As the construction industry awaits the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED v4 rating system next summer, many expect environmental product declarations (EPDs) to be the next big gamechanger for concrete.

EPDs are a means of quantifying specific environmental performance of building materials. They aim to provide verified data about products that impact the environment, to prevent misrepresentation, or greenwashing. For specifiers, EPDs represent the first tangible way to measure concrete’s impact on the built environment versus other building materials. For contractors, they present a new learning curve.

In April, David Green, eco-efficiency analyst for applied sustainability at BASF, presented a webinar for the American Society of Concrete Contractors titled, “EPDs: Worthless or Priceless?” Green outlined five steps for EPD development:

  • Defining Product Category Rules (PCRs), the ground rules for consistent reporting of product ingredients. PCRs for unreinforced concrete have already been developed for industry-wide use.
  • Conducting a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of concrete’s environmental impact. Green sees a mounting wave toward measuring quantifiable impacts of products and building design using LCA.
  • Developing and compiling EPDs—done by concrete producers.
  • Verifying EPDs—to earn a full credit under LEED v4, the EPD must be verified by a third party agency.
  • Releasing the EPDs to the marketplace. According to established PCRs, all third-party verified EPDs must be made public.

While EPDs are not yet required by U.S., state, or local governments, transparency in environmental reporting is a growing trend in private industry. LEED v4 will offer credits for EPDs in an effort to better reflect a structure’s operational and embodied energy.

A sample EPD for a concrete mix design by Central Concrete Supply Co.
Central Concrete Supply A sample EPD for a concrete mix design by Central Concrete Supply Co.

What EPDs really mean for contractors

“You win projects for many different rea-sons,” says Phil Williams, vice president of sustainability for San Francisco-based Webcor Builders. “But providing EPDs sets you apart from the competition and word gets out, which leads to new business.”

Williams represents Webcor in the Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF), a group dedicated to bringing life-cycle assessments to concrete design and construction, and devising standards for reporting carbon footprints of products and building systems. In 2012, CLF released PCRs for concrete, which were approved by ASTM in 2013.

Through the CLF, Williams connected with California-based Central Concrete Supply Co. and encouraged the producer to develop EPDs for its concrete mixes. Both had been asked, but not required, to provide the documentation. In 2013, Central Concrete published EPDs for about 1,500 mix designs. Webcor is working with more producers to provide EPDs.

Williams sees more architecture firms and structural engineers requesting EPDs for all types of building materials in order to measure their projects’ embodied energy. “Specifiers are now using EPDs as a design tool, not just a reporting tool. It’s a huge shift,” he says.

As the desire for environmental transparency grows, contractors must look past the paperwork and focus on the significant opportunity EPDs present, and bring their partners along in the process.

Shelby O. Mitchell is a Berwyn, Ill.-based editor and freelance writer, and is a former editor of The Concrete Producer. E-mail [email protected].

Additional Links

Keeping up with the Acronyms,” The Concrete Producer, March/April 2013

Delivering Transparency,” The Concrete Producer, November/December 2013

“EPD’s – What’s new, what’s now, what’s next?” Sustainable Industries magazine, October 2013

Part II - What’s Now? Case Study: How Central Concrete Leads the Nation
Part III – “EPD’s – What’s new, what’s now, what’s next?”

Four Ways LEED v4 will change business,”, Oct. 18, 2013

National Ready Mixed Concrete Association overview of the EPD process and resources

Concrete industry Product Category Rules (PCRs):

For ready mixed concrete—Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF)

For unreinforced concrete—World Business Council for Sustainable Development
For concrete and cement—The International EPD System

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