Environmental Product Declarations hold potential

VANCOUVER, BC--Demand for responsible production and use of building materials among environmentally conscious specifiers and end users has Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) gaining acceptance as a means of sorting through the maze of competing marketing claims.

“As the design community and clients demand the most environmentally responsible solutions, science-based, holistic comparisons are more essential than ever”
EPDs, commonly used in select European countries, compare cradle-to-grave environmental impacts assessments of a product or service to help architects, builders and consumers fully understand the implications of building products they specify and use, an important Earth Day 2011 consideration. Results of those Life Cycle Assessments (LCA), a systematic evaluation of environmental impact, feed EPDs to make a standardized comparison. Many experts believe EPDs are gaining favor in the U.S., and will help differentiate competing environmental performance claims by product manufacturers.

Dr. Jim Bowyer, director of responsible materials programs for Dovetail Partners and a leading expert on EPDs, says, “Environmental Product Declarations represent the industrial version of the nutrition label found on today’s cereal box. They allow for straightforward comparison of product attributes, but in an environmental sense.”

A movement among a few European countries considering requiring EPDs is driving potential for widespread acceptance.

“The prospect of leading European nations requiring EPDs for access to those markets has many materials producers beginning to think very seriously about getting on board,” Bowyer adds.

Among the areas compared in building product EPDs are raw material acquisition; energy use and efficiency; content of materials and chemical substances; emissions to the air, soil and water; and waste generation.

“As the design community and clients demand the most environmentally responsible solutions, science-based, holistic comparisons are more essential than ever,” said Marcy Wong, LEED AP certified principal with San Francisco firm Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects. “Life cycle analyses and EPDs will offer independent measurements that environmentally conscious architects, engineers and owners can trust.”

Naturally sustainable products, like wood, tend to fair well amid environmental scrutiny. The proliferation of eco-labels and resulting market confusion about the sustainability of competing building products has spurred Western Red Cedar Lumber Association support of EPDs as an ideal solution.

In late 2009, WRCLA commissioned an independent, science-based LCA comparing its product to competitive, alternative non-wood building materials for residential decking and siding applications. The study by Canada’s leading forestry research laboratory, FPInnovations-Forintek, compared a range of environmental impacts similar to those in EPDs. Cedar substantially outperformed its competitors in every category.

“We are very confident that Environmental Product Declarations, once put into wide use in North America, will arrive at the same conclusion, that Western Red Cedar represents the most authentic, truly green siding and decking choice for architects and consumers,” said Jack Draper, WRCLA managing director.
WRCLA believes “apples-to-apples comparisons” of the environmental performance of building products is in the public interest.

“Sustainability means leaving the earth as good, or better, than you found it – on Earth Day and every day,” he added. “Real cedar is carbon neutral, renewable and recyclable when compared to building materials made from carbon contributing composites.”

About Western Red Cedar Lumber Association:

Western Red Cedar Lumber Association is a Vancouver, B.C.-based non-profit association known as “the voice of the cedar industry.” Founded in 1954, the association operates architect advisory and technical service programs throughout the U.S. and Canada. It seeks to inspire, inform and instruct architects and consumers about Western Red Cedar, its uses and benefits.

Western Red Cedar is one of nature’s truly remarkable building materials. Not only does it have distinctive beauty, natural durability and centuries of proven performance, Western Red Cedar is the ultimate green product. It produces fewer greenhouse gases, generates less water and air pollution, requires less energy to produce than alternatives, and comes from a renewable and sustainable resource. Equally important, Western Red Cedar is carbon neutral.

SOURCE: Western Red Cedar Lumber Assn.

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