The private sector in the United States tends to pay less attention to environmental initiatives than its counterpart in Europe. It may, then, come as a surprise to many US manufacturers that international protocols for science-based environmental labeling of products are well advanced. The near-term likelihood of requirements for environmental labeling of exported products may also be surprising. Central to recent developments is something known as Environmental Product Declarations, or EPDs – the increasing focus of governments and, in some cases, agencies that regulate international trade. It is a situation that warrants immediate attention.
An Environmental Product Declaration, or EPD, is a standardized report of environmental impacts linked to a product or service. An EPD is based on life cycle assessment, which provides a basis for comparing environmental performance and substantiating marketing claims. Until recently, EPD development was limited to organizations associated with the 14000 series of standards within the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the government agencies of several European countries. Now, the EPD concept is moving rapidly into the mainstream. As described recently by a leading authority on environmental labels and declarations, “The use of environmental product declarations is sweeping the globe and will create a legal barrier to trade unless the US develops its own EPD structure” (Schenck 2009).
The EPD concept grew out of development of ISO standards focused on environmental management, life cycle assessment, and environmental labels and declarations. Environmental life cycle assessment, or LCA, provides a mechanism for systematically evaluating the environmental impacts linked to a product or process and for guiding process or product improvement efforts. Though governed by international protocols that guide how they are conducted, LCAs of different products may use different boundaries (i.e., may or may not include key steps in raw material procurement, product use, or end-of-life disposal), making comparisons of results difficult. ISO has addressed this problem by requiring that EPDs be based on a set of Product Category Rules that specify the parameters to be considered for a given family of products.
This report discusses EPDs and guidelines for their development and examines global and national developments that point toward greater use of this tool within the near future. Beneficial aspects of the EPD development process are also considered.