What good is a general industry-average EPD (Environmental Product Declaration)?

Written By: Doug Ruhlin | Jun 4, 2014

Time to Read 2 Minutes

Depending on how forward thinking your industry, trade association, or other group representing you and your business is, you might have the option to join into a industry-average EPD. For some, this is a home run, for others, it might hurt them. We discuss the pros and cons of an industry-average EPD, and who can be impacted by it.

When we’re working with clients on a program of sustainable practices for their businesses, we often get around to recommending they consider Environmental Product Declarations for their products. Sometimes the response we get in return is “we’re not going to get our own, we’re going to use the general industry-average created by X” (where X represents a trade group, manufacturers consortium, you name it).

Understanding what a general industry-average EPD is can be pretty important, because they are becoming more and more requested by customers and others, and you stand to either benefit or suffer from using one. The reasons why aren’t that hard to figure out, but can be pretty important to your business in the long run. 


Simply put, a general industry-specific EPD is an average one, representing the average characteristics of the product in question. For example, suppose you make widgets, and belong to the National Widget Association. The Association bands together, realizes that this E-P-D thing is the wave of the future, and commissions the creation of a Product Category Rule followed by a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). That LCA will utilize data supplied by a number of fellow widget manufacturers (and perhaps you too). The LCA takes all the data from companies who run sustainable widget manufacturing operations and others that, well, let’s say just don’t do it quite so environmentally consciously.

So who does the average environmental product declaration benefit? Think of it this way. It’s an average, meaning that some of the data suppliers are above the average (those who already run sustainable operations) and some are below the average.

Create the industry-average EPD, and what happens?

Those widget manufacturers who run highly sustainable operations suffer, since they are now represented by a lower average. Those who run less than stellar operations benefit, since they now climb up to the average! So for some, it helps. For others, it hurts. Which side of that equation would you be on?

But there are other benefits to a general industry average environmental product declaration. If you haven’t quite been ready to leap into the world of sustainability, then at least having something can get you started when your customers ask. They want one, you can provide one for your widget, even if it might not accurately reflect your individual sustainability profile. Another benefit is that at least it provides a benchmark for the industry, and if you do better, then you have an automatic marketing advantage, as in “hey, we do much better than the average, so you ought to buy from us”. In those respects, maybe an average environmental product declaration will help.

Like a lot of other aspects of sustainability, it comes down to you, your business model and interests, and what you’re looking to use it for. For some, maybe an industry-average one is good enough. For others, they might not ever consider one, since they consider themselves to be above average.

No matter what path you plan on perusing with environmental product declarations, it can be a tricky one. To learn more about sustainability and how it relates to your industry or organization, click here to contact us or give us a call at 609-693-8301 to discuss your needs today.

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