category Rules to a LEED v4 Point

Greg Deitz

(This article was originally posted on October 14, 2016, but has since been updated.)

In LEED v4, EPDs (environmental product declarations) are recognized as a path to acquiring up to two points toward certification. End-users, architects, designers and consultants are now requesting products with EPDs because they’re viewed as an easier way to gather LEED points. Manufacturers are realizing that EPDs will help customers meet LEED and sustainability goals.

The timeline to produce one is relatively long: It can take up to 12 months, especially if a product category rule (PCR) needs to be created first. (Don’t know what a PCR is? Don’t worry – we’ll explain!)


The image above represents the path typically taken by a manufacturer that is pursuing an EPD. Fortunately, a manufacturer doesn’t have to travel this road alone; program operators, which are required per ISO 14025 standards, are responsible for making sure that product category rules, lifecycle assessments and EPDs fulfill standard requirements. They also ensure that the process and resulting documents are transparent and credible.


As we begin to unveil news in the next few months about how Belden products can contribute to LEED points, we thought it would be helpful to explain the process we are following to make this a reality.


Defining a Product Category Rule

A product category rule is a document that details specific requirements for the product set and market or region to be used. It minimizes confusion in environmental reporting by establishing a clear, consistent evaluation method by which the environmental impact claims of all products in the same industry are evaluated.


The process of creating an EPD initially involves searching for a product category rule. If one does not exist, then one must be created. The program operator will locate an applicable product category rule or assist in creating one, if needed. Either way, the program operator ensures that it complies with ISO 21930

A program operator (UL Environment) stepped in to make this product category rule more applicable to the North American market: changing the declared unit to feet from meters, utilizing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Tool for Reduction and Assessment of Chemicals and Other Environmental Impacts (TRACI) for impact-assessment methodology and using the U.S. EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM) as a default to define solid-waste categories.


Important parameters of the wire and cable product category rule include material inputs, energy use and environmental-impact assessments that reveal how much (or little) the product contributes to potential environmental impacts:

  • Acidification (kg SO2 eq)
  • Eutrophication (kg N eq)
  • Global warming (kg CO2 eq)
  • Ozone depletion (kg CFC-11 eq)
  • Photochemical oxidant formation (kg C2H4 eq), a.k.a. smog (O3 eq)

The wire and cable product category rule also spells out material and chemical substances to be declared (and to what level), resource use and system boundaries for five stages:

  1. Raw materials acquisition
  2. Manufacturing
  3. Marketing
  4. Use
  5. Waste disposal

Finally, the PCR defines calculation rules and data-quality requirements for each stage. It also defines cutoff rules stating that a process/activity can be neglected if the sum of impacts are < 1%; allocation rules define how process inputs are distributed across the products covered.


LEED v4 Requirements

There are three types of EPDs that manufacturers can pursue: Type I, Type II and Type III.


Type I eco-labels are defined by ISO 14024, and must meet predetermined, third-party-certified requirements. These requirements tend to target single attributes, such as specific materials or impacts, and are targeted toward consumers.


Type II eco-labels conform to ISO 14021, used by companies wanting to self-declare their environmental claims. Type II does not contribute toward LEED points and tend to be viewed as unreliable.


To contribute to a point with a value of one whole product, LEED v4 requires a “Product-Specific Type III EPD.” Type III eco-label usage is defined by ISO 14025, which requires a full lifecycle assessment and third-party certification.


Lifecycle Assessment: The Foundation

A lifecycle assessment (analysis) is governed by environmental management/lifecycle assessment standards: ISO 14040 and ISO 14044. These standards delineate a lifecycle’s scope, analysis, impact assessment, interpretation, reporting and limitations.


To cover a vast amount of products and countries, requirements are specified at a high level; therefore, a lot of the calculation and methodology details specific to a product category seen in a completed lifecycle assessment are identified by the product category rule.


The pyramid analogy pictured above offers a useful depiction of how standards are related. Lifecycle assessments serve as the foundation, with Type III EPD requirements layered on top. The PCR comes next, providing more detail and specificity for a product set. The crown jewel at the top is the EPD itself.


Verification and Publication

The final step in the process is verification of the lifecycle assessment and EPD by a third party, as specified by ISO 14025. Once verified, the program operator registers the EPD and publishes it to make it easy for you to access and download. UL Environment serves as Belden’s program operator; Sustainable Solutions Corporation serves as the lifecycle assessment provider.


The number of standards and other tools required to produce a legitimate EPD can be overwhelming, which is why not all manufacturers choose to pursue it. Selecting a manufacturer with a great record and rapport is key to successfully navigating the road to an EPD – and ultimately LEED points.


Remember, the goal of an EPD is transparency – and to count toward points in the LEED v4 certification program. If standards aren’t followed, or results aren’t third-party verified, the U.S. Green Building Council – creator of LEED – has the right to deny point(s).


Belden Contributes to LEED

Belden’s premise cable and security cable products now contribute toward two LEED points through the Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Product Declarations Materials & Resources credit. Fiber Optic cable EPDs are coming soon.

You can also learn more about ISO 14000 standards here, and ISO standards.