Environmental Product Declarations Reveal Green Commitment
Manufacturers seek sustainability from cradle to grave
Manufacturers are driven to create HVAC equipment that operates more efficiently and sustainably. But focusing solely on operation ignores much of the impact a piece of equipment will have on the environment throughout its life. How is the equipment manufactured? And will it be recycled when its useful life has ended?
One tool that provides consumers and contractors with a more holistic assessment of equipment sustainability is the Environmental Product Declaration, or EPD.
“An EPD reports the results of a product’s Life Cycle Assessment [LCA] study as well as additional information relevant to a product’s environmental profile,” explained Debbie Kalish, program manager, center for energy efficiency & sustainability, Ingersoll Rand. Ingersoll Rand’s Trane brand first achieved EPD certification for its CenTraVac centrifugal chillers in 2011 and expanded its EPD verification in 2015 to include both its Series L and Series S chillers.
Earlier this year, Daikin Applied announced its Magnitude chillers, including both the WMC and WME oil-free product lines, received EPD certification. Both Trane and Daikin’s EPDs were issued by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
According to Eddie Rodriguez, director of chiller product planning at Daikin Applied, his company decided to pursue the EPD in response to customers asking for green products for green building projects. Using products certified with EPDs can aid building owners and designers who want to attain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for their projects, he said.
LEED is the rating system for green buildings administered by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
“A good part of our customers want to attain LEED certification for their projects and buildings, and this EPD is a tool that helps them attain it,” he explained.
Sara Cederberg, technical director for LEED at USGBC, said the EPD is an important disclosure tool since it provides a holistic view of a product.
“An EPD is a standardized format that is third-party verified to report the results of Life Cycle Assessment for a product,” she said.
LEED Version 4 was the first iteration of the rating system to award points for EPDs.
“Since we’ve added in EPDs in LEED Version 4, we’ve seen quite a boom of [EPD] creation in the U.S. and Canada throughout the last three to four years,” Cederberg said.
THE EPD PROCESS
In order to gain EPD certification for a product, a manufacturer must allow a third party to evaluate the entire life cycle of a product. Rodriguez said the evaluation process for Daikin’s chillers involved extensive data collection that took about eight months to complete.
“The EPD is primarily a report that describes the material content of the chiller, the amount of raw materials [used in its manufacture], and the energy that’s consumed by the factory in making that product,” he said. “The process is mapped out from start to finish and examines how the product, along with its raw materials, ends up through its disposal period.”
Overall, he said, the process reveals a cradle-to-grave perspective on Daikin’s chillers.
Kalish shared a few more specifics about the type of information examined by UL to develop Trane’s chiller EPD.
“The evaluation takes into consideration all phases of a chiller’s life cycle over a 25-year median service life per ASHRAE,” she explained. “[This included] upstream production of raw materials, such as copper and steel, inbound transportation of raw materials, embodied energy for the manufacture of the chiller, energy consumption during use, refrigerant charge and replenishment, and recycling or disposal of materials at end-of-life.”
Plus, she added, “The process also includes evaluation of the potential for global warming, ozone depletion, acidification, eutro-
phication, photochemical ozone creation, and abiotic depletion.”
EPDS AND LEED
Although the EPD data-collection process is rigorous, manufacturers say it gives them a leg up in the green building sector.
“When a product has EPD certification, it helps building owners earn LEED points within the green building program V4 certification,” Kalish said. These points are under the materials and resources category for building product disclosure and optimization, she noted.
Kalish continued, “The USGBC estimates 20 percent of the market is influenced by LEED. With EPDs contributing to LEED, building products with this certification are highly likely to be considered for use.”
Rodriguez reiterated that Daikin’s foray into EPDs was a direct result of listening to and responding to customer requests for help achieving LEED.
“It was certainly not a surprise to us. We’ve been hearing about EPDs consistently from customers, owners, and engineers who want LEED certification. And that’s what drove us to this project,” he said.
The LEED rating system rewards buildings that use multiple products with EPDs, added Cedarberg.
“We have one credit in LEED that’s worth two points that rewards environmental product declarations,” Cederberg said. “The first point requires 20 products with EPDs. The second point is … asking that people show that at least 50 percent of the materials in the project can demonstrate improvement, either against themselves [with] the manufacturers showing improvement over time or against an industry benchmark.”
LIMITS AND BENEFITS
Traditionally, EPDs have been more commonly sought by producers of structural buildings materials, such as concrete, glass, steel, and wood.
“All of those folks were early to the table in creating EPDs,” Cederberg said.
But EPDs may become much more important for HVAC manufacturers, as well. Looking ahead, Kalish believes the third-party verification required by EPDs will become more significant.
“As environmental impacts continue to be important, claims will continue to be made. The need for credible environmental product studies is becoming more and more important to verify the claims, and EPDs are, and will be, utilized to meet this need for purchasers,” she said.
Cederberg stressed that EPDs should not be viewed as a blanket eco-friendly label.
“They are not conveying that a product is sustainable just because you have an EPD,” she cautioned.
Yet, although she warned against comparing EPDs across companies and sectors, she said, overall, EPDs are good disclosure tools.
Publication date: 11/14/2016