Looking for a Sustainable Product? Check for an EPD

Looking for a Sustainable Product? Check for an EPD

Comparing products and materials for their environmental impact can be easier with Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs).

Designations and descriptions of commitments to reducing impact on the environment are common among companies these days, but it can be tough to determine how much of a commitment is being made to sustainability by one company or another. 

Architects, builders, designers, engineers and consumers who prefer to choose products and materials that have a less negative impact on the environment can turn to Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to help them compare similar items.

“EPDs are like a nutrition label for a product or a building material,” says Stephanie Vega Ziegler, director of environmental product strategy for Ferguson. “They’re standardized documents that communicate the environmental performance and impact for the life of the product.”

Consumers, particularly those in the Millennial and Gen Z generations, prioritize corporate responsibility when choosing products for their home.

top considerations when selecting products

Source: COGNITION Smart Data

At Kohler, efforts to evaluate the environmental impact of their products and to improve their manufacturing processes have been ongoing for at least 15 years, says Amy Hampton-Davies, director of sustainability for Kohler. Ferguson and Kohler have a partnership in which Kohler has multiple EPDs available exclusively on the Ferguson-owned Build.com site. 

kohler toilet

In addition, Kohler will have the ability to produce additional EPDs as lifecycle assessments continue to be completed. Kohler’s efforts to evaluate the environmental impact of their broad array of products and to do a lifecycle analysis of each product has been “herculean” over the past several years, Hampton-Davies says.

How EPDs Work

EPDs are based on a lifecycle assessment that evaluates the environmental effect of a product at every stage—from acquiring the natural resources that go into the product or material, to production, to use stage, and to the end of the life of the product—whether that’s recycling or disposal, Ziegler explains. 

“A key component of any EPD is the product category rule (PCR), which tells you what kind of data needs to be collected for the type of product or material you’re evaluating,” Ziegler says. “The value of an EPD is to provide a standard of comparison between products within a category so people can make selections of products that have the least environmental impact.” 

Kohler took many of their existing products through the testing and evaluation process to generate EPDs and looked at factors such as the longevity of products and their carbon footprint.

“We’re identifying areas where we can make improvements and re-engineering some products to meet our higher standards,” Hampton-Davies says. “As we develop new products, we’re making sure they’re produced in a way to meet the high standards we have internally as well as standards to achieve certifications such as WaterSense.”

Kohler looks at a specific set of criteria for each of their products, such as their carbon footprint, waste impact, water usage and chemical impact, she says.

“Every EPD should provide a lifecycle assessment for that particular product, not an average of assessments for products in a category,” Ziegler says. “Looking at the average could skew the results and make some products or materials look more sustainable than they are.”

In addition, a high quality EPD will include all stages of the lifecycle and use verified specific data, not just industry data, she says. 

EPD Third-Party Verification

Before any company can publicize an EPD, they should have a third-party firm that provides EPDs validate all the data, Ziegler says. “Third-party verification provides transparency and consistency to ensure that we meet the requirements for an EPD,” Hampton-Davies says. 

The most impactful value of EPDs is as a comparison tool between products and materials.

“Unfortunately, not all suppliers have an EPD for all of their products,” Ziegler says. “It’s costly for companies to look under the hood at how their products are manufactured and what happens to them before and after production. We’re highlighting our partnership with Kohler to encourage all companies to take the steps needed to get EPDs.”

Market demand is there for EPDs, but it could be expanded, Ziegler says. 

“We need more requests from designers, architects, builders and engineers for EPDs,” she says. “The more requests there are, the bigger the incentive for manufacturers and suppliers to get them.” 

Hopefully, gathering the data and following the steps to get an EPD will eventually become a natural part of the manufacturing and supply process and consumers will also demand EPDs to make their own product comparisons.

Click here to check out a Kohler bathroom faucet with an EPD 

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