EPDs are New and Untested but in Short Order will Dominate

An environmental product declaration (EPD) is a method of quantifying the environmental impacts of a product in order to provide a sound basis for making decisions about the use of that product. As explained in my recent blog post, EPDs are Among the Hottest Topics in Green Building. Most simply put, an EPD in analogous to a nutritional label on a box of cereal. But beyond that explanation nothing is simple ..

As a threshold matter, EPDs have been a European construct in part to comply with the European Union Integrated Product Policy. There is no similar U.S. law. Credits in LEED v4 related to EPDs are rapidly heightening interest in the U.S.   

But just as Metric measurements have not overtaken the English measurements used in the U.S., it is not clear what success those ISO based country specific varied EPDs will find in the U.S.

Among the loudest critics of the LEED v4 Materials & Resources credits related to EPDs is Perkins+Will architect Douglas Pierce, who authored a White paper, “LEED V4 Should Lead On Material Health Transparency By Accepting Only Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) That Comply With the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Truth in Advertising Law”. Pierce highlights that EPDs and their use in LEED V4 “have a large loophole related to toxicity”. The White paper argues that toxicity must be detailed or risk violating the Federal Trade Commission Green Guides.

The White paper is legally not correct, .. but who would seek legal advice from architects (even a well respected architecture firm like Perkins+Will)?  However, the White paper is useful in identifying the shortcomings of EPDs and in particular ISO based EPDs.

It is troubling that ISO 14025, specifying the procedures for developing Type III EPDs, was published in 2006, a long time ago in the realm of science and years before the current widely accepted ESEtox toxicity tool even existed.

USGBC has responded to the controversy:

USGBC believes that the coordinated use of EPDs, HPDs and raw material sourcing data – the path that’s been established in LEED v4 – generates information that can be practically acted upon in a way that USETox data reported in an EPD currently cannot be. However, the two paths are not mutually exclusive and USGBC applauds manufacturers who include USETox information as part of an EPD in addition to those that generated EPDs and HPDs.

The reliance on standards created by others, that is by a particular interest group for a limited purpose at a specific time, be it an ISO, ANSI, ASHRAE or other standard offers efficacy to a process or product, but is greatly problematic when the limitations of the standard are not appreciated.     

Of note, the federal government is moving toward EPDs not based on the ISO standards, but rooted in TRACI, as described in my recent blog post, EPA Seeks Comment on Ecolabels and Product Environmental Performance Standards thru February 25th.

USGBC has since the first version of LEED referenced third party standards and, on balance, it appears that LEED v4 has the bleeding edge materials disclosure ‘stuff’ just about right. And possibly of greatest import, many believe building product and material disclosure and optimization will, in short order, be a bigger business than LEED itself. Our law firm is working with a broad breadth of manufacturers and material suppliers, including their trade groups in this new era of EPDs.

All are invited to the mini symposium “Can Green Building Law Save The Planet?” at the University of Baltimore School of Law on March 26 at 5:30 p.m.  Susan Dorn, general counsel of the USGBC, Abbey Hopper, director of the Maryland Energy Administration, and others will be presenting with me. For details and to RSVP

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