The value of EPD for Green Building Certification

By Jane Anderson, ConstructionLCA Ltd.

BREEAM, one of the most well-known and well used of the Green Building Certification schemes, first included Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) when its Mat 01 Credits were linked to the use of the Green Guide to Specification in 1998.  BRE’s Green Guide contained Green Guide ratings for over 200 elemental specifications for commercial buildings, based on generic LCA studies for UK construction products using a common methodology known as Environmental Profiles, one of the first Environmental Product Declaration Programmes for construction products. Using the Green Guide, architects were able to obtain more credits by using building elements with better Green Guide ratings, and hence with lower environmental impact over the life cycle

Around 2003, BRE launched a certification scheme for Environmental Profiles, allowing manufacturers to produce Environmental Profiles for specific products, accompanied by Green Guide ratings, so that they could demonstrate their products’ environmental credentials and potentially help architects get more BREEAM Mat 01 credits by using products with better Green Guide ratings.  To my knowledge, this was the first time that EPD provided added value within Green Building Certification.

Many sustainable building certification schemes have now been developed around the world, and they almost all consider the environmental impact of construction materials, but in widely different ways. However, there are two main mechanisms by which EPD themselves, and the LCA data for construction materials reported in EPD are considered within these schemes. 

EPD Credits: An increasing number of schemes give credits for using products which have EPD.  Often more credit will be given if the EPD are product or manufacturer specific, rather than generic (average data for several products or manufacturers). Some schemes also require the product manufacturer to be listed in the generic EPD to obtain credits.  Most schemes justify these credits by explaining the need to encourage the use of EPD and increase the number of EPD available in the market.  The potential problem with this type of credit however is that the EPD could be for the worst performance product in the market but the credit would still be given.  The following schemes shown in Table 1 include credits for using products with EPD.

 

Table 1:Examples of Green Building Schemes providing Credits for Products with EPD

Green Building SchemeCredit RequirementEPD requirements
BREEAM 2018 (UK) At least 20 EPD points must be obtained with no more than 4 points for each type of material (timber/concrete etc) EPD program operator to ISO 14025 Valid EPD to EN 15804 or ISO 21930
• Manufacturer specific, product specific EPD score 1.5 EPD points
• Manufacturer specific EPD 0.75 EPD points
• Generic EPDs score 0.5 EPD points.
BREEAM 2018 (Spain) Products with Environmental Product Declarations have been specified in at least 30% of the materials categories (timber, concrete etc) and the EPD must cover at least 80% of the products in each category (by volume). EPD to EN 15804
BREEAM NOR 2016 (Norway) At least 15 different building products from listed product groups. Each product must comprise at least 25% of the product group’s area, volume or weight EPD to EN 15804, EN ISO 14025 or ISO 21930
BREEAM SE 2017 (Sweden) At least 5 or 10 products are covered by verified Environmental Product Declarations, but only two per material category. EPD to ISO 14025, ISO 21930 or EN 15804.
GRIHA V (India) Project demonstrates that at least 75% of all materials (calculated by surface area) used for building interiors* meets the GRIHA criterion low-impact material requirements, which include EPD EPD to ISO 14025/ISO 21930
Home Performance Index (IE) Between 3-10 different permanently installed products sourced from at least two different manufacturers have EPD. EPD to ISO 14025, 14040, 14044, and EN 15804 or ISO 21930 and have at least a cradle to gate scope.
• Generic EPD where the manufacturer is recognised as participating are scored as ½ a product.
HQE (France) At least 50% of the elements of 2 categories of finishing products and one category of structural products. Maximum credit for 100%.
At least 50% of the equipment in 2 categories of building related technical equipment (HVAC, electrical, lifts etc) have EPD. Maximum credit for at least 80% of 2 lots.
EPD to EN 15804, ISO 14025 or other LCA data
LEED v4 (US and International) At least 20 different permanently installed products sourced from at least five different manufacturers. EPD to ISO 14025 and EN 15804 or ISO 21930.
• Generic EPD are 0.5 of a product.
• Critically reviewed LCA to ISO 14044 are 0.25 of a product.
LEED v4.1 (US and International) At least 20 different permanently installed products sourced from at least five different manufacturers. EPD to ISO 14025 and EN 15804 or ISO 21930:
• Product specific, externally verified and externally critically reviewed EPD are valued as 1.5 products.
• Industry wide, externally verified EPD where the manufacturer is recognised as a participant by the Programme Operator are valued as 1 product.
• Product specific, internally verified and critically reviewed EPD are valued as 1 product.
Critically reviewed, publicly available product LCA to ISO 14044 are valued as 1 product.
Miljöbyggnad 3.0 (SE) At least 50% or 70% of the climate impact (A1-A3) is based on product-specific EPDs. EPD to ISO 14025 and EN 15804 for building materials, building products and building elements

 

Product Improvement: LEED V4.1 is the first scheme to use EPD to recognise product improvement, either by providing a publicly available action plan to mitigate or reduce life cycle impacts or by demonstrating environmental impact reductions through a comparison of EPD or LCA studies over time. The improvements shown must be intentional, and for example, improvements in the grid mix cannot be taken into consideration.

 

Table 2: Examples of Green Building Schemes providing Credits for Product Improvement

Green Building SchemeCredit RequirementEPD requirements
LEED v4.1 (US and International) At least 10 different permanently installed products sourced from at least three different manufacturers, or products accounting for 10%, by cost, of the total value of permanently installed products in the project. • The manufacturer has produced a product specific LCA using EN 15804 or ISO 21930 for the product and has provided a publicly available action plan to mitigate or reduce life cycle impacts, valued as 0.5 products or 50% of cost.
• Products that have demonstrated environmental impact reductions for the specified functional unit based on a current third-party EPD or verified LCA that conforms to the comparability requirements of ISO 14025 and ISO 21930, and provides a narrative for the reduction.
o Reduction in GWP impact, valued as 1 product or 100% of cost
o Reduction of at least 10% in GWP impact, valued as 1.5 product or 150% of cost.
o Reduction of at least 20% in GWP and 5% in two other impact indicators, valued as 2 products or 200% of cost.

 

Building Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): Many of the schemes now include credits for undertaking a detailed life cycle assessment of the building, which should link where relevant to LCA data for construction materials provided in EPD. DGNB in Germany was the first to include Building LCA as a mandatory part of the assessment in 2007 but for most other schemes this type of credit is optional. There are three main approaches used to awarding credits in relation to Building LCA. The first is to benchmark the Building LCA so buildings with the lowest impact over the life cycle have the most credit, but to do this, it is necessary to use a common database and scope to ensure comparability with the benchmark. Most schemes do this by limiting the tools which can be used and providing a national database. Table 3 below shows the schemes using this approach, the approved Building LCA tools, LCA databases and the EPD programmes which can provide EPD into the databases.

 

Table 3: Examples of Green Building Schemes using Building LCA Benchmarking approaches to award Credits

Green Building SchemeApproved Building LCA toolsApproved LCA DatabasesLinked EPD Programmes
BREEAM 2018 (UK) BRE IMPACT Database BRE EN 15804 Verified EPD (but only EPD based on ecoinvent)
BREEAM NL (Netherlands) Nationale Milieu Database MRPI EPD Programme
DGNBand BNB(DE/AT) Oekobau.dat Bau-EPD Programme
IBU EPD programme
IFT Rosenheim EPD Programme
EDGE(Developing Countries) EDGE App EDGE Database
EDGE India Database
n/a

 

Another approach commonly used is to require that projects show an improvement in the life cycle impact of the building, either in comparison to a baseline or reference building, or through the design process. These approaches can be problematic if the comparator is an untypical “worst case” option rather than a “business as usual” option. Some schemes ask for option appraisals but do not require the lowest impact option to be used. Details of the different scheme’s approaches are provided in Table 4.

 

Table 4: Examples of Green Building Schemes awarding credits based on a reduction in impact of the Building LCA

Green Building SchemeBulding LCA Tool requirementsBasis of Credit
BREEAM 2018 (UK) LCA Tool recognised by BRE for assessment of
  • Superstructure
  • Substructure and hard landscaping
  • Building Services
Conduct an options appraisal for several options, explain the difference in impact and justify the final option chosen (does not have to be lowest impact option).
LEED v4 (US and International) LCA data sets must be compliant with ISO 14044. Demonstrate a minimum of 10% reduction, compared with a baseline building, in at least three of six core impact categories including GWP. No measured impact category may increase by more than 5%.
LEED v4.1 (US and International) Cradle-to-grave assessment which includes environmental impacts associated with the life-cycle stages for the building structure and enclosure. LCA data sets must be compliant with ISO 14044. Demonstrate a minimum of 5% reduction, compared with a baseline building, in at least three of six core impact categories including GWP. Further credit is available for a reduction of 10% in GWP and 2 other core impact categories. Maximum credit is available by incorporating large-scale building reuse and/or salvaged materials into the structure and enclosure and perform an life cycle assessment that shows at least a 20% reduction in global warming potential and at least 10% reduction in two other impact categories.
Greenstar (AUS),
Greenstar (NZ)
Cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment (LCA) Points are awarded based on the extent of environmental impact reduction against six environmental impacts categories when compared to the reference case.
Miljöbyggnad 3.0 (SE) Calculation tools are available on IVL's and Miljöbyggnad's website. Other tools are accepted if they comply with SS EN 15804 and the background to generic data is presented. Demonstrate a 10% reduction in the GWP impact for A1-A4.
HQE (France) Several scenarios for the structure or finishes should be studied to reduce the environmental impacts of the structure or the finishes. These scenarios must then be taken into account in the choice of products and constructive principles implemented.

Other Green Building Schemes, unwilling to adopt consistent LCA databases and concerned by the problems of demonstrating improvement, have often chosen to assess the quality of the tool and the scope of the assessment to award credits – some examples are shown in Table 5.  In these cases, the LCA may show the building to have very high impact, but the maximum credits could still be awarded if the tool was based on EN 15978, used reliable data, assessed the whole building and whole life cycle and provided a wide range of environmental indicators. 

 

Table 5: Examples of Green Building Schemes awarding credits based on the tool used and scope of assessment

Green Building SchemeBasis of Credit
BREEAM ES (Spain) Credit based on the strength of the LCA tool used, as well as the scope of the evaluation in terms of elements considered. Tools checked and scored by BREEAM Assessor
BREEAM International Credit based on the strength of the LCA tool used, as well as the scope of the evaluation in terms of elements considered. Approved tools scored by BRE and list available to BREEAM Assessors
BREEAM NOR 2016 (Norway) Credit based on the strength of the LCA tool used, as well as the scope of the evaluation in terms of elements considered. Approved tools scored by BRE and list available to BREEAM Assessors.
BREEAM SE 2017 (Sweden) Credit based on the strength of the LCA tool used, as well as the scope of the evaluation in terms of elements considered. Tools checked and scored by BREEAM Assessor
Home Performance Index (IE) Points are awarded according to the number of modules assessed, and the number of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) indicators used in the assessment.

And the simplest approach, though not commonly used, is to simply award credit on the basis of undertaking a Building LCA, as shown in Table 6.  Some schemes use this as a base level credit and may have more credits available for going beyond this.

Table 6: Examples of Green Building Schemes awarding credits just for undertaking a Building LCA

Green Building SchemeRequirements of Credit
Greenstar (AUS),
Greenstar (NZ)
Cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment (LCA)
LEED v4.1 (US and International) Cradle-to-grave assessment which includes environmental impacts associated with the life-cycle stages for the building structure and enclosure. LCA data sets must be compliant with ISO 14044.
Miljöbyggnad 3.0 (SE) Cradle-to-grave assessment which includes environmental impacts associated with the life-cycle stages for the building structure and enclosure. LCA data sets must be compliant with ISO 14044.

 

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