Ask the Expert - Conference speaker Hilary Davies, Project Manager at CSA Group talks about the importance of EPDs

Hilary Davies, Project Manager,
Environment & Climate Change, CSA Group

With Building Lasting Change coming up in just a few days' time, we thought now would be a great opportunity to speak to Hilary Davies, Project Manager, Environment & Climate Change at CSA Group, who will be speaking at two conference sessions.

As a part of the pre-conference Materials in LEED v4 Workshop on June 2, and also one of a group of speakers in the core conference session titled Environmental Product Declarations in Construction: a Solid Foundation for Green Buildings – Hilary will enlighten attendees with her knowledge of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and how they fit into LEED v4. Read below for a sneak preview of what to expect in Toronto next week.

1. You've been involved in a variety of environmental initiatives, and at various places. Tell me a bit about how you got started, and how it has led to your position today.

My interest in the environment was sparked during my travels and time spent living abroad in Asia. I pursued this in academia, first by completing my Bachelor's of Education with a specialization in environmental education, and then by completing my Master of Environmental Studies degree. I have worked on a variety of projects since this time, however, the constant theme has been that of raising awareness of environmental issues and providing the information needed to make better choices, both at the individual and corporate level.

My introduction to life cycle approaches occurred during my tenure as a policy advisor for the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. In this role, I was the lead writer of a report on the use of life cycle approaches in Canada. Since the closure of the Round Table, I have been able to apply my knowledge of life cycle approaches to help develop the environmental product declaration (EPD) program at CSA Group.

2. What have you learned about green building in your current position as Project Manager, Environment & Climate Change?

While working at CSA Group, I have noticed an increase in the uptake and utilization of sustainability standards, such as ISO 14064 for Greenhouse Gas Management, ISO 50001 for Energy Management Systems and ISO 14025 for Type III Environmental Declarations (i.e. environmental product declarations - EPDs). While the previous focus for many green buildings, and products in general, has been the building phase, we are seeing a shift to include the use phase of the building as well. Where possible, all phases of the life cycle are being measured which is becoming industry best practice.

These standards are gaining popularity due to their financial advantages and ability to showcase environmental leadership. The implementation of some of these standards, such as ISO 50001, can result in tangible cost savings. Others, such as ISO 14064 and 14025, can help meet voluntary program requirements and thus help increase market share through leadership in environmental areas.

One area where I have seen an increase in use of ISO 14064 is in the quantification and reporting of GHG emission inventories for buildings. CSA Group's CleanStart Registry posts greenhouse gas inventories of organizations and buildings, to which buildings have recently become the leading registrant. These buildings are able to use this registration to apply for credits under LEED 2009, which has been a driver in the uptake of this registry.

There has also been increasing interest in achieving carbon neutrality in building operations. More and more, individuals and organizations are trying to reduce their GHG emissions in areas where they are able to do so, and are looking at further reducing their environmental impact by purchasing carbon offsets for areas where it is more difficult. With the introduction of LEED v4, and the associated credits for utilizing offsets, I expect to see a rise in companies and buildings asserting Carbon Neutrality.

Finally, architects and building contractors are interested in understanding the environmental impact of the products they are purchasing and installing in their buildings. Whereas previous and existing environmental labeling programs, such as Energy Star, provided information on the use phase of products, programs are now available that provide information on the full life cycle of the product. These programs include not only the use phase, but the product manufacture and disposal as well. An example of such a program is EPDs, which is based on the ISO 14025 standard.

3. You will be speaking in two sessions at this year's Building Lasting Change conference. Without giving too much away, what can attendees expect to hear?

The first session as a part of the Materials in LEED v4 Workshop, will help explain what environmental product declarations (EPDs) are, why they are being developed, and how they are developed and registered. Details will be provided for each step in the development stage, including how to find a product category rule (PCR) for a particular product (and why these documents are important!) to finding a life cycle assessment (LCA) consultant to develop the EPD.

The second session will also help explain what environmental product declarations (EPDs) are, why they are being developed, but will also focus on how they can be used by manufacturers and building professionals. We will also aim to demystify PCRs and LCAs for the participants.

4. EPDs are a big focus in LEED v4. What are the key things that those involved in LEED projects need to know about EPDs?

The incorporation of EPDs into LEED v4 will help raise awareness about the existence and utility of this labeling tool. From the manufacturers perspective, they can use the EPDs they develop for their product to meet bid requirements and thus gain or maintain market share. But even more important, is that they can use the information they learn in the EPD development process to help identify hotspots, or areas of most environmental impact, and start to make targeted improvements in these areas.

From the project perspective, having more transparency about the environmental aspects of available building products will hopefully allow the building professionals to make more informed and more environmentally sound choices. This could help contribute to the sustainability of the buildings that are LEED certified.

Individuals involved in LEED projects should know that there a number of existing EPDs for building products, however, not all products currently have EPDs. More EPDs will be registered though in the coming months and years, as more manufacturers take steps to develop EPDs to meet this new demand. Building professionals should also know that EPDs have validity periods associated with them (usually five years), so they should check to make sure the EPDs that are using are still valid. If building professionals want to use EPDs for comparison between products, they should ensure that the EPDs were developed using the same PCR.

5. Where do you see the future of green materials headed? Any predictions or trends you see coming?

I think there will be a demand for increased transparency in green materials, and in products in general. Consumers, both at the organizational and individual level, would like to make informed choices, and to do so, they need to have relevant information. There are a number of ways that manufacturers can increase their transparency, some of which are third party verified and others that are self-declarations. I think consumers will start to demand independently verified claims, to ensure that the claims are real and not the result of greenwashing.

Consumers are also interested in understanding the environmental impact of a product over its life cycle. Using a life cycle approach can help to reduce burden shifting, where environmental impacts are reduced in one life cycle stage (e.g. use), but increased in another stage (e.g. manufacturing). The overall impact of the product may remain the same, or may even be worse than the original product, if the entire life cycle is not included.

An example of a label that helps increase environmental transparency is environmental product declarations (EPDs). EPDs are third-party verified statements that summarize the impact of a product throughout its life cycle in a variety of environmental categories (e.g. ozone depletion, eutrophication, etc).

Other types of programs exist that can help consumers make environmental-friendly choices that account for the full life cycle of the product. These include certification programs and related marks, such as CSA Group's Sustainability Mark. This program uses the life cycle approach to identify environmental hot spots and then sets minimum criteria for performance of a product category based on this analysis. Products that meet these criteria, as verified by a third party, are awarded the Sustainability Mark.