Environmental product declarations (EPDs)

Environmental Product Declarations are based on life cycle assessment data. As a simplified form of communication, there is a danger that an EPD might mislead consumers. Choice of correct LCA data and methods is essential for a good EPD.


Communicating LCA results

There are two fundamentally different ways to use LCA results: 1) Either you want to quickly assess which of two options is the preferable one (the one with the lowest impact), or 2) You want to understand the results in detail, in order to identify problems and suggest improvements.

If you want to understand the results in detail, you will need information on what impact categories that contribute most, and what stressors (environmental exchanges) contribute most within each impact category, and also what processes contribute most to each of these. An interactive session with an LCA software or a detailed interpretation of the LCA report may be required.

But if you just want to know which of two options is the preferable one, e.g. in a purchase situation, you need a quick way of comparing results. To this end, we have worked on ways of presenting LCA results in different graphical formats:

  • The ecolabel (Type I) is way to express that a product belongs among the best, but does not tell you how much better it is, nor does it allow you to distinguish between several products that all have the ecolabel. Thus, an ecolabel is a very limited way of communicating the information in an underlying LCA. In all fairness it should be mentioned that an ecolabel is not intended as a communication tool for LCA results, but is a way to discriminate between products without the need for a detailed LCA. We have supported Ecolabelling Denmark with recommendations on how to use LCA information in the development of ecolabelling criteria.
  • We have participated in several projects in which we have developed new ways of presenting information for Type III ecolabels, i.e. Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs); see some of these above.
  • Ultimately, we believe that the LCA information should be compressed into a single score, an option which is possible e.g. with our Stepwise impact assessment method. A single score result can also be based on an individual impact assessment method (i.e. an impact assessment based on individual preferences) applied by the individual customer to the inventory data supplied in electronic format (e.g. via the barcode or RFID of the product), thus allowing for completely automatic purchase decisions or evaluations, based on the previously determined preferences of the individual customer.

Comparability and deceptions of EPDs

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) can be seen as a specific application of environmental data from the product chain (life cycle data). We find that there is sometimes an ambiguity in the way EPDs are viewed by the public and by experts in the field of labelling and declarations.

Often the comparability of EPDs can be improved for the users –  by supplementing their numerical information by including a normalised graphical presentation, by expanding completeness by requiring a generic minimum list of mandatory impact categories, and finally by increasing reliability and comparability through the use of one common database using consequential modelling. You can read more about EPDs in this presentation for the 9th SETAC Europe LCA Case Studies Symposium and in our warning to developers of the Product Category Rules (PCRs) for EPDs to maintain the methodology within the limits of the ISO 14040/44 requirements.