05.11.2018  |  Klima, miljø og energi

Automatic Generation of Product Declarations

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Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) provide companies with many advantages, including optimization of products and manufacturing processes and support for marketing. Companies want to know how they can generate EPDs quickly and efficiently, particularly for large product portfolios or numerous customer-specific solutions. Automated processes which fulfill such requirements are now available to help companies incorporate LCAs in their core business and generate individual EPDs quickly, flexibly and efficiently.

The first step toward an automatically generated EPD is usually a pilot project. For a selected product a company collects all data which are required for an LCA or EPD. The process reveals where and in which form certain data are available in the company.

The pilot project data go into a special Bill of Material (BOM), which satisfies the requirements for the computations of an LCA. The data include not just information about the utilized components, but also materials and their share of the complete product along with information about manufacturing processes and transport routes for purchased parts. 

The BOM is then imported into the thinkstep LCA/EPD Generator, which is linked to a life cycle assessment database (GaBi).

The database provides generic background data for the single positions in the BOM so that the life cycle assessment can be computed automatically. Based on relevant standards such as EN 15804, this information goes into an electronic EPD template into which illustrations and text also are imported.  

During the pilot phase the company obtains knowledge about data sources, work processes, and internal and external requirements. Against this backdrop the processes can be defined for the automatic generation of EPDs for the entire product portfolio.    

Basically there are two different degrees of automation. The LCA/EPD Generator can be linked via a system interface directly to the company's relevant data sources. In this case, the EPD generation is completely automatic. In certain circumstances it is necessary to prepare data from a company's systems for import into LCA/EPD Generator by interposing other databases and systems. That extra link makes the solution semi-automatic.

In both cases companies benefit from increased speed. Moreover, the LCAs and EPDs with all their advantages can be integrated logically in business processes.  


Individual and automatic

How EPDs are moving into everyday business

Charles Robinson, ASSA ABLOY Sustainability Manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa, reports on experience with Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) at ASSA ABLOY, the world's leading supplier of entrance systems.


ASSA ABLOY has analyzed the life cycle of its products for years. Why?

Robinson: There are many reasons. First, it was to get an integrated view of the products. We would like to have an overview of the product's entire route from the initial concept through the usage phase to the end of its life. Then we have the chance to optimize the ecological footprint in all phases. On the basis of such analyses, we can, for example, reduce material costs in manufacturing, increase the recyclable share, save energy in the production process or optimize logistics. As a rule, the usage phase is particularly important. At that point, with the help of life cycle analyses, we strive to increase the products' energy efficiency, expandability and reusability. Our objective for the future is to establish functioning cycles that keep waste to an absolute minimum. 

Life Cycle Assessments are a central tool for us. With their help we can optimize products and their application. LCAs assist our customers in reducing the ecological footprint of buildings by improving resource efficiency, for example, and also help to decrease operating costs.  


Life Cycle Assessments are the heart of Environmental Product Declarations, or EPDs.  ASSA ABLOY has published many EPDs. What is the value of those declarations for your company? 

Robinson: EPDs create transparency. They clearly show what is in our products. There are thousands of green labels around the world, but EPDs are always based on the internationally recognized standards ISO 14025 and EN 15804. They are independently verified and recognized by all Green Building certification systems. EPDs stand for integrity and lend us and our customers a high degree of credibility. 


Who uses EPDs? Which interest groups consider them important?

Robinson: Architects and general contractors, for example, often ask about EPDs for their Green Building projects. The declarations can help to earn extra points with certification from LEED or DGNB. Furthermore, manufacturers for whom we deliver products are interested, particularly with regard to making their own solutions more transparent. 


Which one of the many different Green Building certificates is the most important for you?

Robinson: ASSA ABLOY is a global company with 46,000 employees in 90 countries, so we do not have a single most important certificate. It is LEED in the United States, DGNB in the DACH region and BREEAM in Great Britain. Labels aside, our fundamental goal is to contribute to the performance of Green Buildings, no matter which Green Building certificate is involved. 


What role do EPDs play in the communication strategy of ASSA ABLOY?

Robinson: The overriding theme is transparency. That involves more than products alone.  Every year ASSA ABLOY publishes a Sustainability Report based on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and has done so since 2005. Sustainability is interwoven in our corporate culture. EPDs are therefore the perfect finishing touch to something that we do anyway. 


Where and how does ASSA ABLOY make EPDs available to the public?

Robinson: We make our EPDs available on our many regional Websites and via many other media channels. On our Websites we have an area dedicated to Sustainability with information about EPDs and Green Buildings. All EPDs can be downloaded from there. We do intense public relations work over varied channels, such as writing articles for trade journals, and we publish information on social media, namely Facebook, Twitter and, above all, on LinkedIn. We are proud of our EPDs and present them in many different ways. Of course they can also be found on the IBU (Instituts Bauen und Umwelt) Website.


How do you use EPDs in Marketing and Sales?

Robinson: In Sales we use a highly coordinated process to distribute the EPDs. Above all, our goal is to explain the use of declarations to our stakeholders. EPDs are still a relatively new instrument, so not everyone knows what they are all about. We attempt to provide the relevant information in simple terms. We would like to show how EPDs help to score points with Green Buildings.


That means that you carry out training measures internally for Marketing and Sales?

Robinson: Yes, we have internal training sessions and workshops. Externally, we place articles in trade journals and at the moment we are preparing a new video. The idea is to provide a concise overview of what EPDs are, what advantages they offer and why it is interesting to work on them.   


What competitive advantages do you see in EPDs?

Robinson: Throughout the entire ASSA ABLOY Group we have about 250 product-specific EPDs. As far as I know, there are not too many product manufacturers with such a large number of EPDs. The declarations are not the core instrument, but a very good one to help differentiate the Group in the market.


Right now you are looking into the automatic generation of EPDs. What makes that so interesting for ASSA ABLOY?

Robinson: We would like to make available EPDs for as many products as possible and in as many markets as possible. In addition, EPD generation should be fast and simple. That's a very ambitious goal, given the size of the company and the number of products and solutions. Therefore, we are now working on automating the entire process. That's where we get help from thinkstep, the specialist for life cycle assessments and software solutions in the area of sustainability. 


How are you putting the automatic process into practice in the company?

Robinson: Three years ago we started working with thinkstep. First, we developed five EPDs for different business units at ASSA ABLOY in a pilot project. At that point very few people in the company knew what EPDs were and how we could use them, so we first had to explain everything internally. In the next phase of the project we had thinkstep develop a large number of EPDs for us. The automation with an "EPD Generator" was exactly what we wanted. 


So the automation provides specific and verified environmental information?

Robinson: Yes, right. We are now seeing very detailed information flowing into the planning of Green Buildings. The planners want to know exactly how the footprint of a product will affect the environmental impact of their building. I think it's fascinating that things are developing with such a high degree of detail. 


Where do you see the economic benefit to automation?

Robinson: It is simply more cost-efficient to generate EPDs in this number with such speed. Automation lets us prepare individual EPDs in just a few minutes. That is a big advantage for our customers. 

greenBUILDING www.greenbuilding-magazin.de

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