By Claude Goguen, PE, LEED AP, Director of Sustainability and Technical Education, National Precast Concrete Association
In a few short years, sustainability has evolved from a buzzword into an industry as green building continues to grow rapidly around the world. The latest World Green Building Trends 2016 Smart Market Report, released by Dodge Data and Analytics, confirms that the growth is being driven more and more by client demand. This is an indication that clients are increasingly recognizing the benefits of green construction. The report also states, “A notably high level of green growth is expected in the U.S., but the data suggest that more measurement of green benefits, similar to that reported by many other countries, would help strengthen the business case for green.” Sustainability of building materials and products is now a primary selection criterion for developers. As a result, increased scrutiny has been placed on the legitimacy of sustainability-related claims by manufacturers. An increased demand for transparency and the need for a standardized format of reporting relevant life cycle data were met with the advent of the environmental product declaration (EPD).
So what is an EPD?
An EPD is an independently verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable information about the life cycle environmental impact of building products. Put simply, it verifies the sustainable attributes of your product. For example, say you’re a designer tasked with selecting materials for a project based on economic, structural and environmental criteria. It’s easy to compare pricing and you can find information on how materials perform in service. But how do you compare them in terms of environmental impact? Until recently, you had to rely on inconsistent, incomplete or even inaccurate data from suppliers. This created a demand to develop EPDs in the green building and infrastructure industry. Through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14025, EPDs are third-party verified and now give designers the ability to compare apples to apples.
Recognizing the increasing demand for transparency in the construction industry, precast concrete trade associations partnered together to develop these tools. The Canadian Precast Prestressed Concrete Institute (CPCI), Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) and National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA) collaborated in 2010 to create a Life Cycle Analysis of precast products. A few years later, they worked together to develop a Product Category Rule (PCR) for precast concrete. (A PCR is defined by ISO 14025 as “a set of specific rules, requirements and guidelines for developing Type III environmental declarations for one or more product categories.”) Most recently, the coalition has developed three precast concrete industry-wide EPDs.
The EPDs were independently prepared by Athena Sustainable Materials Institute in accordance with ISOs 14025 and 21930, PCRs and ASTM International’s EPD program operator rules. They were also independently verified in accordance with ISO 14025 by ASTM International and Industrial Ecology Consultants. The EPDs are valid until 2020.
The industry-wide EPDs are now available for architectural and insulated wall panels, structural precast concrete products and underground precast concrete products. The structural EPD covers bridge products, building products, retaining walls and sound walls. Structural precast products can be conventionally reinforced or prestressed. The underground products EPD covers pipe, culvert products, manholes, wastewater and stormwater tanks, chambers and related products such as electrical utility products. The wall panel EPD addresses conventional and sandwich wall panels and architectural trim products.
NPCA, PCI and CPCI have partnered once again to exhibit at this year’s Greenbuild conference in Los Angeles to promote these EPDs to the industry. Greenbuild is organized by USGBC (United States Green Building Council) who also manages the LEED system. LEED v4, which replaced the older version of LEED in October 2016, has a credit category that awards points for using products with EPDs. The coalition will continue to develop programs and tools to help manufacturers reduce their environmental footprint, while continuing to produce precast concrete products that contribute to high performing sustainable buildings and infrastructure.