What is an EPD?

The abbre­vi­a­tion EPD is derived from the Eng­lish term Envi­ron­men­tal Prod­uct Dec­la­ra­tion and is usu­al­ly trans­lat­ed into Ger­man as Umwelt-Pro­duk­t­dekla­ra­tion.

An EPD is a doc­u­ment in which the envi­ron­men­tal­ly-rel­e­vant prop­er­ties of a prod­uct are out­lined in the form of neu­tral and objec­tive data. This data cov­ers as many impacts as pos­si­ble which the prod­uct can have on its envi­ron­ment, where­by in an ide­al sit­u­a­tion, the entire life cycle of the prod­uct is tak­en into consideration.

In the area of con­struc­tion, EPDs rep­re­sent an essen­tial basis for experts such as archi­tects and plan­ners when it comes to the com­pre­hen­sive plan­ning and eval­u­a­tion of build­ings. But EPDs are not usu­al­ly suit­able for direct com­par­isons of prod­ucts as the degree of envi­ron­men­tal friend­li­ness, con­ser­va­tion of resources or sus­tain­abil­i­ty dis­played by a con­struc­tion prod­uct is large­ly depen­dent on the (build­ing) con­text in which it is used.

We have com­piled a few exam­ples and more detailed infor­ma­tion for you as follows:

Just how envi­ron­men­tal­ly-friend­ly, resource-sav­ing or sus­tain­able cer­tain prod­ucts or mate­ri­als are is also large­ly depen­dent on the build­ings in which they are installed and/or used. Exam­ple: An igloo is typ­i­cal­ly built by hand using a sin­gle con­struc­tion mate­r­i­al: snow – an envi­ron­men­tal­ly-friend­ly, nat­ur­al prod­uct which can be recy­cled in full. From this per­spec­tive, snow as a build­ing mate­r­i­al and the actu­al igloo build­ing are sus­tain­able – ecologically.

How­ev­er, this is not uni­ver­sal­ly applic­a­ble but only under cer­tain con­di­tions. After all, if you wished to build an igloo in our cli­mate zone or even in the trop­ics where there is lit­tle or no snow, the snow would have to be pro­duced or import­ed at great ener­gy expen­di­ture. What’s more, the igloo would melt after only a short peri­od of time if it was not cooled or per­ma­nent­ly replaced.

It goes with­out say­ing that this is a very sim­pli­fied exam­ple but it does illus­trate why con­struc­tion prod­ucts are not end prod­ucts and that the influ­ence they have on the envi­ron­ment is large­ly depen­dent on how, where and what they are used for. For this rea­son, con­struc­tion prod­ucts which ini­tial­ly appear envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly are by no means a guar­an­tee of sus­tain­abil­i­ty. And that is why we have EPDs. They con­tain the data required for cal­cu­lat­ing and eval­u­at­ing envi­ron­men­tal influ­ences in spe­cif­ic cases.

Our first video explains these con­texts in more detail.

EPDs do not sim­ply con­tain ran­dom esti­mates or arbi­trary num­bers. They are based on life cycle assess­ments of con­struc­tion prod­ucts. A life cycle assess­ment sum­maris­es and analy­ses the envi­ron­men­tal impacts of a cer­tain prod­uct across its life cycle, from the pro­vi­sion of raw mate­ri­als to the fin­ished prod­uct ready for instal­la­tion. Process­es and fac­tors asso­ci­at­ed with the prod­uct are also tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion, e.g. pack­ag­ing and trans­port. Increas­ing­ly, oth­er phas­es of the life cycle are also con­sid­ered, e.g. use phase, recy­cling, reuse and disposal.

One par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant fea­ture of life cycle assess­ments is the fact that they do not deliv­er a sin­gle para­me­ter or assess­ment but rather indi­vid­u­al­ly depict a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent envi­ron­men­tal influ­ences. For exam­ple, apart from green­house gas emis­sions, oth­er influ­enc­ing fac­tors such as acid rain, smog for­ma­tion, con­sump­tion of fos­sil resources and water or recy­cling per­cent­ages are also con­sid­ered. All of this infor­ma­tion is includ­ed in EPDs which means that it is pub­licly avail­able – after all, tru­ly sus­tain­able solu­tions can only be found by simul­ta­ne­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing as many envi­ron­men­tal impacts as possible.

The life cycle assess­ment of a build­ing essen­tial­ly com­pris­es two parts: the life cycle assess­ments of all con­struc­tion prod­ucts and mate­ri­als used as well as ener­gy con­sump­tion dur­ing the use phase of the build­ing. Accord­ing­ly – and as for indi­vid­ual prod­ucts – the envi­ron­men­tal impacts of an entire build­ing can be cal­cu­lat­ed across its entire life cycle, i.e. from the pro­vi­sion and pro­duc­tion of mate­ri­als through the con­struc­tion and use phase to de-con­struc­tion of the building.

Cal­cu­lat­ing the life cycle assess­ment of a build­ing dur­ing its plan­ning phase makes it pos­si­ble to com­pare var­i­ous mate­ri­als and con­cepts from an eco­log­i­cal per­spec­tive and there­by improve the build­ing. While direct com­par­isons of var­i­ous con­struc­tion prod­ucts and their life cycle assess­ments is usu­al­ly less prac­ti­cal (see 1. The prob­lem with com­par­ing prod­ucts), com­par­ing them with­in the frame­work of build­ing life cycle assess­ments is an essen­tial basis for plan­ning sus­tain­able struc­tures. Life cycle assess­ments are, there­fore, manda­to­ry in some cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tems for sus­tain­able build­ings (e.g. at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nach­haltiges Bauen (DGNB) [https://www.dgnb.de/de/verein/system]).

Our sec­ond video explains how build­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tions work and the role played by EPDs in this process.

When con­sid­er­ing the envi­ron­men­tal impacts of a build­ing across its life cycle, two phas­es are of par­tic­u­lar impor­tance: the use phase, i.e. dur­ing oper­a­tion, and the con­struc­tion phase which also includes the pro­vi­sion and man­u­fac­ture of mate­ri­als. Mod­ern build­ings are increas­ing­ly ener­gy-effi­cient: they use less ener­gy dur­ing oper­a­tion which also reduces their over­all ener­gy require­ments. Accord­ing­ly, there is a shift in the per­cent­ages of over­all ener­gy require­ments account­ed for by the use phase and the con­struc­tion phase – and this is accom­pa­nied by a shift in their share of envi­ron­men­tal impacts by the building.

For exam­ple: ener­gy require­ments dur­ing the oper­a­tion of old­er build­ings (built before 1977) cause more than 90 per cent of all green­house gas emis­sions of a build­ing, i.e. less than 10 per cent of its green­house gas­es are attrib­ut­able to the con­struc­tion phase. In mod­ern low-ener­gy build­ings, ener­gy require­ments dur­ing oper­a­tion are sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er – which also means low­er green­house gas emis­sions over­all – with the result that the use phase is only respon­si­ble for around 60 per cent of green­house gas­es and the con­struc­tion phase accounts for 40 per cent. The impact by the con­struc­tion phase on the (over­all low­er) envi­ron­men­tal impact of the build­ing is there­fore dou­bled. In the case of a tru­ly zero-ener­gy build­ing, the con­struc­tion phase would even account for 100 per cent of total green­house gas emissions.

As ener­gy effi­cien­cy improves, the rel­a­tive influ­ence of the con­struc­tion phase also increas­es – and this is accom­pa­nied by an increase in the sig­nif­i­cance of EPDs, as only they per­mit a sci­en­tif­ic and reli­able eval­u­a­tion of the con­struc­tion phase and the envi­ron­men­tal influ­ences asso­ci­at­ed with it.

Insti­tut Bauen und Umwelt e.V. (IBU) is an asso­ci­a­tion of man­u­fac­tur­ers of con­struc­tion prod­ucts which have been com­mit­ted to sus­tain­able build­ing for more than 30 years. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the build­ing and envi­ron­men­tal author­i­ties in Ger­many and on the basis of inter­na­tion­al stan­dards, IBU has drawn up a range of EPDs for Germany.

One of the most impor­tant tasks per­formed by IBU is to ensure a con­sis­tent­ly high lev­el of qual­i­ty and com­pa­ra­bil­i­ty of EPDs. One core area of its work con­cerns the imple­men­ta­tion of inter­na­tion­al stan­dards as spe­cif­ic instruc­tions for draw­ing up EPDs and com­pre­hen­sive guide­lines for var­i­ous groups of con­struc­tion prod­ucts. IBU also ensures that EPDs are pub­lished online and ver­i­fied by inde­pen­dent experts pri­or to pub­li­ca­tion. The team at IBU also informs and sup­ports man­u­fac­tur­ers of con­struc­tion prod­ucts, responds to all queries con­cern­ing the draw­ing up of EPDs and assists the entire process.

IBU is involved in var­i­ous bod­ies and net­works with the aim of pro­mot­ing sus­tain­able devel­op­ments and has set itself the goal of sen­si­tis­ing both the con­struc­tion indus­try and the pub­lic in gen­er­al for the top­ic of sus­tain­able building.

IBU home­page : www.ibu-epd.com

What is sus­tain­able devel­op­ment? https://ibu-epd.com/en/sustainable-development

What is sus­tain­able build­ing? https://ibu-epd.com/en/sustainable-building

More detailed descrip­tion of the con­cept of life cycle assess­ments https://ibu-epd.com/en/life-cycle-assessment

More detailed descrip­tion of IBU https://ibu-epd.com/en/ibu

IBU mem­bers https://ibu-epd.com/en/members/ibu-members

Reg­is­tra­tion for our newslet­ter https://ibu-epd.com/en/service‑2/newsletter

Video: What is an EPD?

EPDs: From Con­struc­tion Prod­ucts to Sus­tain­able Buildings