GREEN FOR LIFE

Environmental Product Declarations level the play ing field for green product claims.
Patrick Flannery
August 12, 2013
By
Think of them as nutritional labels for manufactured products. Environmental Product Declarations (sometimes called Type III Ecolabels) are third-party monitored certifications that tell your customers exactly what impact on the environment your products have. To do so, they refer to a commonly agreed set of industry measures called Product Category Rules that set out the way environmental impact is assessed and presented for fenestration and building envelope components. Once the PCR regime is established for an industry, customers can compare apples to apples when looking at a product’s green credentials because each company measures and reports on the same environmental impact factors in the same way. Things like carbon footprint, contribution to acidification, energy efficiency in production and recyclability are measured, looking at the product’s entire life cycle from raw materials to destruction. Critically, manufacturers are not told what they have to produce or how to produce it. They are just told how to measure and report the environmental impact of their product. Customers can still choose to buy a less earth-friendly product, but with an EPD attached they know exactly what they are getting.

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This is the image many people have when someone mentions manufacturing. If the glass industry is to counter this perception, we need an accurate, standarized measure of our environmental impact.

 
For fenestration fabricators, attaching an EPD to your product gives you a chance to answer all your customers’ questions about a product’s life cycle and environmental impact with one clear and mutually understood document. If your company has worked hard to save energy, reduce waste, recycle and source local materials to meet LEED standards and other such demanding builder specifications, an EPD gives you a chance to leverage that investment into new sales to environmentally conscious buyers. “Sign me up,” you may be saying. Well, there is a snag. No PCR yet exists for windows, doors and other architectural glazing components. But after years of effort, a multi-association task force may be closing in on developing these valuable certification tools for North American glaziers.  

An EPD is a document that lists as comprehensively as possible the environmental impact that your product represents. For instance, an EPD posted by Cormo, an Italian wood window fabricator, lists all the material that go into its windows by percentage of the finished window. It details the kinds of wood, paint, fasteners, sealants, glass and other materials used. It outlines the expected lifecycle of the window. Then it lists measures of the following environmental impacts arising from sourcing the materials, fabricating, shipping, installing and disposing of its windows. Global warming, ozone layer depletion, photochemical oxidation, eutrophication and acidification are all tracked and given numbers. (If you are wondering what any of those are, check out the sidebar.) Importantly, the way these numbers are obtained and reported is all covered in the Product Category Rule, which is agreed on and filed with the governing agency.

Mark Silverberg, president of Technoform Bautec North America, co-chairs the American Architectural Manufacturers Association task group that reports to members on the efforts to develop an industry-wide, North American PCR for fenestration products. Those efforts are occurring inside a cross-association task group with members from AAMA, the Glass Association of North America, the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance and the U.S. Window and Door Manufacturers Association, with participation from Rita Schenck, executive director of the Institute for Environmental Research and Education. “What you are going to have is a PCR for windows,” Silverberg explains. “That is going to include windows, skylights, residential, commercial and full-view patio doors. One PCR includes a scope that theoretically could have included entrance doors, but we felt that was too complex given the ingress concerns. So we have stuck to windows and patio doors, but windows in a commercial application gets you into storefront.”

The official EPD name and logo is trademarked by the European Union, and companies must be registered with the governing body, Sweden’s Environmental Management Council, in order to use it. The whole registration and certification process is underpinned by ISO 14025. Centralized control of use of the logo, registration standards and the certification list is intended to keep the system credible and independent - critical aspects if it hopes to gain the support of builders and their suppliers. According to the official website at environdec.com, almost 200 organizations in 19 countries have registered 400 EPDs covering hundreds of products. Given that the system is applicable to just about every kind of manufactured product as well as services, it is safe to say the program is in its infancy as far as market penetration.

Tom Gloria, a life cycle assessment consultant based in Boston, Mass., recently updated the American Architectural Manufacturers Association on EPDs at its conference in Rosemont, Ill., in June. Gloria sees a number of factors converging that could make use of EPDs take off in North America. The first is frustration with the absence of any internationally accepted standard for quoting product life cycle information. “The kind of Wal-Mart effort that has occurred added a market driver to the sustainability consortium,” he explains. “They [the U.S. Green Building Council that administers LEED] were going down a different path that was outside the ISO umbrella, so it really didn’t catch on. They had the market, but they were not playing by the same international rules so it did not have that mass proliferation.” When manufacturers and builders have a Chinese menu of different certifications to choose from for each component, it tends to weaken the value of the entire certification process and open the door for funny business. Demand from architects and high-end homeowners for green fenestration components has not waned, but fatigue from dealing with overlapping and contradictory certification regimes has shot up. “Sustainability professionals have had a challenging situation with all sorts of entities claiming environmental performance,” Gloria says. “EPDs are a way to ameliorate that issue of apples and oranges and get everyone on an even playing field.”

Because the EPD system is tied right into the EU Environmental Directorate - a body roughly equivalent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in terms of its ability to regulate and enforce environmental rules - Gloria sees the day coming sooner rather than later when EPDs could become a matter of law. “It could go from voluntary to compulsory pretty quickly,” he predicts. “It has all the mechanisms to do so and the infrastructure to do so. It has the ISO stamp on it. It has the government stamp on it. It has the western European market, with is as large as the U.S. market but with that sense of the various nations within the EU involved. So it has many different Developing an EPD for your products will probably entail hiring a consultant or investing in some software that is capable of crunching your numbers and spitting out the correct measurements. What is the contribution to global warming of producing a pound of aluminum? What if that aluminum was made in China instead of Canada? These are the kinds of questions most companies do not easily know the answer to. However, there are databases with the accepted answers, and consultants and software companies know how to use those databases. Gloria emphasizes that gathering the information itself is not as onerous as it may appear. “Companies are usually tracking this stuff already,” he points out. “They are purchasing electricity and they know how much money they are spending on electricity because they are trying to reduce the cost. They know how much material they are buying because they are trying to be more efficient. To find out the carbon footprint for that material, I just plug it in to a data suite and we have a cottage industry of software to calculate it.”

Silverberg sees EPDs as potentially carrying strong benefits for the glass industry. “I think to establish accurate standardization of the environmental aspect of  our products reinforces their legitimate marketability,” he says. “Consumers can know that the product claims match and that performance matches the claims. That is what AAMA’s technical standards have represented for over 75 years - to ensure consumers get what manufacturers claim is in the product.”

It is a green and greening world out there with builders and architects pushing ever harder for more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly products. They have the ear of governments and institutional owners, who will not build anything any more unless it meets some high standard of green construction. Regulators and activists would be only too happy to tell you not only what standard to build to, but specifically how to build and what materials to use. You need only look at the fight over window-to-wall ratios to see how that debate could turn out very badly for our industry. EPDs offer the chance for the industry to go down a different regulatory path. If fenestration fabricators can satisfy regulators that consumers have all the information they need to make environmentally conscious choices, then the onus shifts to consumers to choose those products.

Global Warming: Changes in the surface-to-air temperature, referred to as the global temperature, brought about by the greenhouse effect caused by the emission of greenhouse gases.

Ozone layer depletion: The layer of atmospheric ozone that protects the earth from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation is damaged by the release of chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons and halons which are used in refrigeration, cleaning and aerosols.

Photochemical oxidation: A combination of fog and chemicals from automobile and factory emissions that reacts with the sun to
cause smog.

Eutrophication: Excessive enrichment of water with nutrients causing destructive algae blooms and other adverse biological effects.

Acidification: Changes to the natural environmental chemical balance from increased concentration of acids. Contributes to acid rain.


More in this category: « IGMA February 2015  |  No compromise »

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