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EPDs: what you need to know

29 January, 2024

If you haven’t heard about Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) already, you’re certainly going to be hearing a lot more about them in the coming months and years. ABB’s Martin Richardson explains what they are and why they matter.

Picture a lump of concrete. While a stationary lump of concrete may not appear to consume much energy, the processes by which that lump came into being are typically extremely energy-intensive. The extraction of raw materials, then the processing to turn them into cement, and the transportation of the finished concrete to a construction site, all contribute to the concrete’s “capital carbon” (also known as “embodied carbon”).
When we talk about the energy efficiency of variable-speed drives and motors, the focus is often on what they do when they are operating. However, there is a bigger picture to consider. For instance, some motors incorporate rare-earth metals. The process of extracting these metals from the ground is extremely energy-intensive, and so the end-device will have a high capital carbon cost. Even the most efficient devices may take years or even decades to offset this.
Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) seek to address this by providing greater transparency of the true carbon profile of a product over its whole life. They are a form of third-party certification, which is registered and published via what is known as the International EPD System. Product manufacturers must provide complete transparency over the origin and carbon impact of all of the materials and processes involved in the manufacture, use and disposal of their devices, both at a component level and as a whole. Importantly, they must also address potential energy and carbon benefits that products – such as high-efficiency motors and variable-speed drives – can have when in use.
Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions are defined as emissions that occur within the value chain of the reporting company – that is, all indirect emissions not related to purchased energy. According to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, these can account for 80-95% of the total value chain of an organisation’s footprint . However, because Scope 3 emissions are typically outside of the reporting company’s direct control, they are also the most difficult to measure, let alone reduce.
While EPDs are not mandatory at present, they can help purchasers of drives and motors to make more informed decisions, while also supporting efforts to improve reporting relating to emissions. Over time, the increasing adoption of EPDs will hopefully encourage manufacturers to take steps to reduce the capital carbon of their products, and to use their influence where possible to reduce the carbon footprint of their supply chains.


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