Built environment sustainability is a multi-faceted concept. Sustainable structures deliver a host of benefits, including decreased energy use, improved indoor air quality, and reduction in the use of hazardous materials.

Rating systems such as Green Star and LEED can take credit for advancing the green building paradigm, but other parties have played a crucial role as well.

Government agencies, architects, engineers, builders, and product manufacturers have all been instrumental in creating a built environment in which structures are held to a higher standard across a range of metrics. Product manufacturers, for example, have developed processes designed to maximise manufacturing efficiencies at the same time they minimise environmental impact in multiple ways.

However, learning about the sustainability qualities of products can be an involved task, which is why Environmental Product Declarations were developed.

According to Andrew Williams, product category manager for Assa Abloy, an EPD “is a fairly detailed document and details all sorts of things, like energy used in production, water used in production, materials used in production, and so on.”

EPDs are intended to provide architects, building owners, and end users with “a detailed assessment of a product’s impact during its whole life cycle.”

While illustrative, EPDs don’t offer a “green label” to products, Williams noted, but they do provide “a complete mapping of the product footprint, from raw material, through manufacturing, logistics, impact during use, to end-of-life recycling.”

EPDs require an independent assessment of the environmental impact of products and systems, in accordance with ISO 14025, developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation. Firms requesting EPDs must submit data to independent researchers.

“Our EPDs are independently researched by a third party, and then verified by the Institut Bauen und Umwelt (IBU) in Germany. Transparency in generating such important data is critical,” Williams said.

In addition, Assa Abloy’s EPDs are also based on the EN 15804 standard, a common standard developed by European Committee for Standardization that addresses the construction sector.

Independent testing based on ISO and other standards is useful for architects and building owners. According to Williams, “the architect is the key decision maker in our supply chain.

“Using ISO standards to create EPDs ensures environmental performance can be compared fairly across products and manufacturers.”

That sort of comparison often takes place within the framework of green building rating systems such as Green Star and LEED. Without the data revealed by EPDs, numerous Green Star points would be left on the table. EPDs allow building owners and contractors to more accurately track the points calculation towards GreenStar building rating.

In this data-driven age, some manufacturers are competing to provide more information to stakeholders, demonstrating their commitment to transparency. EPDs for a individual products often run several pages long, offering great detail as to materials and their environmental impact. That represents a substantial amount of data, but the market appears to embrace it.

“Without this kind of detail, it’s impossible to accurately assess a product’s environmental performance,” Williams said. “An EPD helps a customer make an informed choice prior to purchase, or to make an assessment of products already in use.”

In the competitive global market, a growing number of firms are embracing the added cost of providing EPDs. This is partly due to increasing requirements for EPD in public works.

Some companies, however, see EPDs as a demonstration of their commitment to a sustainable built environment. According to Williams, “sustainability is deeply embedded in our corporate culture, both within our operations and in our product innovation processes. Developing EPDs is another way for us to be open and transparent about our products.”