When talking about product labels that deal with the environment, it is often argued that there is an excessive variety of labels swamping consumers with information they don’t understand. I have to admit that you can indeed call them irritating, this vast number of redundant “eco labels” invented by creative marketing departments all around the globe. However, in contrast to the superficial information given by some mainstream companies, environmental product declarations (EPDs) give consumers serious information. Thoroughly assessed, easily verifiable, and transparently made, EPDs visualize the results of life cycle assessment (LCA). What the LCA reveals, is the environmental performance of a product throughout its whole lifespan. Because LCAs follow a predefined methodology (ISO 14040), their results are precise and comparable.
Simple Visualization of LCA Results
That was the positive aspect. What about the downside? Well, for every LCA, there are at least five result categories, five descriptions of the ways in which the environment is affected by your product. As you can imagine, the LCA culminates in a complex document. The idea of an EPD is to outline these results very briefly, yet in a comprehensive way. Most commonly, this comprehensive way is based on one graphic. This graphic not only visualizes the LCA results, but also how the results (and the product) compare to competitors’ in terms of environmental performance.
Facilitation of Customers’ Green Product Choices
As a result, EPDs help consumers reward companies that pay attention to the environment. The importance of a precise LCA, which serves as a basis for an EPD, can be seen in Wimmer, Züst and Lee “ECODESIGN implementation: a systematic guidance on integrating environmental considerations into product development” (2004).
The basis of a successful ecodesign process is a comprehensive analysis of the given situation. It’s of central importance to understand a specific situation from an environmental viewpoint for developing specific improvement strategies and measures.
The “comprehensive analysis of the given situation” mentioned above is exactly what the LCA deals with. Improving the positive environmental effects is one option you have, once an LCA has been conducted. Moreover, it is a good idea to make these results public – and that is exactly the purpose of an EPD. By applying an EPD to your product, you communicate your green efforts and convince prospective customers of your product’s environmental quality.
In other words (see www.environmentalproductdeclarations.com, where the following three quotes originate):
EPD is voluntarily developed information and the purpose is to provide quality-assured and comparable information regarding environmental performance of products.
Furthermore, by quantifying the environmental effects, it is easy to prove positive developments:
EPDs can reflect the continuous environmental improvement of products over time and are able to communicate and add up relevant environmental information along a product’s value chain.
Apart from giving companies the possibility to pride themselves on offering green products, EPDs can serve as a serious advantage for improving customer relations.
EPDs also add new market dimensions to inform about environmental performance of products and services – objectivity, comparability and credibility.
This is where it all comes back to the introduction. Instead of confusing your customers with some obscure and potentially misleading marketing label, the EPD represents your, and your company’s self-confidence about the quality of your products. Why? Because it is objective. It follows a methodology you can verify. And it offers precise information: backed up by numbers, quantified data, and ISO standards. Since we are witnessing the transit to an era of full transparency, it is better to be honest. I’m sure it will pay off, and sooner, rather than later.
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