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UL Environment aims to make buying green easier

Eco labels. Green seals. Environmental impact reports. It can all be a bit much for product purchasers to process when they are comparing goods or seeking environmentally preferable items.

Now UL Environment wants to make procurement professionals' comparison shopping easier with its EPD Transparency Brief, a document that gives a quick overview of a product's verified environmental impacts, materials, recyclability and more. The document is a supplement to the Environmental Product Declaration, an internationally recognized format that reports on the impacts of a product's life cycle. 

"The additional value of the transparency brief is it summarizes the critical information from the EPD into a very easily read one-page -- front and back -- document," said Lindsay James, director of sustainability at modular carpet maker Interface. The Atlanta-based company helped create the transparency brief format.

Interface has used EPDs for many of its products for a few years now, but James said that only architectural or design customers that are highly interested in environmental details review them thoroughly.

"Once most people saw how long it was, there would be a decrease of interest," said James, who also contributes to's Radical Industrialists blog.

The brief takes the EPD and condenses it. Using plain language, the document includes:

  • The life cycle impacts like global warming potential and water pollution potential
  • Material type, availability and origin
  • Recycled content
  • How to recycle
  •  How much renewable or non-renewable energy was used
  •  Certifications or standards

The intent is to make it easier for purchasers to see key details of products for comparing goods or seeking out items with specific attributes. It also makes it easier for companies to highlight environmental aspects.

"We needed to find a way to simplify it," said Chris Youssef, an interior designer with Perkins + Will, another company that was part of the brief's development.

Interface and UL Environment, an arm of Underwriters Laboratories, came to Perkins + Will with their desire to easily show the information and impacts of products.

Heather Gadonniex, lead of strategic development and innovation at UL Environment, said the idea was inspired by Perkins + Will's transparency label announced at Greenbuild last year.

"It seemed like a natural evolutionary step to partner with them and with Interface," she said, noting Interface is seen as a pioneer in the EPD movement. The company was the first carpet maker in North America to receive an EPD and holds EPDs for more than 80 percent of its products.

Youssef said that while EPDs are great, at 20-plus pages each, designers like him don't have the time to fully review them for all the materials and products they're considering.

"It's a verified tools that allows designers, architects, end users, whoever is using the EPD to make informed decisions," he said,  "It's not telling you what you should be using as a sustainable material or products. It's giving you the information for you yourself to make the choice."

Photo of businessman reading report courtesy of tlegend via Shutterstock.

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