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Product Lifecycle Footprints Find New Home

July 10, 2014

Standardized declarations of impacts have not taken off like a rocket.  Businesses in the U.S. pay no heed.  But the system  enjoys favor at the European Commission.

IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute has taken over the trademarked EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) System.  The research institute is owned by a foundation jointly established by the government and Swedish industry.

The international EPD program has been part of the Swedish Environmental Management Council since its launch in 1998.  But the national Parliament decided to liquidate the council and move its procurement activities to the Swedish Competition Authority, leaving the EPD program to find a new home.

EPDs are known as Type III ecolabels and follow the international standard ISO 14025.   They quantify data about products against pre-set categories and parameters based on lifecycle assessments The pre-determined parameters are based on the ISO 14040 series of LCA standards. EPDs are intended primarily for business-to-business communications (see Product Declarations Take Root, 11 March 2012, subscription required).

IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute was established in 1966.  It conducts applied research and contract assignments for sustainable growth.  The institute has about 200 researchers and consultants.

Sweden has been the crucible for EPDs.  Sven-Olof Ryding, an environmental advisor for the Swedish industry association, initiated the project and served as its managing director.  He was chairman of the Swedish delegation to the International Organization for Standardization’s Environmental Management Technical Committee (TC 207) and was the convenor, or chairman, of the committee’s eco-labeling and lifecycle impact assessment working groups.

“We feel that this solution is very safe. The international EPD system is gaining ground and Sweden has been a pioneer in credible and transparent communication of environmental performance of products,” Ryding says. 

“[EPD] fits perfectly with IVL’s current operations and our expansion plans,’ says CEO Tord Svedberg. 

The activities within the international EPD system operate as a subsidiary of IVL with the same personnel and purpose as before. 

“We will, along with our partners in 20 countries, focus on the continued development of the EPD program.  We also wish to strengthen our cooperation with our customers,” says Elin Eriksson, director at IVL who participated as expert in the technical committee for the EPD system from start.

IVL employees are participating in the European Commission’s development of environmental footprints.   The Commission is investigating a common methodology on the quantitative assessment of environmental impacts of products throughout their life-cycle in order to support the assessment and labeling of products.  The effort stems from the realization that the initial attempts at product carbon footprints, alone, were not always targeted at the most significant impacts of a great many products. 

The Commission’s work on the first wave of pilots started on 4 November 2013.  Environmental footprint tests started for 11 new product categories in June 2014.

Food-producing animal food and pet food for dogs and cats have been chosen plus nine other foods: beer; coffee; olive oil; wine, dairy products; fish; meat; tea; and bottled water.  The three-year trials aim to develop footprinting methods for each sector.  For example, the European Federation of Bottled Waters will lead one trial.  Members include Danone Waters and Petcore Europe.

The Commission published a must-read guidance document for implementing product environmental footprints in May 2014.

For information contact Elin Eriksson, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, Box 530 21, SE-400 14 Göteborg, Sweden. Tel: +46-31-725 62 64; Fax: +46 (0) 31 725 62 90; Email: elin.eriksson@ivl.se.

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