Environmental Product Declarations Benefit Manufacturers
Bentley Prince Street Explains How an EPD Changed the Way It Does Things
By Kimbrely Matsoukas
Ambiguous information has resulted in a lot of confusion surrounding environmental labels and green marketing claims. Purchasers and specifiers are not the only ones affected by it. Product manufacturers must also navigate this uncertain landscape by determining how to communicate their environmental message effectively without overstating, being too vague or confusing their customers. This is no small task considering that many manufacturers’ audiences include those who know very little about sustainability and those who are sustainability experts.
A crucial step in developing an accurate and compelling sustainability message is deciding which environmental certifications and labels to pursue. Most environmental certifications and labels cost thousands of dollars to maintain and require a great deal of labor to handle the administrative burden. Therefore, a product manufacturer must identify claims whose consumer and marketplace value outweigh the cost of maintaining such certifications.
Many manufacturers dismiss environmental product declarations, or EPDs, as just another label in the marketplace. Manufacturers often are initially deterred by costs and the manpower required to obtain and maintain an EPD. However, City of Industry, Calif.-based Bentley Prince Street always has considered transparency in environmental labeling as a benefit to purchasers and manufacturers. We seized the opportunity to be one of the first manufacturers in the building industry to publish an EPD because we wanted to set a new standard for the industry with straightforward communication of our products’ environmental impacts. In addition to this, we have found that publishing an EPD provides a myriad of benefits.
First and foremost, because it is based on life-cycle assessment, or LCA, EPDs provide manufacturers with detailed information about the life-cycle impacts of their products—something that most don’t have readily available. This information can be used to improve the performance of a product in a specific environmental impact category or a specific life-cycle stage.
LCA has provided data to back up our decision to add more recycled content to our products because recycled material in carpet has a lower footprint than virgin, petroleum-based raw materials.
Although we published our first EPD in July 2009, Bentley Prince Street has been using information from internal LCAs for the past nine years. Because carpet products are made of mostly petroleum-derived raw materials, the largest environmental impacts come from the raw-material-extraction life-cycle stage. Using LCA, we’ve been able to compare the environmental footprint of virgin raw materials and their recycled counterparts. Consequently, LCA has provided data to back up our decision to add more recycled content to our products because recycled material in carpet has a lower footprint than virgin, petroleum-based raw materials.
LCA also allowed us to compare the environmental impact of different dyeing processes and actually make the decision to eliminate one specific dyeing process because we determined that it had a much larger environmental footprint than comparable processes. Over the years, LCA has been an invaluable tool for us to scientifically back our gut instinct about what is an environmentally preferable choice.
Another benefit of EPDs is that they provide a standardized way for manufacturers to evaluate their products against similar products. This standardization comes from the development of product category rules, which establish parameters and boundaries for the preparation of an EPD. In other words, EPDs for products belonging to the same category must follow consistent procedures to allow for comparability of data across products. EPDs are therefore one step beyond an LCA in that a manufacturer can actually compare its products to similar products within the same EPD system. In much the same way that buildings are often benchmarked with respect to energy usage, EPDs can provide a manufacturer data to gauge the environmental performance of its products. Some trade associations have published EPDs based on average data for their industries.
EPDs are one step beyond an LCA in that a manufacturer can actually compare its products to similar products within the same EPD system.
Bentley Prince Street’s EPD is based on several of our popular solution-dyed broadloom styles and we have used its data to compare our products to similar products. Although there are no other EPDs for broadloom carpet in North America, we were able to compare our results to the published EPDs for European industry averages. We found that our products had a lower environmental footprint in many categories compared to the European average.
This benchmarking has been very useful in helping us to lower the environmental impacts of our products and keep track of our progress. In fact, we’d like to see an industry-average EPD published for North American carpet manufacturers. We’d also like to see other individual manufacturers in North America publish EPDs for their products. The more transparent, third-party-verified life-cycle information that is published, the more manufacturers will be able to determine how the environmental impacts of their products compete in the marketplace. This kind of information is invaluable to a manufacturer that wants a clear and accurate picture of the environmental impacts of its products compared to the average to further reduce these impacts.
The process of developing, verifying and publishing an EPD is not a short or easy one. But manufacturers should understand the time and money they invest has many payoffs. In addition to the benefits to product specifiers and purchasers, EPDs can give manufacturers a clear understanding of the actions they can take to reduce the environmental footprint of their products using the life-cycle data in the EPD report. Rather than relying on instinct, manufacturers can make decisions based on life-cycle product information.
Most importantly, EPDs provide manufacturers with data they can use to benchmark the life-cycle environmental impact of their products against industry averages and competitor products. These benchmarks will lead to the development of greener products because manufacturers will have a better understanding of the reductions in environmental impacts necessary to market truly green products. Whether you’re a specifier, purchaser or manufacturer, that’s something everyone can support.
Kimbrely Matsoukas is sustainability manager at Bentley Prince Street, City of Industry, Calif.