FAQ: LCA, EPD and more ...
What is LCA?
LCA: Life cycle assessment is a method for calculating the environmental impact of a product or service across its lifespan. The methodology is prescribed in a number of standards and product category rules, and the process involves definition of functional unit, scope and system boundaries, analysis of the data inventory, assessment of impact and interpretation. The process is naturally iterative to ensure that quality and completeness of information and its plausibility are being tested. To complete the assessment, the report undergoes critical review.
What is LCI?
LCI: Life cycle inventory is the data collection process of the LCA. To complete the inventory, all relevant system flows are mapped, and impacts accounted for, and the inventory will ultimately consist of data on raw materials and resources, energy consumption, water, emissions to air and water, and land use – all to be measured by specific substance. This is a complex operation and may cover large geographical areas and involve many stakeholders across product value chains.
What is LCIA?
LCIA: Life cycle impact assessment is the analytical process of the LCA. In the LCIA, the inventory – LCI – is analyzed to determine the environmental impact, guided by the selected, appropriate product category rules – PCR. Various methods are available for this, which is something that complicates comparison of different LCA studies of seemingly similar products.
Attributional or consequential LCA:
One of the most debated methodology variables is whether to perform an attributional or consequential assessment. An attributional life cycle assessment estimates the share of the global environmental burden that belongs to a product, whereas a consequential LCA gives an estimate of the way in which the global environmental burdens are affected by the production and use of the product. For lifecycles involving recovery and recycling, the consequential approach to multifunctionality is probably the most theoretically correct model with which to address multifunctionality. It is also the first in the hierarchy prescribed by ISO 14044 and ISO 14067. In practice, however, this methodology requires making a great deal of assumptions about the so-called avoided burdens.*
*María José Bastante-Ceca, Jose Luis Fuentes-Bargues, Levente Hufnagel, Florin-Constantin Mihai and Corneliu Iatu, Sustainability Assessment at the 21st century, 1-2 (2019); Ellie Williams, Stijn Eikenaar, Finding your way in multifunctional processes and recycling (2022)
What is EPD?
EPD: Environmental Product Declaration is a standardized reporting format used to communicate the environmental footprint of a product or service, based on an LCA study. In general, there are two types of EPD: the product-specific EPD and the industry-wide EPD. Product-specific EPDs provide information on a specific product or product range from a specific manufacturer, whereas industry-wide EPDs offer an average for a specific industry or product type.
What information does an EPD contain?
A standard EPD contains:
o Technical product information: relevant product data and information
LCA data: environmental impacts, e.g. GWP (Global Warming Potential), energy consumption and acidification
o LCA description (data, methodology, assumptions)
o Other relevant data (e.g. VOCs, haz-mats etc.)
o Review and verification: information on LCA consultant (if applicable), EPD program operator, and third-party verification
An EPD can be used for building certification (e.g. DGNB, LEED or BREEAM), material requirements in tender documents, product development and production optimization, and marketing.
Find out more at: https://www.epddanmark.dk/uk/about-epds/what-is-an-epd/
What is PCR?
PCR: Product category rules. PCRs are the product category-specific requirements and instructions on how to conduct LCA studies on a product or service within the specific product category. The PCR prescribes various elements of the LCA, e.g. the system boundaries, the declared or functional unit, definition of the different phases and additional impact categories to be assessed.
EPDs based on LCAs calculated on the basis of the same PCR are intended to be comparable.
What is PEF?
PEF: Product environmental footprint is an LCA-based harmonization concept developed by the European Commission to create common ground and through category rules – the PEFCR – to suggest a harmonized LCA methodology for measuring and calculating environmental performance of a specific product type or service. Various PEFCRs are available, under revision and/or development, per product type.
Find out more at: https://green-business.ec.europa.eu/environmental-footprint-methods_en
What standards apply?
LCA standards: ISO 14040+44
EPD norm for Type III Declarations: ISO 14025
Methodology for selection and use of generic data: CEN/TR 15941
Wood and construction
EPD standard and core rules on construction: EN 15804
PCR standard for wood in construction: EN 16485
Calculation of biogenic carbon content of wood and conversion to carbon dioxide: EN 16449
EU standard for sustainability calculation of construction work based on LCA (target standard): EN 15978
Sustainability of construction works – EPD communication format B2B: EN 15942
How is this area regulated at EU level?
Currently (May 2023) and at EU level, developing and providing EPDs in the construction sector is not legally mandatory. Regulation is coming from the member states and the industry itself. This means that there is no or little harmonization across the EU. So, while all states may recognize the same standards on data and calculation, interpretations and implementation vary considerably from state to state. Examples on regulation are green building schemes like DGNB, BREEAM and LEED, LCA and building level LCA regulation, as seen in the Netherlands and Belgium, and public procurement regulation like Boverket in Sweden and ENEL in Italy*.
In a Rambøll study of 2023**, differences by various LCA topics were mapped to illustrate the complexity and lack of harmonization in practices across the EU. Deviations were found in impact categories, building elements and modules included in scope.
** Castle, Paul, Laurence Gibbons, Astrid Eriksen: Comparing differences in building life cycle assessment methodologies (2023)
How is this area regulated in Denmark?
On 5 March 2021, agreement was reached on a national (Danish) strategy on sustainable construction. As part of a step-by-step implementation, the new regulations enter into force from January 2023. One of the elements of the new regulation is the LCA requirement and measuring of climate impact, which will affect all construction. For construction larger than 1,000 m2, an additional requirement has been added to keep within a climate impact limit value of 12 kg CO2e/m2/year*.
Currently (May 2023), producing EPDs at material level to feed into the impact assessment of new buildings is not mandatory. Calculations may be performed on the basis of generic data. However, there is already a clear trend that contractors and developers request product-specific EPDs to generate more accurate assessments and lower their overall construction impact score**.
In addition to the building regulation, LCA requirements have also been voiced in relation to sustainability and environmental claims in marketing. In the 2021 Quick Guide on Environmental and Claims in marketing, the Danish Consumer Ombudsman emphasized that the only way to document environmental superiority of a product compared to other similar products was to present an LCA study with data supporting this claim***. In any other case, a business would be guilty of greenwashing. This led to both a rise in greenwashing accusations and in the interest in collecting data and calculating impact on products.
What sectors are and will become affected?
Currently (May 2023), the implementation of LCA and EPD is most prevalent in the construction sector and thereby in all sectors supplying materials for that sector. Other sectors are aware of the accusations of greenwashing surrounding the LCA, but are otherwise waiting to see what the EU pipeline legislation will require as well as the development of PEFs for their product types.
How do LCA requirements match other data requirements under various EU legislation?
While all sectors are not and may not be affected by definite and direct LCA requirements for a product, service and/or construction level, all sectors will be affected by new EU regulation on reporting, on due diligence, on traceability and transparency. The prerequisite for all these are a critical need for data and documentation. So, while LCA and EPD may not continue to be the prescribed format, environmental, social and governance data will be a hygiene factor in the very near future.
Coming EU regulation that may drive requirements for data and impact assessments:
- European Green Deal
- European Circular Economy Action Plan
- EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF), with product-specific category directives (e.g. battery, food, packaging etc.)
- Directive of European Parliament and of the Council on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence and Corporate Accountability (originally only about human rights, but now includes embodied carbon)
- EU Level(s); the European framework for sustainable buildings
- EU CE mark to ensure product health, safety, and environmental safety for EU consumers
- EU Carbon Border Tax tied to Imports, one of several financial mechanisms that the European Commission is considering as part of the European Green Deal*
What to consider when evaluating whether we need our own LCA or EPD?
The first port of call is the overall assessment of whether the LCA is a relevant and viable solution for the particular business, product and situation. LCA studies are very costly and time consuming, and appropriate use of the results is limited. To decide if a product-specific LCA and/or EPD is necessary, you should:
- Define intended use – is this product meant for internal use and decision making or product declaration and marketing (being mindful about the limitations on the latter)?
- Investigate whether this is a legal requirement and market barrier and assess whether it is likely to become a requirement in the near future (1-3 years)
- Investigate whether the proportions correspond – competitive advantage and cost
- Would generic data, industry-wide EPDs or other variable approaches be the more reasonable way forward? (Note! Be aware of the impact penalties set by DGNB for industry-wide and product group EPDs)*
Can we use the same EPD as our competitors? Can we produce EPDs in collaboration with our competitors?
Some industry organizations have already produced a number of EPDs for the most common product types or categories in their industry. Go to https://www.epddanmark.dk/epd-databasen/ to see whether this is the case for your product type.
Besides industry-wide EPDs, businesses may also choose to make their data (LCI) available to partners and competitors alike as open source. Over time, this will raise the quality of generic (average) data. This increase in quality has already had a positive effect on DGNB calculations. Previously, the 2020 manual gave a 1.3 factor penalty for the use of generic data. This was no longer deemed to be a condition in the update to Building Code BR-18, and the 2023 DGNB manual also reflects this change.*
*Buket Tozan – Build institut for Byggeri, By og Miljø, Aalborg Universitet København
We want our own EPD – how do we get started with an LCA and/or EPD? Who can help?
If an LCA/EPD is deemed relevant, an associated LCA consultant or capable internal asset (specialized engineer) can start the LCA process – data collection and data validation for the LCI, calculation and assessment of the impact (the LCIA) and, finally, assessment and issue of the LCA report. Once the report has been through a critical review, it can then be translated into an EPD. If the LCA study is intended for internal use and decision making only, e.g. to be targeted at hotspots, a critical review is not required.
For Danish businesses pursuing an EPD, the onward process entails:
- contacting EPD Denmark
- completing the application form
- using the EPD template supplied by EPD Denmark
- sending the EPD, project report and application form to EPD Denmark
- the EPD, project report and verification form will then be sent to a third-party verifier
- if verifiable, the verifier will return the completed verification form to EPD Denmark
- EPD Denmark approves and publishes the EPD
- normally an LCA required for EPD is based on data from a one-year period. In the event that an LCA and following EDP are based on data from a period of less than one year, the collected data can be extrapolated up to a full year. After the forecast period has ended, the extrapolated data are matched with the real data and sent to the verifier, who updates the EDP and submits the correction to EDP Denmark*
*DS/EN 15804_2012A2_2019 – 188.8.131.52 “Data sets shall be based on 1 year averaged data; deviations shall be justified;”
What is the cost of an LCA and EPD?
The cost of an LCA and EPD depend on the complexity of the study and the consultant or service selected, but it is costly and the price of an LCA will normally be a six-digit figure (DKK).
Is wood from e.g. the Amazon region still a good idea, given the long transport distances?
There are several factors that would negatively affect the use of tropical hardwood, the most important being the time it takes for the trees to grow and the long transport distances. But the hardwood quality also ensures resilience and longer lifespans. Previously, this might have meant that tropical hardwood remained in the luxury product category and was not seen as part of an environmental solution. But as focus on global warming has affected building practices in recent years, the demand for long-lasting materials has increased. Most recently, the use of reused materials has seen an upgrade in value and could categorically be granted a 0% CO2 emission.* This means that the general outlook of 50 years in building practices becomes open-ended. Instead of focusing on a material’s performance over 50 years, focus is now shifting towards looking at how well a material could perform in multiple buildings, and how well it could be transferred to another use. For this purpose, a material needs two key factors: resilience and a long lifespan.
Whether the value upgrade of the key features of tropical hardwood completely negates the long transport distances is yet to be determined.
Does FSC®-certified wood hold an advantage over non-certified wood in an LCA or EPD?
According to the EN 16485 standard, in cases where wood can be documented (through Chain-of-Custody) as originating from forests which are operating under established certification schemes for sustainable forest management, the biogenic (only) carbon may be considered neutral. This reflects the CO2 bound in the wood. The biogenic carbon is, however, released at the end of the life of the product, and the advantage is thereby neutralized.
For all recovery, reuse and recycling scenarios (the optional Module D – recovery and recycling potential), the CO2 will remain bound in the product, and the advantage is retained. But the end-of-life (burning of the material, as per the mandatory Module C) of the wood after 50 years must be included in an EPD, whereas recovery, reuse and recycling potential is optional (in Denmark).
What kind of data does my value chain have to supply?
Within the established system boundary, your value chain would have to supply the following*:
- Energy inputs, raw material inputs, ancillary inputs, other physical inputs
- Products, co-products, and waste
- Emissions to air, discharges to water and soil
- Other environmental aspects
In layman’s terms, your value chain consists of many steps – links – in production, many of which are separated by transport/shipping that also should be included and assessed. You would have to supply information on any input or output from all these links. As much data as possible is an advantage. Any vague or missing data will be filled with generic or suitable data. The knowledge gap between ‘known’ and ‘assumed’ data will be subject to penalties. This is to avoid the risk of greenwashing.
An example of a few links could be:
- Link (1) – you are logging a tree. Step 1 includes a chainsaw. This chainsaw runs for two hours to complete its job. Input is one chainsaw, 10 litres of gasoline. You now need a skidder to drag out the tree. This skidder drags the log 1 km and lifts it onto a truck. Input for this is one skidder (name of skidder) and fuel use for its task.
- Link (2) – truck is loaded, and drives logs to first yard, which is approx. 10 km away. Input for this is
the type of truck, weight of load, type and amount of fuel etc.
In addition, an LCA for the use in EDP would have to submit a declaration on the use of chemicals from the candidate list.**
*ISO 14044_2008 – 5.3.2
Can FSC® certification help me with data?
Currently, LCA data points are not included in the auditing scope or exchanged between value chain entities as part of their FSC certification. It is, however, possible to extract many data, which may be used in an LCA context, from the existing FM audit report format. With the development and deployment of the FSC blockchain, this and, hopefully, more information will start to flow in the value chains. These features will likely be integrated as a voluntary add-on to support businesses and value chains in their data collection, verification, and exchange.