Thor Endre Lexow
M.Sc. CEO of Norwegian HVAC & Refrigeration Association (VKE); EUROVENT country-representative
What is LCA?
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a systematic method to analyse the potential environmental impacts of products or services during their entire life cycle, where CO₂-equivalent emissions are one of severalcore environmental impact indicators to be declared. Standards ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 define the general framework for LCA with broad applicability, but limited granularity.
For sufficient granularity, LCA for buildings follow European Standard EN 15978 by summing the quantified impacts per indicator and life-cycle stage. The analysis covers all stages of the product life cycle (see Figure 1), which are:
· Production stage (incl. raw material supply and transport): Stages A1-A3.
· Construction stage (incl. installation on site): Stages A4-A5.
· Use-stage (incl. energy, use of water, repairs): Stages B1-B7.
· End-of-life stage (incl. waste disposal): Stages C1-C4.
· Finally, beyond life-cycle impacts, e.g. reuse and recycling. Stage D.
The assessment is so comprehensive that, for example, that two completely identical HVAC products manufactured in the same factory in Europe will have different environmental performance if the steel in the two products is sourced from a steelworks that changes its electrical supply mix or source of iron ore.
Figure 1. Stages in a building’s life cycle as defined in EN 15978. [Figure reproduced from "Bæredyktigt byggeri", Energistyrelsen, 2015]
What is an Environmental Product Declaration – EPD?
An EPD is information on the environmental impact of a product throughout its life cycle, including CO₂-equivalent emissions. EPDs are typically used as input to a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) at building-level.
The most common type of EPD is a “Type III Environmental Performance Declaration”, which is verified by an independent third-party in accordance with standard ISO 14025. Type III EPDs are based on predetermined/standardized set of rules and environmental data. Type III environmental declarations are the basis for labelling schemes such as Eco-Leaf and Eco-profile. In the following, I call Type III EPDs simply as “EPDs”.
The use of EPDs in European construction was stimulated by European Construction Product Regulation (CPR 305/2011), and its seventh basic requirement “Sustainable use of natural resources”. EPDs for construction products are developed based on the already mentioned ISO 14025, and EN 15804 which gives core rules for construction products. EPDs were first developed for basic construction elements such as steel, concrete, brick, or windows, whilst there has been a significant lack of EPDs for technical building services including HVAC products. However, Nordic HVAC manufacturers are starting to publish large numbers of validated EPDs.
Previously EPDs were usually published solely as PDF documents, but there is growing need for computer-readable EPD data formats such as the new EN ISO 22057. According to EN 15804, EPDs should be published in a standardised digital communication format. This is necessary for utilization of EPDs within a BIM-environment.
Different types of EPDs and their data quality
An EPD may contain specific data for actual products or be more generic based on average data for a product category. Examples include:
· Generic EPDs representing an average for a product category.
· Industry-average EPDs for a specific product group and geographical market.
· Product-specific EPDs for a specific product from a specific manufacturer.
· Project-specific EPDs for a specific project, including the environmental impact of transportation from supplier to the construction site.
In most European countries both the market and the authorities have set greenhouse gas emission requirements for new and major renovation of buildings. EPDs are the preferred sources of information for meeting these requirements.
Are EPDs mandatory?
EPDs for construction and HVAC products are not currently mandatory. However, ongoing developments in many EU Member States related to the integration of LCA calculations in national Building Codes and voluntary schemes for assessing sustainability and environmental performance of buildings, are driving HVAC manufacturers to publish EPDs for their products.
Who can issue an EPD?
ISO 14025 requires that a Type III EPD be independently verified. In practice this means that data from LCA and information modules are verified by a third party licensed by an EPD Programme Operator, and the EPD is issued by the programme operator. Many operators harmonize their practice as members of umbrella organization ECO Platform (www.eco-platform.org).
How is an EPD typically used?
EPDs typically provide information about a specific product. This information is relevant when performing a building-level LCA analysis. However, contrary to the impression of many stakeholders in the building industry, extreme care must be taken when comparing the environmental performance of competing products. This is because EPDs are often based on different assumptions, rendering them non-comparable. For example, the EPDs for two air handling unit products may have different capacities, operating times, replacement intervals, different components, and the air filters may have different quality and lifespan. One means to ease this issue is harmonized documentation by Product Category Rules (PCR); another is that end-users of EPDs should assess whole system-level performance. This involves collecting all relevant EPDs for a building, ensure that all stages are accounted for (many EPDs have missing stages), and make realistic assumptions about the use-stage.
What are Product Category Rules (PCR)?
As mentioned above, the ISO standards setting out the framework for LCA calculations necessary for EPDs are very general. Guidance on preparation of EPDs for specific products are supplemented in Product Category Rules (PCRs). Normally PCRs are developed individually by each EPD programme operator, as shown in Figure 2. For construction products including heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation components, the CEN standard EN 15804 with core rules, referencing EN 15978 for LCA, are the core rules to be followed. In addition, relevant Complementary Product Category Rules (c-PCR) which provide additional compliant and non-contradictory requirements to EN 15804, shall be used when available.
If the EPD for a ventilation product (e.g. air handling unit) is based on the core rules of EN 15804, which does not address the use-stage (i.e. operational energy use and maintenance), the use-stage modules of LCA are not declared, or declared optionally based on a predefined scenario. These assumptions (scenarios) should be then declared in the EPD but they can vary considerably between EPD programme operators. However, a c-PCR (complimentary PCR) may be defined and used for the specific product category.
Figure 2. Illustration of the stages in the framework for development of EPDs. [Figure reproduced from Wikipedia “Environmental Product Declaration”, licensed under CC BY-SA.4]
Development of a complimentary PCR and EPD-generator for ventilation products
The Norwegian HVAC & Refrigeration Association (VKE) has recently focused on developing c-PCR and EPD resources specifically for ventilation products. The c-PCR is published as NPCR 030:2021. The ultimate aim of the project is to develop and verify a EPD “generator” to develop, verify and register machine-readable EPDs for their products, that can be shared with customers.
The most rational and affordable way to prepare EPDs, if a manufacturer has a large number of different products and varieties, is to use a EPD generator. When an EPD is developed in a semi-automated EPD generator (such as https://lca.no/epd-generator/), then the generator itself must be verified. This means that VKE's members, after the generator has been verified and approved, can develop verified EPDs themselves and can develop and verify their own EPDs.
Picking the best environmental HVAC products based on LCA
Comprehensive greenhouse gas calculations used for planning, construction, operation and procurement are necessary to make the best environmental choices related to products and solutions. EPDs are fundamental to being able to carry out greenhouse gas calculations for the construction and operation of buildings.
It is important to remember that comparison of the environmental performance of HVAC products using the EPD information shall be based on the product’s use in and its impacts on the building and shall consider the complete life cycle. EPD that are not in a building context are not tools to compare construction products.
HVAC products will be installed and used in many different kinds of systems in buildings with completely different use. The performance over the lifecycle will be highly dependent on occupancy patterns, e.g. indoor air quality, ventilation rates, internal air temperatures, tapping patterns for domestic hot water etc. The proper scenario for the use-stage for the actual buildings must be applied in the LCA when assessing the environmental performance. The use-stage scenarios for different building categories are often standardised in national building codes and used for energy performance calculations such as energy performance certificates.
NPCR 030:2021 “Part B for ventilation components”, 2021 https://www.epd-norge.no/pcr-register/npcr-030-2021-part-b-for-ventilation-components-references-to-en-15804-a2-article3282-353.html.
EN-ISO 14025:2010 “Environmental labels and declarations - Type III environmental declarations - Principles and procedures”.
EN-ISO 14040:2006 “Environmental management - Life cycle assessment - Principles and framework”.
EN-ISO 14044:2006 “Environmental management - Life cycle assessment - Requirements and guidelines”.
EN 15804:2012+A2:2019/AC:2021 “Sustainability of construction works — Environmental product declarations — Core rules for the product category of construction products”.
EN 15978:2011 “Sustainability of construction works - Assessment of environmental performance of buildings - Calculation method”.
EN-ISO 22057:2022 “Sustainability in buildings and civil engineering works — Data templates for the use of environmental product declarations (EPDs) for construction products in building information modelling (BIM)”.