Examining the importance of EPDs

Sustainable or sustainability are perhaps two of the most overworked words encountered in business today. The good intention behind them is clear, but often defining what is and what is not sustainable is very difficult to pin down.

Back In 1987, the UN defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. A simple enough definition perhaps, but in the world of today where almost everything requires to be assessed, proven and documented to meet societal and stakeholder demands, a veritable alphabet soup of abbreviations and acronyms such as SDGs ESG, CSR, LCA and EPD has complicated business transactions.

green planet, EPDs

No sector is immune

The drive for sustainability is impacting all industries and sectors to a greater or lesser degree according to Scott Kim, Global Solutions Manager for Jotun Performance Coatings. “Businesses large and small have recognised that success depends upon their being able to demonstrate that their products or services have embraced sustainability across the whole value chain from extraction of raw materials to delivery to the end user. And it doesn’t stop there; if the end user is active in sectors such as building, construction or renewable energy for example, then they will have to demonstrate that every supplier used has integrated sustainability into its business model.”

Furthermore, decarbonization is a key driver in the market in sustainability. Under various regulations and voluntary initiatives, a report of GHG emissions is something that is increasingly required. The challenge is to get documented data to do this accurately and transparently.

When it comes to management practices, most businesses will likely have proof that they meet an international recognised standard such as those in the ISO portfolio. For proving a commitment to sustainability that would require certification to ISO 14001 – Environmental Management Systems. However, for their products to be acceptable to other businesses, certification to ISO 14001 is just the beginning. Every product they offer will need to have its value chain investigated individually.

Proving the impact of goods and services

This investigation is done by way of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) that studies and records the environmental aspects such as resource use and potential impacts, for example on human health or ecological consequences, throughout a product's life cycle. The LCA will cover all aspects from raw materials acquisition through production, use and disposal. ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 provide the principles and methodology for conducting a LCA.

There are three possible approaches to LCAs with the choice being determined by how much influence an organization has after the product leaves their control. Cradle-to-gate assesses a product’s footprint until it leaves the factory gates and before it is transported to the consumer. Cradle-to-grave includes all life stages in the product’s footprint from extraction of raw materials to disposal. Cradle-to-cradle is a variation of cradle-to-grave but exchanges the waste stage with a recycling process that makes it reusable for another product in a truly circular economy.

Preparing a LCA can be a lengthy and expensive process, but it is one that businesses will increasingly have to undertake. More importantly it may contain confidential and sensitive information around sourcing of materials or intellectual property. Therefore, it is not a document that many businesses will want to distribute indiscriminately.

Ken Gudvangen, Sustainability & Support Manger, Group Product Safety, Jotun

To overcome this, a solution is offered by way of the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). An important aspect of EPD is to provide the basis of a fair comparison of products and services by their environmental performance. An EPD is based on the LCA and contains its overall results but contains no sensitive product information such as a complete list of ingredients or detailed information regarding production processes which would have been in the LCA.

The process for preparing EPDs is contained in ISO 14025. Importantly, an EPD can be endorsed by an independent third party confirming that the information used in compiling it has been verified and checked against the LCA. An EPD is valid for a period of years so reissues can reflect the continuous environmental improvement of products and services over time.

Lack of standards hampers trust but need for EPDs is growing

EPDs therefore provide some degree of comfort for customers but they are not without their detractors. Although there is a framework for developing LCAs, there is a lack of standardization for some of the elements included. For example, there is no universal methodology for calculating Scope 3 emissions of GHGs as defined in the GHG Protocol developed jointly by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and widely used for reporting purposes. Scope 3 emissions are all indirect emissions that occur in the value chain and that are not already included within scope 2, meaning the indirect emissions generated by the production of purchased energy," adds Scott.

Another element that can erode trust is the quality of data from upstream suppliers. Although the buyer will attempt to check that the claims of suppliers are credible, the accuracy is not always ascertainable, and somethings are therefore taken on trust. Upstream suppliers might be hesitant to provide true figures because of the fear of negative consequences. 

Manufacturers are not obliged to provide EPDs, but even allowing for some degree of suspicion, the market increasingly demands their use. In many countries, being able to demonstrate sustainability and environmental impact can be a regulatory requirement for products and services. Even where this is not the case, a customer may require that information to be available and exclude organizations from tendering where it is absent or not made available.

“Within Europe, upcoming regulations and directives such as the European Green Deal will oblige manufacturers to provide EPDs or other transparent documentation. Jotun has been an early mover in preparing EPDs and they are a key element in our Green Building Solutions with more than 400 EPDs covering products in regular use,” says Ken and concludes, “Jotun takes seriously the measuring and reporting of its sustainability activities through the whole value chain and the third party verified EPDs provide proven performance and transparency around green claims.”

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Contributing to your sustainability ambitions

At Jotun, we believe that safer and more sustainable operations can be achieved by choosing high-quality coatings that protect against degradation and corrosion. Our commitment to facilitating more sustainable operations is centered around our core business purpose of providing long-lasting protection. Our innovative, high-performing products and solutions optimise, protect and safeguard assets – leading to more efficient operations, reduced costs, and lowered carbon emissions for our customers.

Green Building Solutions

In 2015, Jotun introduced Green Building Solutions (GBS). This includes a broad range of paints and coatings that have been independently verified and documented to earn valuable points towards green building certifications. By making projects easier to specify and encouraging greener building processes, Jotun helps customers all over the world reduce emissions, lower the use of hazardous materials, and comply with international green building standards.

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With close to 100 years of experience in providing long-lasting steel protection, fire protection and beautification of buildings, Jotun is the market-leader in coatings and solutions that offers proven performance without compromising on design. Our innovative technologies ensures that your building remains beautiful for generations – whilst facilitating the shift towards smarter, greener buildings.