Environmental and Health Product Declarations: Threat or Opportunity?

Environmental and Health Product Declarations: Threat or Opportunity?

This piece was originally published in the March 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Andrei Moldoveanu, Technical Director, NEMA

A clearly defined process leads to a good EPD. © BuildingGreen, Inc.

Everyone on all sides of manufacturing knows that environment and health concerns are growing in relevance. Scientific research raises new facets of these concerns not only to the business community but increasingly to the greater public as well. How important they will be in the future is anyone’s guess, but one thing is clear: the trend is upward.

Electrical products are not immune to this movement. In various NEMA product sections, discussions on environmental and health product declarations started years ago. Their frequency increased as new trends emerged. For example, the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) has mandated environmental product declarations (EPD) for compliance. While electrical products are excluded for the moment, there are is guarantee that this situation will last. Health product declaration (HPD) requirements were also noted for some products.

Through the NEMA Strategic Initiatives program, and with guidance from members of the High-Performance Buildings Council, a program was established to research environmental and health product declarations. While the process is heavily dependent on the type of product being evaluated, there are a few high-level findings that are worth sharing.

One important finding is that the EPD and HPD processes have intrinsic value for companies engaged in them regardless of the market drivers. Furthermore, having done a HPD provides a head start on the EPD, since the company knows the product contents for both.

© Athena Sustainable Materials Institute

Deep analysis of all the components, materials, and processes involved in making the final product helps identify potential supply chain risks and liabilities that otherwise could be hidden from management’s views. The analysis and standardization could also highlight inefficiencies of some manufacturing processes.

Another major point is that the primary market driver is already in place and it’s not a regulation. Demand is currently driven by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a program created by the U.S. Green Building Council. Its voluntary building compliance certifications are increasingly in demand, especially in the commercial buildings market. The demands for EPDs are higher for products directly specified by architects whose firms promote green design principles.

We invite NEMA members and product sections to determine their specific stance in respect to these declarations. More detailed information about how EPDs and HPDs will impact NEMA members is available on the members-only section of the NEMA website. Interested members may also contact Andrei Moldoveanu for more information.

Glossary of Terms

Lifecycle analysis or assessment (LCA)
A detailed description of the environmental impact of every material and component used in a product, as well as every manufacturing process involved in making it. LCA studies include the impacts from using and disposing of a product.

Environmental product declaration (EPD)
A structured and validated summary report of the lifecycle analysis.

Health product declaration (HPD)
A document shared by manufacturers to disclose product ingredients and any health hazards associated with these ingredients.

Product category rules (PCR)
Documents that serve as guidelines for LCAs, which in turn inform EPDs. These rules help to promote fairness by ensuring that all the products of the same type are measured with the same yardstick.

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