The Role of Life Cycle Assessments and Environmental Product Declarations
Corporations have been developing product Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for over 50 years. Coca Cola first used Life Cycle Analysis to analyze the
environmental impact of their beverage containers in 1969. At the time, there were no standards, and many questioned their validity. Then in 1997, the International Standards Organization published the standard ISO 14000 including ISO 14040, which defined a stringent process for Life Cycle Assessment.
Life Cycle Assessments have more visibility today, with an emphasis on climate change. Sustainability is also factored into the importance of Life Cycle Assessments. From the LCA information, an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) can be produced which quantifies environmental information on the life cycle of a product to enable comparisons between products fulfilling the same function. The product definition uses Product Category Rules (PCR) which are rules and requirements verified by an independent, third-party panel.
These Environmental Product Declarations have been almost a requirement in providing products into the construction industry, and particularly by the specifiers of these products, such as architects. Since 2012, Health Product Declarations (HPD) have also been of great importance to the building construction industry. The Health Product Declaration provides a way to determine the chemical hazard assessment of a product. These documents can be audited by organizations such as ASTM and UL to ensure compliance.
Many large companies have staff to complete full Life Cycle Assessments. However, small companies can use a consultant Life Cycle Assessment practitioner, along with a technical person who is knowledgeable about the product. Some examples of insights from these studies include:
The sourcing of power to the company. For example, it is assumed that the Tennessee Valley Authority gets its power mainly from hydroelectric. Their sustainability report indicates that the power is 17% hydro and 42% nuclear.
Product formulations. The results may indicate that a particular ingredient in a formula contributes negatively to climate change which may lead to a reformulation with a more environmentally friendly ingredient.
Environmental Product Declarations benchmarking. Environmental Product Declarations can be compared to those from other companies to determine environmental competitive advantages. In doing this, one needs to be careful if the Environmental Product Declarations are prepared by different entities. While following the standards, there may be variations in the results depending on the assumptions made by those doing the LCA.
With studies such as Life Cycle Assessments, Environmental Product Declarations, and Health Product Declarations, companies can accelerate their vision to develop and commercialize products that are more sustainable than legacy or competitive products. They also can improve the health and safety in production and throughout the entire supply chain.