The Difference Between Health Product Declarations (HPDs) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)

The choices we make when specifying building materials can have significant effects on the planet and human health. The world is facing cataclysmic issues such as climate destabilization, pollution, biodiversity loss, deforestation, and greenhouse gases. Construction produces vast volumes of waste and consumes colossal amounts of energy. Design professionals can make a difference in minimizing the damage to the environment and human health by selecting better building materials.

Health Product Declarations (HPDs) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are important tools in LEED v4.1 to create sustainable projects. . LEED v4 was launched in 2013 and most design professionals who have worked on LEED projects over the past ten years have used HPDs or EPDs or are at least familiar with them. There are so many things to learn about the design and construction of a building, that nobody is an expert on everything. EPDs and HPDs have been buzzwords in the industry for years yet there is still confusion by some about these strange sounding acronyms.

Can you compare EPDs to HPDs? Yes, you can. You can compare anything to anything. The better question is why. EPDs and HPDs are both transparency documents used for sustainable design projects, especially for LEED. One declaration isn’t better than the other. They have different aims. They are different on a micro level but are similar on a macro level in that they offer design professionals additional resources to specify better materials to protect human health, protect the environment, and make better buildings.

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)

EPDs are a standardized way of communicating the environmental effects associated with a product or system’s raw material extraction, energy use, chemical makeup, waste generation, and emissions to air, soil, and water. An LCA is the major building block used to create an EPD. The LCA is the comprehensive report and the EPD is the distilled short version.

Before an LCA and EPD can be created, a Product Category Rule (PCR) must be used to start the process. A PCR defines how to standardize this information for a specific product type, such as flooring. The PCR defines scope, system boundary, measurement procedures, impact measures and other technical requirements. PCR development is the responsibility of the EPD Program Operator and is often organized through standards organizations or industry associations or sponsored by private or government organizations.

There are six impact categories within the LCA or EPD that professionals will need to consider when selecting products based on their goals. They include:

  • Global warming potential
  • Depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer
  • Acidification of land and water sources
  • Eutrophication.
  • Formation of tropospheric ozone
  • Depletion of nonrenewable energy resources

When LEED v4 was launched in 2013, there were not many EPDs available to meet the LEED credit requirements. European, Japanese, and some large American product manufacturers had EPDs. However, there was a scarcity of EPDs for many CSI divisions and lack of options for design professionals to meet credit requirements. Fortunately, there are more options for design professionals now, although the costs and complexity of EPDs still prevent many small and medium sized manufacturers from participating.

Health Product Declarations (HPDs)

Now that we’ve reviewed EPDs, we’ll turn our attention to Health Product Declarations or HPDs. While EPDs focus on environmental impacts and life cycle, HPDs focus on human health and potential health hazards. According to the American Institute of Architects, “Materials transparency refers to manufacturers disclosing the environmental, health and social impacts of their products.” This disclosure can be done in many ways, with both third-party verified certification documents, and with self-disclosure tools. The important thing is for building product manufacturers to disclose clear information about their products. Once manufacturers understand industry transparency priorities, they can optimize their products by phasing out harmful ingredients and processes.

Most design professionals don’t have a background in green chemistry, urban ecology, biology, or toxicology. The process of navigating through materials selection to determine the healthiest product can be daunting. Fortunately, the industry has created materials and product transparency reports that can help design professionals research products, find healthier solutions, and make the built environment safer for people and our planet. Today we will review the most popular and requested materials transparency report in the construction industry, the HPD.

The Health Product Declaration (HPD) Open Standard is a voluntary industry standard for reporting and disclosure of detailed product content and associated health information for building products. By reporting on all product contents and associated health information, HPDs offer design professionals the ability to make more informed decisions about the products they specify. And manufacturers who offer products that are optimized in terms of chemical ingredients can benefit by being preferentially specified by design professionals looking for healthier products.

A completed HPD is a reporting document that lists the various materials and substances in a product and identifies the known health hazards associated with each material or substance. While this may seem like a relatively simple approach, developing a complete and compliant HPD can pose challenges for manufacturers, in part due to the complexity of modern supply chains, and because suppliers oftentimes have very reasonable concerns about disclosing trade secret information.

The HPD Open Standard was developed and is maintained by the HPD Collaborative – a not-for-profit, customer-led organization composed of stakeholders throughout the building industry including architects, designers, specifiers, owners, manufacturers, contractors, researchers, and NGOs. Using a stakeholder-driven process, HPDC’s members create, support and continuously evolve the HPD Open Standard.

The HPD also doesn’t provide an assessment, label, or certification of the level of product performance, meaning that it does not specifically identify if one product is better or worse than another. It also can’t be used to compare a product to others that don’t have HPDs, nor can it “tell” a project team which building product to use, since circumstances are unique to each particular project.

So now that we have a basic understanding of EPDs and HPDs, we can see that there are many differences between the declarations, including:

• EPDs focus on a product’s life cycle and environmental impacts.
• HPDs focus on human health and potential hazards of a product’s ingredients

• EPDs are maintained by multiple global organizations
• HPDs are maintained by the HPDC

• EPD development requires an often long, complex, multi-step process
• HPD development is typically quicker and easier than EPDs

• EPDs require a program operator
• HPDs can be self-published

• EPDs don’t contribute to WELL certification
• HPDs can contribute to WELL certification

Despite their differences, EPDs and HPDs also have quite a bit in common. Their similarities include:

• EPDs and HPDs are transparency documents used by specifiers

• EPDs and HPDs can contribute to earning points in LEED

• EPDs and HPDs promote product optimization in LEED

• EPDs and HPDs can be third party verified

• EPDs and HPDs drive demand for sustainable products

There are many resources for design professionals and building product manufacturers to learn more about EPDs and HPDs. The USGBC website offers the most up-to-date information about the Environmental Product Declaration and Material Ingredients credits. The USGBC education platform also features several in-depth courses on how project teams can achieve these credits.

Building product manufacturers that are interested in creating a Health Product Declaration (HPD) can contact Elixir Environmental for a consultation.

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