Aman Desouza is Director, Innovation and Sustainability for CertainTeed Corporation
When I’m making a decision, the engineer in me likes to start with the facts. Not opinions, not beliefs, not recommendations – those are all very interesting and sometimes even entertaining, and they do have their place, but only to compensate for the absence of facts.
But where and how do we find facts that are scientifically relevant to performance and standardized to allow comparison?
The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is one tool that generates scientifically grounded facts and is fairly comprehensive because it takes into consideration the entire life of a product. When converted into an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), it gives us facts that are not only science based, but also relevant to performance and standardized thanks to Product Category Rules (PCR). LCA’s can be published to the Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) program offered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that allows the comparison of various products based on the environmental and economic impacts as assessed in the LCA’s.
Great! Now we have facts that we can use to start our decision making process and to make fair comparisons. So why isn’t everybody using them?
Well, to be fair many are asking for them but only a few are using them because there aren’t that many to use! The problem is that EPD’s are complex and time consuming to generate. The process begins with Product Category Rules (PCR). A PCR is a form of guidance and rules for the collection of data and other information. A PCR is established for a specific product category and remains consistent for all products within that category that are seeking to publish an EPD.
An LCA must be performed and an EPD developed with guidance from the PCR to deliver a concise explanation of the environmental impacts found from the LCA. EPD’s provide us with the facts about the sustainability of a product.
If that isn’t hard enough, there is another barrier. For some products, there are no product category rules because they have not yet been created in the U.S. In order to create these rules there needs to be consensus among all the “players” in a particular category. For innovative products, you may only have one player.
As an industry we, perhaps, should consider creating a standard Product Category Rule across an entire category or large groups of categories that level the playing field for all players. Once that is in place, it removes one barrier to EPD’s coming into the marketplace.
After all, does the “Nutrition Facts” label on your bottle of milk look any different from the label on your bag of chips? Sure the values are different, but it’s the same set of facts measured the same way.
Facts that are scientifically relevant to performance and standardized = transparency.