The Story Behind Solar Gard's Environmental Product Declaration

The Story Behind Solar Gard's Environmental Product Declaration

What does it take to compile an environmental product declaration? For the maker of Solar Gard window films, it was a two-year project to amass data spanning the lifecycle of the product line and its impacts globally. In the end, the firm found that the products aren't just carbon neutral but also have a net positive impact on the environment.

Or as the company likes to put it, the products are "carbon negative, earth positive."

"A year ago we could not have had this conversation, and three years ago we didn't know what an EPD is," said Kathryn Giblin, vice president of global marketing and technical services for Solar Gard's maker, Bekaert Specialty Films LLC, which manufactures solar control and safety window films. Based in San Diego, Calif., BSF is the U.S. subsidiary of the Belgian firm Bekaert.

Giblin's comments came at a briefing last week at the Greenbuild conference in Chicago, where her firm provided the backstory for the recently completed environmental product declaration that covers the 32 types of window films in the Solar Gard line.

The window films help cut energy costs by as much as 30 percent and prevent 1,001 times more greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere than are related to its manufacture, according to the company.

Compiled using international standards for lifecycle analysis and reporting (ISO 14040 and 14025), the environmental product declaration was reviewed by independent consulting firm Altanova LLC, which said BSF's project was "the largest EPD ever completed." The EPD also is registered with the International EPD System and The Green Standard.

This leg of the company's sustainability journey began with BSF's documentation of its Solar Gard line for a climate declaration, which guest blogger Leanne Tobias detailed in a post this summer.

"We started with our climate declaration for our solar control films ... and we made the decision to do the full EPD," Giblin said. "With our commitment to transparency and environmental responsibility, we thought it is very important to move forward and provide (information about) the environmental performance of our product."

More and more, the marketplace wants proof of environmental claims, and full disclosure of products' eco impacts delivers it, she said. "Consumers are tired of greenwashing ... people are now demanding the information behind the marketing," said Giblin, pointing to the FTC's recent revision of its green marketing guidelines. Her company urges firms to strongly consider completing an environmental product declaration.

In a follow-up interview yesterday, Giblin renewed her company's call for disclosure of products' environmental impacts. EPDs provide credibility to consumers and for businesses and industry in general, she said. Such reporting also boosts competitiveness for companies, especially those working in the global arena where EPDs are more common than in the U.S.

Representatives for several firms sat in on the how-we-did-it briefing at Greenbuild, and in conversation yesterday Giblin touched on points companies should keep in mind about compiling EPDs:

  • The process can be time consuming and costly. Many staff hours were spent pulling data for the Solar Gard EPD. Costs for producing the reports vary depending on the number of products involved and their reach in the marketplace, said Giblin, who declined to disclose the cost for BSF's EPD. (In her article, Tobias reported that the expense for producing the climate declaration was just over $100,000.)
  • "You have to have complete senior management buy-in," said Giblin. "Our support was from the president down and that meant our team was empowered and supported."
  • Stakeholders in the process need to realize there are likely to be up- and downsides to information that is uncovered, and they should resolve to move forward regardless of the outcome. "You might look good in some areas and not in others," said Giblin. Or, she added, while doing the right thing ethically and environmentally, "the economic impact might not be positive." BSF decided to use whatever it learned as the basis for continued improvement, she said.
  • An EPD is just one aspect of a broader environmental commitment. "This is not a one-time thing" Giblin said. "It's a long-term commitment, a different way of thinking about and doing things."

Top image -- The U.S. Department of Energy's headquarters, the James Forrestal Building in Washington. D.C., where Solar Gard safety film covers 4,000 panes of glass. Image by the DOE via Wikimedia Commons. Insets courtesy of Solar Gard.