Environmental Product Declarations

The sustainability assessment of buildings
© Shutterstock/Matej Kastelic
The sustainability assessment of buildings requires environmentally relevant product information. EPDs are the appropriate instrument for this purpose.

Product certification for sustainable building construction

Low emission levels and life cycle costs, with high energy efficiency – these are only some of the demands that are placed on a sustainable building. The materials and products used in constructing a building significantly influence its effects on the environment. A relevant assessment of the ecological impact of building products must extend over of the entire life cycle of the building. This is determined on the one hand by the energy requirements of the building during its usage phase, but also by the effects on the environment arising during its construction and the recycling of the building products used. These materials acquire increased relevance with reduced energy input requirements during the usage phase of a building.

Building products are not classified as »good« or »bad.« Their performance in technical, visual, and ecological terms must always be seen in the context of the overall system. The decisive factor is their appropriate use within the building. The Life Cycle Engineering Department specializes among other things in support for decision making in the development and design processes, in the provision of flexible Life Cycle Assessment models for product systems that can rapidly depict design modifications, and in the analysis of weak points and scenarios. A further competence consists in making reliable statements about the ecological profile, weak points, and improvement measures regarding possible design options for the product in question.

Verified and reliable information

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs, Type III Declarations) according to ISO 14025 provide the basis of information for Life Cycle Assessment and are therefore required for the sustainability certification of buildings. The European Commission sees EPDs as the appropriate means of communicating the environmental performance of building products and promoting sustainable building construction. The DIN EN 15804 standard on basic principles of the environmental declaration of building products, published in May 2011, arose from the work of the CEN Technical Committee TC 350.

What does an EPD comprise?

EPDs contain details of the life cycle of a building product, Life Cycle Assessment parameters, and test results for a detailed assessment, such as the emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in interior spaces. Environmental Product Declarations for building products are binding and universally valid; they are drawn up by experts and are verified by an independent party – but they nevertheless remain the responsibility of the manufacturer.

What are the benefits of EPDs?

An EPD provides credible, comparable information about the environmental performance of a product.

  • With EPDs, manufacturers of building products provide information about their products and deploy them for marketing purposes. Moreover, EPDs allow them to implement corporate management with foresight and they can be used internally as a control instrument.
  • Architects and planners use EPDs as a basis for the Life Cycle Assessment of buildings. This is a prerequisite for their sustainability certification. Environmental aspects are relevant here along with criteria such as technical efficiency, costs, acceptance, and aesthetics.
  • Many calls for tenders demand EPDs. Ecological specifications for the planning of a building are controlled and examined by this means.
  • Real estate companies and building contractors can give greater value to their investments and objects. Objects can be more readily marketed when they are designed and certified as sustainable buildings.
  • EPDs provide tradespeople and end consumers with certified environmentally relevant product information.

Sharing information with EPDs

Examples of EPDs can be found at www.bau-umwelt.de. The German declaration system for EPDs of building products is organized by the Institut Bauen und Umwelt e.V. (IBU, formerly AUB). The IBU is an initiative of building material manufacturers who promote sustainable building construction.