The Trend: Applying Pressure on the Value Chain
Companies of all sizes, industries and geographies are being urged by investors, customers and the NGO community to speed up measures to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions more quickly. Many companies have already implemented strategies for internal emissions reductions, such as energy efficiency. But with pressure mounting, a strategy to decrease GHGs across the whole supply chain becomes essential.
Promoting the circular economy and encouraging green purchasing is a primary way that companies can contribute to boosting the ecological transition. Reducing emissions from purchased goods can take many forms: selecting materials with a lower CO2 content, reducing the quantity of inputs, using recycled materials, reducing and reusing production waste, favoring more sustainable suppliers, engaging key suppliers on improving their own carbon footprints, etc.
The Environmental Product Declaration (EPD®), developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), is an independently verified and registered tool that communicates transparent and comparable information about the life-cycle environmental impact of products to give companies more transparency into their value chain emissions.
What is an EPD?
Product-related environmental issues are becoming increasingly important to businesses and public administrations. In practice, an EPD is a report containing market-driven and verified facts about the environmental performance of goods and services. An EPD quantifies environmental information about the life-cycle of a product to provide a basis for comparing environmental performance of products. This science-based environmental information can be used for any type of environmental management system and may support other organizational goals in the environmental domain.
To create an EPD, a life-cycle analysis (LCA) study is calculated in accordance with the product category rules (PCR). The results from the study and other information, as required by the PCR, are then compiled into the EPD reporting format. The EPD is then verified by an approved independent party. Registration and publication of the EPD is done on www.environdec.com.
EPDs are primarily intended to facilitate business-to-business transactions, although they may benefit consumers who are environmentally focused when choosing goods or services. Companies across various sectors have implemented EPDs to improve their sustainability goals and to demonstrate a commitment to the environment to their customers.
Let’s investigate two sectorial examples:
The construction sector acts as a pioneer in LCA of products. In some cases, the information given in the EPD may also be used in building assessment schemes to demonstrate knowledge of the life cycle environmental impact of incoming construction materials. Many certifications, including BRREAM, LEED and HQE, are partially based on EPDs and were implemented to place greater value on the energy and environmental performance of products through labeling. In Europe, the European Committee for Standardization has published EN 15804, a common PCR for EPD development in the construction sector.
The below example of an EPD demonstrates the emissions that result from various stages in the life cycle of plasterboard:
2. Paper Manufacturing
Some paper manufacturers calculate the Carbon Footprint of their paper products based on the ten elements of the Carbon Footprint Framework for Paper and Board Products, developed by the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI). With this simplified LCA analysis, we can compare the EPD for the same paper manufactured by 2 providers:
We see that the difference in total product emissions is huge between the two providers—mainly due to reduced emissions associated with purchase of electricity and steam. Because the second manufacturer procures green energy, it has cut its carbon footprint in half compared to the first manufacturer! Green procurement, from buying renewable energy to choosing more environmentally-friendly inputs, can have a cascading effect on emissions procuded along the production and the value chain.
The fulfillment of EPDs by suppliers as well as its use by customers is a practice that is bound to develop—businesses should keep an eye on this trend and begin assessing whether obtaining an EPD is right for your organization’s products or services.
Schneider Electric provides sustainability services and support to companies — from building questionnaires to identifying a clear roadmap. Reach out to our team for more information.
Contributed by Valérie Limauge, Sustainability Consultant, Schneider Electric ESS