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Product Benchmarking Acronyms Explained

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Making sense of an alphabet soup

Wood is one of the most sustainable materials and one of the most important natural and renewable resources globally. Its use in buildings dates back to the Stone Age, and it is still the preferred method for residential construction.

Within the last 15 years, we’ve seen a rapid advancement of new wood product technologies, which has allowed wood use in ways we never imagined.

With advances and innovative manufacturing in building products, not all new products are created equal, and not all are sustainable.

The design community expects that products offer a sustainability component to contribute to more environmentally friendly buildings.

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How do we determine a product's environmental impact?

Product benchmarking is the short answer—verifiable and accurate product evaluations rather than claims made by manufacturers.

There are various standardized methods that architects and building professionals rely on to determine their environmental impacts (e.g., embodied energy and carbon footprint) and human health implications.

Today, occupants are just as concerned about products used in buildings.

There are many product benchmarking methods and bodies that regulate them.

The list looks a bit like alphabet soup and is acronym heavy. We’ll take a look at each.

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Product Benchmarking Acronyms

LCA - Lifecycle Assessment

Allows architects and other building professionals to understand the energy use and environmental impacts of a building’s life cycle. The life cycle assessment of a product includes raw material extraction, manufacturing, processing, transportation to job sites and construction, use, and end-of-life. You may have also heard the terms cradle to cradle (a concept within the Circular Economy), cradle to grave, or cradle to gate to describe a product’s life cycle.

 

PCR, Product Category Rule

Used as a method for conducting and reporting a life cycle assessment or an EPD (see below) for a specific product category, like modified wood products. The PCR ensures all products in particular categories are measured the same way in each life cycle phase, and environmental impacts are quantified the same way. In short, a PCR defines the rules for creating an EPD.

 

EPD, Environmental Product Declaration

Is a third-party verified disclosure, voluntarily declared by the manufacturer, that communicates transparency to show the results of a life cycle assessment of a product. The EPD is a final report after a rather rigorous review process.

To summarize the three assessments above, the PCR governs the LCA, which regulates the EPD. The International Organization for Standardization developed the EPD (see below for more information).

 

ISO, International Organization for Standardization

Is an independent body of non-governmental members that develop consensus-based, market-relevant standards to support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges. There are 165 national standards bodies or one member per country. The U.S. member body to the ISO is ANSI, the American National Standards Institute.

 
HPD, Health Product Declaration

For product manufacturers, is called an HPD Open Standard and a voluntary specification for reporting product contents and associated health information. The goal of the HPD is to achieve greater transparency and disclosure in reporting human and environmental health aspects of building products.

 
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Human health and environmental effects

In short, the HPD focuses on the impacts a product has on human health while the EPD process focuses more on the environmental effects.

“An HPD is all about transparency in relation to the health impact a product may have on humans, as well as on the environment,” said Josée Lupien, LEED Fellow and WELL AP and president of Vertima Environmental Certification Experts.

“In reality, every product has a chemical agent or ingredient of some kind, it’s how we disclose this and its impact on human health that is important. Once products have a baseline, then the manufacturer can improve their results year over year.”

For more than 13 years, Vertima has served as an independent third-party that audits and certifies eco-labels like LCA, EPD, HPD, Declare, EDS, and more for product manufacturers.

Armed with a team of experienced and specialized professionals, Vertima supports manufacturing stakeholders involved in green building and sustainable construction projects.

The status of LIGNIA's HPD

“LIGNIA’s HDP is almost complete, we’re in the reviewing stage with Vertima,” said Lisa Ayala, national US sales manager for LIGNIA Wood Company. 

"An HPD is important to us for the two main components in our product —resin and wood. Our resin is in liquid form, and at first may seem offensive for our product; but through our manufacturing process and reaction, the liquid resin turns into a solid and there’s no off-gassing, which is important for our transparency.”

LIGNIA scored extremely well with the TSCA Title VI and the California Air Resource Board (CARB) ATCM Phase II for which it is compliant.

The ingredient, formaldehyde, found in the resin LIGNIA uses didn’t even show up, which is vitally important for indoor air quality since LIGNIA is used for indoor applications.

In fact, LIGNIA’s result was lower than the CARB standard.

 
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What does all this mean to you and LIGNIA?

LIGNIA is working on achieving an HPD first and foremost, providing product reporting, disclosure, and transparency. An HPD standard is just that, a standard, not a certification or label.

It is an essential tool to document compliance with LEED v4 MRc: Building product disclosure and optimization – material ingredients.

“LIGNIA has started with an HPD because we know that the design community, as well as occupants, want to select products that do not contain harmful ingredients for the spaces they work and live,” said Lisa Ayala.

“It provides a necessary verification and transparency that the manufacturing of our products minimizes the use of harmful substances.”

It is becoming increasingly important for product manufacturers to use an unbiased report to counter any misconstrued or misleading claims about a products’ environmental profile in today’s global economy. The design community relies on these reports to make informed decisions on the products they specify in buildings.

“As a global company, we must offer our vast distribution channel a way to communicate our products’ sustainability story with an accepted standard,” said Ayala. “Contributing to LEED v4 material ingredients is an important part of the specification process, and we can deliver on that point.”

In the end, an HPD, and other transparency labels enable manufacturers to make better products and for customers (architects, specifiers, and more) make better product choices in their projects.

Brenda Collons

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