How to Monitor and Evaluate the Environment?
EPR (Environmental Product Declaration) is an emerging tool that can be used to measure and monitor the environmental performance of a product along its entire life cycle. The EPD includes the declaration of all inputs , outputs and impacts on the environment related to a specific material, product, service or company.
It is intended as a universally applicable decision-support tool for use by customers, suppliers, regulatory authorities and others interested in evaluating products’ environmental aspects. Furthermore the EPDs are designed for most industrial production processes or services sourcing globally or regionally distributed throughout Europe.
Is it Possible to Monitor Human Environment?
Nowadays our planet faces different challenges with respect to environment protection issues such as climate changes, biodiversity loss etc.. Preparing a reliable environmental performance report requires an extensive knowledge in different areas of environmental sciences and technologies. EPRs give the possibility to know the full life cycle of a product, from raw material extraction to waste disposal, by using a chain of indicators for each stage.
EPDs include information on the following aspects: “Raw materials”, “Manufacturing Processes”, “Waste / Recycling / Re-use”, “Transport” and “Energy consumption”. Different tools have been developed in order to facilitate monitoring environment. They are based on Eco-indicators that can be used at any scale (i.e., continents, countries, cities, companies or products). A number of different approaches exists; some methodologies consider only one parameter, while others consider a set of parameters and indicators. It is possible to find tools for evaluating the environmental performance of products, companies or even cities.
Most of them are based on previous experiences in different countries , that have been extended to new regions or adjusted taking into account specific needs in each area.
The most representative methodology can be summarized as follows:
“Raw materials” is the first stage when it comes to manufacturing a product. This section includes information about all kinds of inputs from natural resources such as water, air, soil contamination etc.. In this case EPDs can support decision making by providing information in order to reduce consumption and waste generation in terms of raw material .
Data is collected through different methods such as providing a complete list of all raw materials used in a product or by applying a life cycle assessment. In this case LCA is a methodology that considers the whole life cycle of a product from extraction to disposal and aims to evaluate environmental aspects related with each phase.
To begin with, it is necessary to define the system boundaries for the analysis. It must be focused only on materials directly involved in making up the product or building its components . In fact, when considering all kinds of raw material usage during different stages of production it will not be possible to have an accurate idea about how much material has been used.
In addition, if we consider other factors such as human, water and energy consumption in manufacturing processes then maybe these data could be included in EPDs to provide a whole picture.
“Manufacturing Processes” is the second stage when it comes to making a product and it represents all kind of inputs required for production . In fact, “Manufacturing process” refers only to the active engineered part of the system, which also includes transportation and waste management activities. The aim here is to evaluate the environmental pressures caused by raw material consumption and different processes involved during manufacturing. It should be distinguished between direct and indirect energy consumption related to each step of production. On the other hand, we must consider all relevant emissions such as greenhouse gases (e.g., CO2) , air pollutants (e.g., NOx or SOx), acidifying agents (e.g., H2SO4) and eutrophying agents (e.g., NO3).
Waste includes information about the quantity of waste generated during manufacturing, the composition of materials in this waste stream, recycling rates for different product components, energy recovery options etc.. All data must be based on local industry standards or documents that are specific to each company.
The aim here is to highlight areas where improvements can be made. EPDs provide environmental information at different stages not only related to raw material usage but also towards production processes and final disposal in order to make it easier for decision-making. The main advantage is that comparisons with other companies in the same sector can be made easily . However, tools should be adjusted according to user requirements in order to make this information useful.
“Transportation” represents the part of product lifecycle where energy consumption is higher due to transport activities . It can be measured by following some indicators such as km, m/t transported etc.. The aim is also to evaluate different impacts related with transportations of products during their working life cycle. For example, if distances are small then it will reduce environmental pressures but at the same time transportation costs may increase . This means that EPDs cannot provide enough information without taking into account local industry standards and other factors mentioned before.
The “End-of-Life Phase” (EoL) is an important section for evaluating EPDs because it considers all kinds of final disposal options. This phase can be divided into 3 different sub-phases depending on product type, for example:
“End-of-Life for Products without Energy Recovery” (EoL(n)ER) includes all final disposal methods where energy recovery is not possible after the final stage of the product lifecycle . These products include waste incineration or landfill. On this section it is necessary to mention toxicity levels related with materials used in manufacturing processes together with concentrations submitted to each treatment step if they are submitted to any before their final disposal. All data must be based on local industry standards or documents that are specific to each company.