5. Don’t cross-compare LCAs and EPDs
If comparing a eco-label for textiles to a eco-label for furniture is apples to oranges, then comparing Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to Life-Cycle Analyses (LCAs) is like comparing Granny Smith to Golden Delicious. They may look the same at first glance, but when you analyze them to a finer level of detail, the differences outweigh the similarities. Using LCAs and EPDs for comparative analysis is a “real risk” and “a misuse,” according to Reardon.
“What set of product category rules did the manufacturer use to base its LCA on? What protocol? What LCA methodology did they use? What data sets did they use? There are so many permutations, they’re just not comparable.”
Designers should also be careful to consider the effects of their particular situation, says Ottman. After reviewing LCAs and EPDs, ask yourself three questions:
- How is the product being sourced and delivered? Shipping an
energy-saving product halfway around the world, for instance, may defeat the purpose.
- How will the product be used and what are the demands of the
environment? Wear and tear, cleaning solutions, sun exposure, room temperature and moisture can significantly affect a product’s sustainable performance.
- What happens when the product is ready for disposal? If a
manufacturer offers recycling and end-of-life services, make sure your project stays within the boundaries of their infrastructure. Otherwise, the product may still end up in a landfill.
6. Ask critical questions.
Linda Brown offers a series of helpful questions designers should ask when evaluating product labels:
- Does the label address the issues that seem to be most important
for the products you’re looking at?
- What’s the importance of the issues being addressed by the labels?
- Are there areas of potential hidden environmental trade-offs?
- How transparent is the information that the labeler provides and
the company that’s making the claim?
the future is bright
The good news is that while you fine-tune your certification investigation skills, the manufacturers and certifiers are also working diligently to improve the current system.
“There are some really important improvements to LCA methodology that are coming down the pipe,” says Brown. “They are being captured through this standardization process to fill in the remaining gaps and make it fulfill its promise as a truly rigorous, comprehensive assessment method.”
And of course, as the system improves, so will the products themselves.
“EPDs are really a tool for the manufacturer to look at the hotspots in their product and process that have the most negative environmental impact,” says Reardon. “And they’re going to get better. You don’t go through all that research to find out where the hotspots are and then not do anything about it.”
Visit our Interior Design Resource Center to download a comprehensive summary of the FTC Green Guides.