The ABCs Of Building Product Transparency
Last year marked a transformation in the push for greater transparency in building materials, with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) introducing its new LEED v4 standard that includes credits for building product reporting and disclosure.
Specifically, healthcare projects can now earn LEED points for using environmental product declarations (EPDs) and health product declarations (HPDs), reporting tools for outlining such things as product content, health hazards, and environmental impacts.
“If you optimize the use of materials, you can demonstrate that you’re doing a better job in building your building than the industry average,” says Brendan Owens, vice president of LEED technical development for the USGBC (Washington, D.C.). “We’re incentivizing that type of thinking.”
So what exactly is an HPD and how does it differ from an EPD? Experts weigh in on these tools and the impact they have on healthcare design.
An EPD is a reporting tool that focuses on a product’s environmental impact, from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal.
Based on several governing guidelines (such as ISO Standard 14025 published in 2006 to establish procedures for developing Type III environmental declarations), this globally recognized disclosure has been in use for more than a decade and facilitates reporting on such areas as materials depletion, pollutants from product life cycle assessments (LCA), and other environmental impacts. EPDs are qualified by a third-party audit.
While EPDs focus on how a product impacts certain environmental factors, HPDs were designed as a complement and zero in on how a material affects human health, indexing product contents and associated health information.
Launched at Greenbuild’s 2012 conference, this system is overseen by the Health Product Declaration Collaborative (HPDC; Charleston, S.C.), a non-profit membership organization that offers the HPD standard and online form for free on its website (hpdcollaborative.org).
“The HPD educates about the language of the inventory process so we can be consistent with our intentions for transparency in the building materials ecosystem,” says Eden Brukman, technical director at the HPDC.
HPDC has designed the tool to be self-reporting. In addition, at the request of manufacturers, the collaborative is drafting a protocol for third-party verification of HPDs, which is expected to be released in late-2014 and is being guided by participation by several accreditation companies, including GreenCircle Certified, NSF International, and SCS Global Services.
The initiative is taking off, too. In fall 2013, more than 25 U.S. design and architecture firms wrote letters to the manufacturing world encouraging the use of HPDs.
“It’s going to be many generations of products before the toxic ones are the exception,” says Suzanne Drake, senior interior designer at Perkins+Will (San Francisco), which is one of the firms supporting the use of HPDs. “So until that time, we want to make informed decisions. We understand there may not be an alternative, but at least we know what we’re getting into.”
HPDC’s Brukman says hundreds of manufacturers are exploring and publishing HPDs, but that HPDC doesn’t maintain a database of completed ones.
As awareness of HPDs grows among designers as well as manufacturers, supporters say the initial focus is on expanding the types of products with HPDs.
“At this point in time, it’s a push just to fill the coffers and get the databases with enough critical mass so we have options on which products from which we can pick and choose,” says Perkins+Will’s Drake, who has given presentations to several manufacturers on HPDs as part of the Bay Area Leaders in Sustainable Architecture HPD Forum series.
In the future, she anticipates that the use of HPDs will influence more consideration of green chemistry, hazards versus risks, and liability issues related to using products with known toxins.
USGBC’s Owens says he expects the disclosure activity to become a market differentiator for participating manufacturers and lead to more informed levels of decision making within the design industry.
“The reality is that the market’s only going to change as fast as designers and specifiers want it to,” he says. “There’s a huge opportunity for product manufacturers to capitalize on that. They’ve got to be shown that there are people looking for it to happen.”
Anne DiNardo is senior editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Environmental product declaration (EPD): A comprehensive disclosure of a product’s environmental impact, from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal.
Health product declaration (HPD): A tool for reporting building product contents and how each ingredient relates to human health.