Environmental Product Declarations Are a Driving Force for Change

Agropur Cooperative’s new Canada Green Building Council certified and LEED accredited two-story office building in Longueuil, Quebec, has polyiso insulation on the roof. Photo: SOPREMA

With a worldwide population that continues to grow (estimated at more than nine billion by 2050), demand for natural resources is increasing at rates that threaten to stress sustainable supply. Over the last few decades, society has become increasingly concerned about the environmental impacts of human activity. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the built environment accounts for 41 percent of our national energy consumption and nearly as much of our greenhouse gas emissions. With an eye toward conserving resources and mitigating climate change and its effects, the building industry is on the front lines of the effort to achieve sustainability goals and create buildings that not only drop jaws, but also lower carbon footprints.

Polyiso roof and wall insulation offers high unit R-value per inch, zero ozone depletion potential, and outstanding fire performance. In this photo, polyiso roof insulation is being installed on a flat roof. Photo: Hunter Panels

Sustainability is not a one-time event, but a process that encompasses the whole life cycle of a building. To effectively ensure that resource conservation spans that whole cycle requires transparency and coordination between stakeholders starting at the beginning of the design process to assess choices based on economy, durability, utility, and sustainability. Architects and specifiers need to have a complete picture of the merits of any product that might go into a building so they can make informed decisions that include impacts from a product’s manufacturing process to its long-term applied performance.

In the United States, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council have emerged as an important benchmark for rating individual building components, processes, and systems. They are designed to:

  • Promote the efficient use of energy, water, and other resources.
  • Protect occupant health and improve productivity.
  • Reduce waste, pollution, and environmental degradation.
  • Improve resiliency in the face of extreme conditions.
The new Big Ten Headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois, utilizes polyiso wall insulation. Photo: Hunter Panels

Other notable programs across the globe and throughout North America, including the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), Green Globes, US Department of Energy’s Energy Star program, GreenStar, and the Living Building Challenge, employ standards that are used in concert with LEED ratings to boost performance and promote a conscious approach to resource use in building construction, operation, and maintenance.

Many manufacturers are publishing rigorous, third-party verified evaluations of the whole life cycle impacts of their products to increase transparency and allow easier comparison of alternatives. These Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are similar to a “nutrition label” for building products and include information on sourcing, production, and performance of the products in a standardized and independently verified format that is recognized globally and based on International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards. This consistent and scientific method to measuring and reporting information makes it possible to consider a product’s comprehensive impact and allows to base specification choices on measurable projections.

Earlier versions of LEED allowed manufactures to make claims about a product’s sustainability in one area without disclosing deficits in another area. This led to a healthy skepticism from clients and consumers about advertised merits and prompted a move toward greater transparency and verifiability. In its most recent revision, the LEED v4 standard asks manufacturers to provide more detailed information on a material’s content and its comprehensive environmental impact before their individual products can claim sustainability designations.

Basis for Evaluation

For an EPD to have a scientific basis, the impacts need to be clearly defined and linked to important environmental concerns. To help define these impacts the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed TRACI, the Tool for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and Other Environmental Impacts. TRACI methodology identifies a number of important factors related to critical environmental impacts:

  • Global Warming Potential (GWP)—linked to global climate change.
  • Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP)—related to the (now closing) hole in the earth’s ozone layer caused by certain chemicals.
  • Smog Creation Potential—linked to car exhausts, power plant emissions and fumes from products that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Acidification Potential—linked to acid rain caused by certain smokestack emissions.
  • Eutrophication Potential—linked to excessive amounts of nitrogen in rivers and lakes causing algae blooms that consume vital oxygen in the water.

Common Standards for Comparison

The EPD process is based on a framework to ensure that these practices are conducted in a consistent and reliable manner anywhere in the world. It includes the following key steps:

  • Product Category Rule – products with similar functions are assessed in the same way using comparable measures.
  • Life Cycle Assessment – products are evaluated based on inputs in the form of resources and energy, and outputs in the form of emissions and waste for their life cycle either from “cradle-to-gate” (from raw material extraction until it reaches the “gate” of the manufacturing facility) or the more rigorous “cradle-to-grave” (goes beyond the gate to include transportation, product manufacturing, use phase and the product’s end of life).
  • EPD generation – information from this assessment is organized into the standardized format for publication, including a life cycle diagram, illustration of product components, and a summary of impacts.
  • Third-party validation – outside experts verify and evaluate the report and the research that underlies it.

The widespread adoption of EPDs is fostering change in the building products industry leading to even more ambitious sustainability goals. As a growing body of EPDs are published, they contribute to a reliable catalog of data available as a reference point to help identify markets for new products and potential areas for improvement. Manufacturers can easily evaluate which steps in their products sourcing and production could be optimized for sustainability. Comparative information can serve as motivation for product innovation, leading to better options and better outcomes for the whole industry.

About the author: Marcin Pazera, Ph.D., is the Technical Director for Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA). He coordinates all technical-related activities at PIMA and serves as the primary technical liaison to organizations involved in the development of building standards. For more information, visit www.polyiso.org.

EPDs Confirm the Benefits of Polyiso

Photo: Johns Manville

EPDs from the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA) report the results of an exacting “cradle-to-grave” Life Cycle Assessment showing the merits of polyiso insulation for wall and roof applications. The findings include:

  • The energy savings potential of polyiso roof and wall insulation over a typical 60-year building life span is equal to up to 47 times the initial energy required to produce, transport, install, maintain, and eventually remove and dispose of the insulation.
  • Polyiso has a high return on embodied energy.
  • Polyiso roof and wall insulation offers high unit R-value per inch, zero ozone depletion potential, recycled content, opportunity for reuse, and outstanding fire performance.
Photo: Johns Manville

Evaluation for the third-party assessment was done by PE International and includes a cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment that covers every step in the process of creating and using polyiso products. Looking at everything from resourcing, production, transport, installation, maintenance, to eventual removal and replacement, the EPD measures impacts across a broad spectrum, including everything from how products might contribute to global warming, smog production, and ozone depletion to the energy and water use and waste disposal required at the end of its life.

Primary data from six PIMA manufacturer members was used for the underlying life cycle assessment and the EPD represents the combined weighted average production for these members.

What Is Polyiso?

Polyiso is a closed-cell, rigid foam board insulation consisting of a foam core sandwiched between two facers. In wall applications its facers, which are usually made of kraft paper-backed foil, are adhered to both sides of the foam before it is cut into sheets and packaged for shipment and the boards function both as continuous insulation—creating a thermal barrier that isn’t interrupted at every stud—and as an environmental envelope to protect the building from water, air, and heat infiltration. It is typically attached outside the wall framing and covered by an exterior finish.

It is the most widely used insulating material for above-deck commercial roof construction in North America. The boards are installed in one or more layers, depending on the insulation needs, on the steel, wood, or concrete roof deck structure and then covered with the roofing membrane.

EPD Polyiso Findings

  • High thermal efficiency. Because it is one of the most thermally efficient building insulations available in today’s marketplace, Polyiso requires less total thickness to deliver specified R-value in roof and wall assemblies, reducing overall construction costs and increasing usable building space.
  • High net return on embodied energy. A recent study comparing initial embodied energy to long-term energy savings achieved over 60 years in a typical commercial building suggests that the net energy savings potential of Polyiso wall insulation ranges between 20 and 47 times the initial embodied energy required to produce, transport, and install the Polyiso insulation.
  • Zero ozone depletion potential. All PIMA Polyiso manufacturer members produce rigid foam board with third-generation, zero ozone-depleting blowing agents. The blowing agent (pentane) used in Polyiso also is among the lowest in Global Warming Potential.
  • Recycled content. Polyiso insulation typically is manufactured using recycled material. The percentage of the recycled material by weight depends on the individual manufacturer, the thickness of the product, and the type of facer.
  • Opportunity for reuse. Although this declaration assumes the Polyiso wall insulation boards will be landfilled at the end of the wall assembly service life, it is possible to salvage and reuse the boards, either at the original site or on another construction site. Used Polyiso wall insulation may be collected and resold by several national logistics firms.

PIMA is currently updating its EPDs for polyiso wall and roof insulations, which will be available in Q1 of 2020.

ARMA Completes EPDs for Five Types of Asphalt Roofing

The Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA) has completed a multi-year effort to develop Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for asphalt roofing systems. These five new documents provide information that building and construction professionals can use both to support environmental aspects of roof systems as part of sustainable building projects and to better understand their impact over time. EPDs are now available for asphalt shingle roofing systems, SBS and APP modified bitumen systems, and built-up roofing systems. 

When architects and specifiers embark on new green building initiatives, they need to validate the environmental aspects of the building materials they use. EPDs are used to provide this information and to support the credibility of environmental claims.  ARMA worked with thinkstep, a sustainability consulting company, and with UL Environment to validate the EPDs.  These comprehensive documents outline the environmental attributes associated with the manufacturing of various asphalt-related roofing materials. 
ARMA’s development of these five EPDs reflects the continued use and advancement of asphalt roofing materials. In some cases, these documents are needed to fulfill requirements for green building rating systems and initiatives such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Green Globes, and the International Green Construction Code (IgCC).

“As the worldwide building and construction community continues to expand the focus on creating environmentally responsible and resource-efficient building projects, asphalt roofing has a critical role to play,” said Reed Hitchcock, ARMA’s executive vice president. “ARMA is committed to supporting sustainable building initiatives, and we are proud to provide the industry with this important environmental information.”

“These EPDs will help architects and engineers make sustainable choices in roof design,” said Amy Ferryman, chair of ARMA’s Sustainability Task Force. “Our work to develop these resources helps ensure that the asphalt roofing industry can fully participate in increasingly important green building practices.”
The five EPDs from ARMA are now publically available and can be accessed on ARMA’s website.

Duro-Last Achieves Gold Certification for All Membrane Product Lines

Duro-Last has achieved gold certification for all membrane product lines under the NSF American National Standard for Sustainable Roofing Membranes – NSF/ANSI 347. Certified by UL, this standard represents that Duro-Last manufactures a product that is third-party verified as sustainable, durable and high performing. The certification applies to Duro-Tuff, Duro-Fleece and Duro-Last EV membranes, in addition to Duro-Last membrane, which was certified in 2015.

With the certification of these four product lines, Duro-Last has the most roofing membrane product lines certified in the industry—furthering the company’s commitment to sustainability and transparency.

“Duro-Last believes in the importance of sustainability,” says Jason Tunney, Duro-Last’s executive vice president and general counsel. “These third-party certifications confirm what we already know about our products.”

Duro-Last has worked with UL for many years on product testing, including the UL 790 Spread of Flame Test, UL 1256 Direct to Deck (insulation) and the UL 2218 Hail Impact Test. As the sustainability business division of UL, a premier global independent safety science company that has championed progress for 120 years, UL Environment works to advance global sustainability, environmental health, and safety by supporting the growth and development of environmentally preferable products, services, and organizations.

NSF/ANSI 347 was developed by the NSF National Center for Sustainability Standards (NCSS) through a consensus-based public process with a multi-stakeholder group of participants and, according to their website, is based on life-cycle assessment principles. NSF/ANSI 347 employs an easy-to-use point system to evaluate roofing membrane products against established prerequisite requirements, performance criteria and quantifiable metrics in five key areas:

  • Product design
  • Product manufacturing
  • Membrane durability
  • Corporate governance
  • Innovation

Obtaining this certification will help Duro-Last’s membranes meet the market demand for products that comply with green building standards and codes like the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes and the International Green Construction Code (IgCC). Product specifiers and purchasers are under pressure to find products that meet their sustainability criteria, and having the NSF/ANSI 347 certification can give them the peace of mind of specifying a third-party verified product.

Duro-Last has also published environmental product declarations (EPDs) for Duro-Tuff, Duro-Fleece and Duro-Last EV membranes. This is in addition to the previously published EPD for Duro-Last membrane—the first product-specific PVC EPD in the North American roofing industry.

Certified by NSF International, the Duro-Last EPD reports environmental impact data, which assists building contractors, architects and designers in making more informed purchasing decisions. EPDs are increasingly used across many industries to enable product manufacturers to bring transparent environmental data to customers.

“Duro-Last is proud to publish product-specific EPDs for PVC roofing,” Tunney says. “We have always known that the Duro-Last Roofing System is a durable, flexible, serviceable and recyclable product, and now these EPDs can give building owners and specifiers peace of mind.”

MBMA Releases EPDs for Primary Rigid Framing, Secondary Framing and Metal Cladding

In order to meet the increasing demand for unbiased data about the environmental impacts of commercial construction, the Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA) has released Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for three metal building product categories: primary rigid framing, secondary framing, and metal cladding for roofs and walls.

MBMA partnered with UL Environment (ULE) to develop and certify these EPDs, which summarize the cradle-to-gate environmental impacts of a metal building system. The cradle-to-gate method is used to describe the impact of producing products, from raw material extraction, through processing, fabrication and up to the finished product leaving the manufacturing facility.

EPDs provide specifiers, builders and other industry professionals with transparent third-party documentation of the environmental impacts of products, including global warming potential, ozone depletion, acidification and other factors. The LEED V4 green building rating system encourages the use of EPDs, which are important for earning credits in the program.

MBMA has been studying the sustainable attributes of metal buildings for several years, starting with the collection of the industry’s LCI data, and using it to perform whole-building LCA analysis to compare its products to other forms of construction. Through these studies, MBMA has shown that the structural efficiency of metal building systems is a key contributor to their sustainable performance when compared to conventional construction.

“There is a growing need to simplify and harmonize the decision-making processes for architects and specifiers that must choose building materials for construction,” says Dan Walker, associate general manager of MBMA. “MBMA members are dedicated to educating others about the sustainable performance of metal building systems, and these EPDs will effectively do that for the design community.”

Metal building systems are custom-engineered and fabricated in accordance with strict quality assurance standards, and with almost no scrap generated. Designers are beginning to realize that the structural efficiency of this approach brings tangible benefits, from a sustainability and cost-savings perspective. The completion of these EPDs gives designers the confidence that they are making a wise choice from financial and environmental aspects.

MBMA’s EPDs can now be found on the UL Environment website.

PIMA Announces Environmental Product Declarations for Polyiso Roof and Wall Insulations

Consistent with its delivery of energy-efficient and sustainable building insulation solutions, the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA) announced the receipt of third party-verified ISO-compliant Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for polyisocyanurate (polyiso) roof and wall insulations as manufactured by PIMA members across North America. An EPD is an internationally recognized and standardized tool that reports the environmental impacts of products.

These EPDs document that the energy-savings potential of polyiso roof and wall insulation during a typical 60-year building life span is equal to up to 47 times the initial energy required to produce, transport, install, maintain, and eventually remove and dispose of the insulation. In addition to a high return on embodied energy, the EPDs document that polyiso roof and wall insulation offer high unit R-value per inch, zero ozone depletion potential, recycled content, opportunity for reuse and outstanding fire performance.

Beyond providing consistent and comparable environmental impact data, the PIMA polyiso EPDs also present information about additional environmental and energy characteristics, including the high net return on energy provided by polyiso roof and wall insulation.

Specifically, the polyiso EPDs describe the environmental impacts of the combined weighted average production for PIMA member manufacturing locations located across the United States and Canada, based on an established set of product category rules applicable to all types of building thermal insulation. The environmental impacts reported in the PIMA polyiso EPDs are derived from independently verified cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment (LCA) process, including all critical elements related to the resourcing, production, transport, installation, maintenance, and eventual removal and replacement of polyiso roof and wall insulation.

Using the LCA process, the PIMA polyiso roof and wall insulation products are evaluated on a number of impact categories including global warming potential, ozone depletion potential, eutrophication potential, acidification potential, and smog creation potential, as well as other environmental indicators including primary energy demand, resource depletion, waste to disposal, waste to energy, and water use.

PIMA polyiso roof and wall insulation EPDs also meet the requirements of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED v4 Green Building Rating System under Credit MRC-2 Building Product Disclosure and Optimization: Environmental Product Declarations as industry-wide or generic declarations that may be valued as one-half of an eligible product for the purposes of credit calculation.

“These third party-verified EPDs for polyiso roof and wall insulation products produced by PIMA manufacturers reflect our industry’s commitment to sustainability and transparency in reporting environmental performance,” says Jared Blum, president of PIMA. “These EPDs will be a valuable tool to provide environmental information to all building and design professionals, and they should be especially helpful in meeting emerging criteria for green building design.”

Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance Completes ISO-compliant Life Cycle Assessments

The Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA), the educational and technical resource to the spray polyurethane foam industry, has announced the completion of an ISO-compliant Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for three generic formulations that include open-cell, closed-cell and roofing foams. The Life Cycle Assessment is published and available as a free download from the SPFA website. Using the results of the LCA, the SPFA has collaborated with UL Environments to develop an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), which allows spray polyurethane foam contractors to assist sustainable building designers in obtaining proper credit among leading sustainable building programs for spray foam insulation and roofing materials use.

An EPD is a third-party reviewed document that summarizes the results of the more detailed LCA. EPDs are required by design professionals to satisfy requirements of many sustainable building programs, such as the US Green Building Council’s LEED v4 program, the International Green Construction Code and GreenGlobes, to name a few. For example, the current LEED v4 program enables a building design to earn 1/4 point for using products that have an LCA; 1/2 point for products with a generic EPD (such as the one from SPFA), and 1 point for products using a product-specific EPD from a material supplier.

SPF contractors may now provide copies of the generic SPFA EPD to sustainable building designers to assure proper credit for SPF insulation and roofing materials. The EPD can also be used as general supporting information for customers wanting to use ‘green’ products. The SPFA EPD and related Transparency Briefs for each foam class are now available at no charge from the UL Environments website.