The environmental impact of products is an increasingly important selection criterion in construction and industry. However, making sustainable choices requires reliable and comparable data.
When choosing a building product, the best way to find out about its environmental impact is to look at its Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). An EPD is a public report, prepared in accordance with international standards, which describes the significant environmental impacts of a product or product family based on the results of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) verified by a third party.
UPM Plywood published product-specific EPDs for WISA plywood for the first time in 2019. The EPDs for WISA spruce plywood were updated with up-to-date information in 2021, and now the EPDs for WISA birch plywood have also been updated. They cover the majority of WISA uncoated and coated birch plywoods, which are used in a wide range of applications, including construction, carpentry and transport equipment.
"With environmental labels, we want to provide up-to-date and reliable information on the environmental impact of our products, which our customers can use in their own operations. For example, a furniture manufacturer using WISA birch plywood can use the product stage information in the EPD to prepare environmental documentation for their own products", says Timo Lindroos, Product Manager at UPM Plywood.
Reliable information on different environmental impacts
The updated EPDs for WISA birch plywood products are based on the standard governing environmental declarations for construction products (EN 15804 and product group rules) and are based on 2021 data. The environmental impacts reported are based on a life-cycle analysis carried out by Etteplan and verified by Ramboll. EPDs are valid for a maximum of five years or until their information is updated.
The life cycle assessment for WISA plywood covers the product phase (modules A1-A3), the construction phase (A4-A5), the use phase (B), the end-of-life (EoL) phase (C1-C4) and the reuse, recycling and recovery potential (D). In other words, the calculation takes into account the environmental impact of the acquisition, production and transport of plywood raw materials, as well as the construction, use, dismantling and disposal of demolition waste.
The reported results for the environmental impacts of the product phase (A1-A3) are based on the scientific knowledge of the raw material sourcing and manufacturing process of WISA birch plywood. As the use of finished products varies, the results of the other life-cycle stages are calculated estimates of the environmental impacts typically generated during the use of the products in construction.
"The debate on the environmental impact of products easily turns to isolated issues, such as carbon dioxide emissions alone. The advantage of an EPD is that it allows the various environmental impacts of a product to be considered as a whole, "from the cradle to the grave". There are researched and verified benchmarks available", says Sanna Kontinen, Environmental Manager at UPM Plywood.
Benchmarks for environmental impacts at different stages of the life cycle are indicated in the EPD for several impact categories. These include climate change, ozone depletion, soil and water acidification, eutrophication of water bodies, and depletion of non-renewable energy resources and mineral flows.
"At the moment, our customers are particularly interested in the climate impact of our products. For example, the EPD can be used to check the amount of biogenic carbon stored in WISA birch plywood and the fossil carbon dioxide emissions, which make up a very small part of the products' life cycle", Kontinen says.
WISA birch plywood is produced at UPM's plywood mills in Finland and Estonia from wood raw material from sustainably managed forests. They will therefore not cause land-use changes or a reduction in carbon sinks. UPM Plywood has no production or wood procurement in Russia.
Product-specific EPDs are in the customer's interest
EPDs are currently voluntary for product manufacturers, but their importance is growing. While the Declaration of Performance (DoP) describes the technical characteristics of a construction product, the product-specific EPD provides the necessary information on the product's environmental impact. For example, building designers use the information from the EPD to calculate the carbon footprint of a building.
"Product-specific EPDs are increasingly necessary as construction requirements become more strict. By using information from the EPD instead of spreadsheets, you can already get extra points, for example, when applying for BREEAM environmental certification", says Jaakko Paloheimo, Sustainability Manager at UPM Plywood.
It is therefore in the customer's interest to require manufacturers to provide product-specific EPDs, even if they are not yet mandatory. The EPD transparently verifies the environmental impact of the product. Consequently, it is not suitable for the much-discussed greenwashing, that is to say, unsubstantiated environmental claims that do not go beyond advertising. Data produced to standards and verified by a third party can be used to ensure the validity of claims.
"The EPDs of WISA plywoods show that our products are at the top of the plywood benchmark. The explanations convey the message that we at UPM Plywood want to develop sustainability through science-based practices. Customers will be able to take advantage of all the benefits in their own operations", says Paloheimo.
See the updated EPDs for:
Text: Janne Suokas