The glass and fenestration industries have grappled with the implications of product category rules (PCRs), life cycle assessments (LCAs) and environmental product declarations (EPDs) for several years now. But a big question remains – how do they affect the bottom line?

Cutline: thinkstep’s Heather Gadonniex presents “The Why, How and Business Value of LCAs and EPDs” at the AAMA national conference.
thinkstep’s Heather Gadonniex presents “The Why, How and Business Value of LCAs and EPDs” at the AAMA national conference.

To answer that, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) is getting help from outside experts.

After a year-long vetting process, AAMA announced that it has reached an agreement with thinkstep, a global consulting firm that specializes in sustainability performance management software, data and services, to advise the association on issues related to the environmental impacts of manufacturing fenestration products. The announcement came at the AAMA annual conference this week in Huntington Beach, Calif.

“We formed this board-level committee, and we realized that the deeper we waded into this, the more we needed a consultant’s approach that deals with building products associations not only in America, but across the world,” said Mark Silverberg of Technoform, who co-chairs AAMA’s Sustainability Steering Committee. “We felt after vetting thinkstep that they had the strongest competencies and the greatest building products experience, and the greatest experience working with other building products associations, whether it’s aluminum or wood, that have wrestled with these challenges. They’ll advise us on which areas to focus on and strategies to employ in order to protect material neutrality, which is one of the pillars of our organization, because not all products are equal environmentally.”

Silverberg’s announcement served as an introduction for thinkstep’s Heather Gadonniex, who presented “The Why, How and Business Value of LCAs and EPDs” at AAMA’s national conference.

Prior to Gadonniex’s presentation, Silverberg reminded attendees that a windows product category rule (PCR) was published in September 2015.

The PCR, which can be viewed here, was established “to provide a detailed method for developing a business-to-business (B-to-B) EPD to support comparable, informed, and objective sustainable purchasing of windows,” according to the document. The scope of the PCR is “Cradle to Gate with options.”

According to the Institute for Environmental Research and Education (IERE), PCRs are based on life cycle assessments and “spell out, for example, choices in scope, calculation steps, and areas of environmental impact that are specific to the product being considered and its supply chain. PCRs are a crucial step in the EPD process to insure that harmonized and consistent calculations and procedures will be used each time an EPD is created for a product.”

Funded by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the window PCR conforms with ISO 14040, 14044, 14025, 21930 and the IERE Earthsure Program. EPDs developed using it will be valid for the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED v4 Program.

Gadonniex began her presentation by noting that the environmental impact of the production process is an important question across many industries. In construction, green building councils are popping up all over the world, and they’re starting to align with uniform rating systems.

“In North America, we’re seeing a massive shift,” she said. “Products are being rewarded for sustainability.”

EPDs fit more in with architects and engineers and not manufacturers, Gadonniex said, adding that organizations are starting to use this data in their design tools. Additionally, project teams can use that information to make product purchase decisions. Material libraries and transparency initiatives are also taking on these challenges.

As far as the business value of an EPD, Gadonniex said it’s useful to view it as a single comprehensive report of the environmental impact of a product.

“EPDs are not just a reporting tool,” she said. “They have value as a way for manufacturers to optimize their internal processes, ultimately lowering the environmental footprint of a product and lowering risk. It’s not just an EPD you’re producing. It’s a dynamic set of tools used to communicate our sustainability strategy.”

Gadonniex said the intent of EPDs is twofold: to encourage the use of products and materials for which verified life cycle information is available, and to encourage the selection of environmentally preferable products.

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