“What is EPD and HPD and Why Should I Care as a Contractor?”

Posted on 6/30/2015 9:48:11 AM By Steve Duren

Adhesives, sealants and coatings all play important roles throughout the modern, complex building envelope. The function of these materials is critical to preventing water infiltration, air leakage and protecting key building elements in below grade, vertical wall assemblies, roofing details, as well as interior finishes. Product selection is becoming more complex with the addition of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Health Product Declarations (HPDs). The Adhesive and Sealant Council (ASC) is concerned that the quick adoption of EPDs and HPDs may negatively impact the downstream customer, a group that has select A & E firms actively engaged in EPD and HPD dialogue. 

An EPD is an independently verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable information about the life-cycle environmental impact of products. HPDs provide a full disclosure of chemicals in products by comparing product ingredients to a wide variety of “hazard” lists published by government authorities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and scientific associations.

From a trends perspective, EPDs are becoming more popular within the value chain.  The built environment and some industry groups like United States Green Building Council are embracing EPDs and HPDs by including the use of them within the LEED v4.  Others are challenging the tools as they often don’t take risk and exposure into account, and therefore aren’t as valuable to the downstream customer as they don’t take into account their needs. The trend really is tied to a rigorous debate on what should be shared throughout the value chain. 

When I reference value chain, I mean the entire supply chain from raw materials, formulator manufacturers, design engineers and architects to contractors that apply sealants within the build environment.

So, why should end users care about EPD and HPD?

Because any decision and direction industry takes will impact you! 

For 2.5 years, ASC and its sealant members have been discussing the topic of EPDs for the sealant industry.  We are considering how to take the vast amount of data and information that is available and collate it in such a way that an industry Product Category Rule (PCR) can be leveraged to develop different types of EPDs, including an Industry Model EPD, a Type III verified EPD or a company specific EPD. 

Whatever direction ASC goes, downstream users will have to understand what an EPD is, can do for them and how it can impact their business. 

It dawned recently on me that contractors have not been a significant part of this conversation at ASC.  Dan Cain—President of George D. Alan and Company—provided valuable insight to ASC in his portion of the ASC/SWR Institute Sealants and Sustainability webinar from 2011 on what drives decision making in the value chain for contractors and restoration entities.  Cain made the point that when it came down to what’s really important for restoration companies and influencers is price, shelf life, availability and how long the material lasts.  

It may be time that ASC and the industry start bringing the downstream customer into the conversation and work to align the value that you want with the EPD and HPD trend – we may find that the efforts we have been working on are not as valuable as originally thought!

When considering the idea, questions jumped out at me, including: 

  • What do EPDs mean for availability of sealant choices that could be written into contract documents?
  • How will having a type III EPD impact specifications and material selection?

My experience is from the testing and manufacturing environment, and I think these questions directly impact the real world example of the “detail by others” that are prevalent for sealants in most shop drawings. “Detail by others” essentially means that an influencer in the value chain decides on what is used or what is not used. If an architect or engineering firm is progressive and embraces a hazard only approach, Type III EPDs and or HPDs could be misused to filter chemistry types that in fact do not have health risks with end users. This means that the specifier or whomever writes the contract documents could embed a requirement that would result in products that contractors have used for years to be no longer allowed.

The requirement of having an EPD before being able to sell into a job has not yet been considered as part of the value chain dialogue and is one that should be considered before a decision to move forward is made. 

The unintended consequence – or very intended consequence, depending on your point of view, is that the inclusion of Type III EPDs could start to change what is available if a specifier or design professional is specifying a job based with requirements for EPD or HPD.

ASC is concerned that too many organizations are focused on a single dimension using a hazard approach.  Groups like USGBC, Well Building Institute, Pharos, Clean Production Action are characterizing that EPDs and HPDs are helpful to design engineers.  But in reality, these tools could restrict products that have been used for years.

ASC advocates for a multi attribute approach when it comes to risk assessment.  ASC feels that exposure should be part of the dialogue for risk assessment and is cautious of tools that use hazard only. ASC is also careful not lump EPDs with HPDs, as these are in fact two different items, but have synergies and have been adapted into parts of USGBCs LEED V4 credits.

Too many groups are not considering what the downstream customers have said they want—things like price of materials, service life prediction for the sealant industry and the overall cost to the industry of the EPD and HPD efforts.

The total cost of ownership to sealant manufactures is significant and is something that contractors may not care about now, until it impacts the cost of doing business later. The overall burden to implement EPDs and HPDs could result in overall costs that are passed to the market. In a market like sealants, that is pennies on the dollar.  Is the cost of conducting EPDs and HPDs really providing value to the end users or would this be better characterized as a chess match from the marketing folks maneuvering for market share changing hands across different chemistry types driven by NGOs that want a clean room environment for the jobsite?

One of the cautions in material selection is that it might be green, you might be able to eat it and put it in your gas tank, but will it work as intended?  Will it hold the glass exterior up on the 82nd floor?  Will it keep water out, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in mold remediation work?  Will it keep hot air in, saving thousands a month on heating and air conditioning costs?

This is where the NGOs that strive for restricting much of the periodic table don’t understand the field application and importance and balance of life safety, practical application and manufacturing a product that is robust and has a reasonable service life.

So, what will be the benefit be to the contractor when a manufacturer or architectural & engineering firm hands over the data from the result of an EPD besides saying that they have one?

The contractor & design professional will be able to look at outputs from the following impact categories via ISO 14025 (you be the judge if this is valuable or not). Keep in mind the sealant industry intends to go cradle to gate in its initial approach to the EPD development which in the end will result in data that compares production processes of various chemistry types from our industry.

Here are the impact categories that are in ISO:

  • Total primary energy consumption
  • Water Usage
  • Ozone Depletion
  • Acidification Air
  • Eutophication Air
  • Eutrophication Water
  • Global Warming Potential
  • Photochemical Ozone Creation

We value your views and want to hear your feedback on these issues.


Steve Duren, Senior Director of Membership

The Adhesive and Sealant Council (ASC)

comments powered by Disqus