How to Create an EPD for Concrete Products

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) can help concrete producers demonstrate the carbon footprint of their mix designs when bidding on projects that have sustainability requirements. However, the creation of EPDs for concrete can feel like a complex, costly, and time-consuming task.

In this short blog post, we describe everything concrete producers need to know about creating EPDs and demonstrate a new cost-effective and streamlined way to generate material-specific EPDs for all concrete mix designs.

What is an EPD?

An EPD is a report that quantifies the environmental impact of a concrete product based on the results of a comprehensive LCA. It communicates verifiable, accurate, environmental information about the concrete and its applications so that architects, engineers, contractors, and property owners can make scientifically based, fair choices about the materials they select for their projects.

Simply put, an EPD is an easy way to prove the carbon footprint of concrete mixes and products

Why EPDs Are Important to Concrete Producers

A search of construction project databases indicates that over 4,500 construction projects across the United States have asked for EPDs within the past year (Dodge database search in May 2022).

This demonstrates the increased market demand for EPDs as more architects, engineers, contractors, and project owners are under pressure to prove they are meeting their sustainability commitments. To do this, they are pushing for concrete producers to deliver EPDs along with their mix submittals.

This push will increase in the coming years, particularly in the United States where the federal Buy Clean Act comes into effect on January 1, 2023. From that date, the General Services Administration and other government purchasing agencies must obtain Type III EPDs for all building materials used on federal projects. Once EPDs become mandated by the federal government, pressure will increase at the state level and in the private sector, too.

How to Create Concrete EPDs

The creation of EPDs involves a complex life cycle assessment (LCA) of each unique concrete mix and looks at many factors—including plant-related factors—that impact a product’s carbon footprint. Concrete EPDs must comply with the internationally accepted principles, framework, methodology, and practices for LCAs established by ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 as well as data collection, methods, and assumptions outlined in the ISO standard 14025.

It typically takes five steps to complete an EPD for a concrete product but each step can be quite complex with a steep learning curve.

Step 1: Find the PCR for Concrete

The first step in creating an EPD is to find the product category rule (PCR) that’s applicable to concrete. PCRs provide the calculation and reporting requirements for creating LCAs and EPDs. 

What is a PCR?

A product category rule (PCR) is like an instruction manual on how to assemble a proper EPD to ensure consistency across an industry. It defines, among other things, the declared unit (or product to be analyzed), the scope and boundaries of the LCA, and the environmental impacts to be reported in the EPD.

Concrete has its own PCR maintained by concrete industry experts.

Step 2: Conduct and Verify Your Concrete’s LCA

An LCA is a comprehensive analysis that documents the cradle-to-gate impact of concrete. It is a systematic set of procedures for compiling and examining the inputs and outputs of materials and energy—and the associated environmental impacts—directly attributable to concrete up to the point that it leaves the concrete plant. 

If you have in-house expertise in LCAs, you can conduct an LCA study yourself. However, most producers hire an LCA consultant with expertise in environmental product declarations to assist them with the comprehensive data collection and analysis required. 

Once an LCA is conducted on your particular concrete mix, product, or plant, it must be verified by an independent third party to ensure it meets the requirements defined in the PCR, ISO 14040, and ISO 14044.

Step 3: Compile the EPD

The EPD report presents the results of the LCA along with additional information about the concrete’s performance and other sustainability attributes as outlined in the PCR instructions. The content in the EPD report should also be in line with the requirements and guidelines in ISO 14020 and should never include ratings, judgments, or direct comparisons with other products.

Step 4: EPD Verification

The The EPD verification process must be carried out by an approved independent, third-party verifier or an accredited certification body with knowledge and experience of the types of concrete, the industry, and relevant standards covered by the EPD and its geographical scope. Athena, Climate Earth, and the NRMCA are some of the approved third-party EPD verifiers operating in the industry.

Step 5: Register and Publish the EPD

Once the EPD is verified, it can be registered and published to a recognized repository like ASTM International. The EPDs generally get picked up by other tools like the EC3 Tool by the Carbon Leadership Forum which stores all product-specific EPDs for low carbon concrete for consideration by specifiers. 

EPDs are typically valid for a period of five years. However, new innovations are enabling “batch-actual” or “just-in-time” EPDs that capture any changes to an LCA regularly. For example, if a producer changed its energy source from coal to natural gas or adjusted the cementitious content of a mix, a batch-actual EPD would reflect that change immediately—not when the EPD is updated in five years' time.

The Value of Product-Specific EPD Creation 

While product-specific EPD creation can seem like a daunting task for many concrete producers, the value in creating them can't be ignored.

EPDs are a great resource to differentiate your product—especially if you have already taken steps to reduce the carbon footprint of your concrete. 

With EPDs, you can prove you have created a lower carbon concrete mix than your competitors, and position yourself favorably during the material selection process on any project with carbon reduction requirements. 

To learn more about creating EPDs for concrete, read Concrete EPDs: The 4 Things You Should Know.

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