Smart Building

Environmental Product Declarations Explained

Greg Deitz

(This article was originally posted on September 23, 2016, but has since been updated.)

Why are businesses hearing more about environmental product declarations (EPDs) lately?

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED v4 certification program recognizes that publishing a product’s environmental impact data is a benefit to users, especially when that user wants to minimize his or her impact on the environment and people. 


Through the LEED material and resources credit, Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Product Declarations, building projects striving for LEED v4 certification can gain points by using products that published these declarations.


To some, it seems that environmental product declarations have only suddenly become important; however, they have been defined and used internationally for many years. Their incorporation into LEED v4 is the reason why you’re starting to hear more about them.


Here’s what you need to know about environmental product declarations …


What are Environmental Product Declarations?

Environmental product declarations are product-specific, type III eco-labels that disclose the environmental performance of a product based on a lifecycle assessment (LCA).


They provide transparency about a product’s direct and indirect environmental impact, from cradle to grave. LEED v4 technically requires a minimum cradle-to-gate scope to accommodate products with a variety of applications, making it difficult to quantify stages beyond manufacturing. The wire and cable industry does not have that issue, so a cradle-to-grave scope is used.


Transparency from cradle to grave means that impacts are assessed throughout the life of the product, including raw material acquisition, manufacturing, marketing (distribution/shipping), use of the product and product disposal. Transparency also implies that this data should be readily available; in fact, LEED v4 requires that environmental product declarations be registered and published. 


Environmental product declarations do not serve as a rating system. They provide detailed product information that is useful to architects, designers, consultants and other purchasers. They lead to a better understanding of a product’s sustainable qualities and environmental impact; they do not provide guarantees about material usage below recommended levels or about the absence of certain materials.


What Benefits Do Environmental Product Declarations Offer?

Environmental product declarations help you achieve your sustainability goals by contributing to LEED v4 aspirations – every point counts when LEED Platinum certification is targeted! Obtaining EPDs from at least 20 different permanently installed products, encompassing at least five different manufacturers, will earn up to two LEED points.


Total product transparency is another benefit that allows you to make more informed purchasing decisions, and to meet environmental reporting criteria specified in procurement policies.


Companies with these declarations are inclined to be more engaged in sustainability activities, like reducing product impacts through energy and resource reductions. This is a win-win for environmental impact and for customers when prices decrease due to efficiencies.


For companies dedicated to continuous improvement, such as Belden, LEED v4 has an additional optimization point available. If products are optimized to reduce environmental impact in a quantitative way, an extra point can be allocated for those products in addition to the point for having an EPD available. This optimization point encourages manufacturers to improve manufacturing processes, reduce energy usage and strive for waste elimination. It also allows you to select less impactful products.


What Makes an EPD Meaningful and Trustworthy?

Environmental product declarations need to be science-based but easy to understand, and they need to be third-party verified. Belden has selected UL Environment (ULE) as its program operator. They have an excellent reputation as a third-party verifier, with deep expertise in the science of sustainability and an ability to contribute at all levels of the creation standards process. This makes ULE perfect for creating easy-to-comprehend declarations. ULE also verifies that declarations meet ISO 14025 requirements, and publishes them on its registry to make them publicly accessible. 


The lifecycle assessment, the underlying foundation, should be completed by a reputable company. Belden chose to work with Sustainable Solutions Corporation to complete its lifecycle assessment. The company has extensive experience in developing and delivering accurate and valuable LCAs based on ISO 14040/14044 standards. With Sustainable Solutions Corporation’s added experience in developing LCAs for copper and fiber-optic cable, the company produces accurate, well-written LCAs for data and security cable products.


LCAs should be independently verified as conforming to ISO 14040/14044 standards and the referenced PCR (product category rule). This is usually done through an acknowledged industry expert and not associated with the company generating the LCA. (And stay tuned – in an upcoming blog, we’ll discuss PCRs in further detail and explain how an environmental product declaration is created.)


Getting to the Point

Belden’s premise cable and security cable products now contribute toward two LEED points through the Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Product Declarations credit in the material and resources section of LEED. Fiber Optic cable EPDs are coming soon.