Advantages of using EcoInvent in comparison with ICE database and EPD

eToolLCD is data agnostic. That is, you can plug any data into the backend. Our default database is Ecoinvent which is well documented and reviewed but other Life Cycle Inventory sources or EPDs can also be used in LCA studies.  For example, eToolLCD users may use the BRE IMPACT dataset on the platform as well. What we don’t allow users to do is to mix data sources in the same project for the simple reason that it leads to poor design decisions due to geographical, methodological and scope differences. 
 
We field a lot of questions regarding the use of the ICE database and EPDs, so we have documented the below information to help users.  
 

ICE Database

The first release of eTool actually relied heavily on the ICE database and we think the data collection methodology is actually a great way to quantify impacts of generic products. To summarise, ICE collects carbon (and energy) data points from a wide range of studies and determines the mean of the results for a particular product category.  The strength of this methodology is that anomalies, scope limitations, even errors in particular studies don’t dominate the mean. 

There are however some disadvantages with ICE which motivated us to introduce other data sources as we grew, such as the below:

  • Limited number of processes available – ICE has a lower number of processes available in the database in comparison to other sources like EcoInvent which limits material choices for our users.
  • Limited number of environmental indicators – ICE is currently focused on Global Warming Potential whereas other data sources provide access to a comprehensive range of environmental indicators.
  • Limited ability to investigate LCI supply chain processes – This is one of the great advantages of EcoInvent. When a number seems fishy we can deep dive into the processes and quickly understand the key assumptions and data sources that are driving that impact.  
  • Compliance to International Standards (EN 15804+A2) –  Although we are fans of ICE’s methodology, it is currently not aligned with ISO or EN standards. Some of our concerns with that is we are unable to rule out double counting, ensure that consistent methodology has been used with all contributing studies and account for geographical relevancy when it isn’t aligned with these standards.

Despite the above points, we believe that it is only an indication that there is room for improvement and not that the database is ‘bad’. It is quite possible that we may consider using ICE (or any other suitable and robust database for that matter) in the future so long as it can address most of the above concerns or if there is enough user demand.

EPD Data

EPDs are the future of low and zero carbon design.

 

Firstly eTool wants to be clear that EPDs are the future of low and zero carbon design.  Although there are still plenty of “easy wins” in design performance improvement without relying on EPD data, that is changing quickly as these design decisions become increasingly common or even ‘business-as-usual’. When that happens, design teams are pushed to pursue further performance improvements which is when EPDs play a critical role.

eTool was aware of the important role EPDs play early in our LCA journey and have always been excited about EPDs. We have actively encouraged manufacturers to undertake them and design teams to utilise EPDs in whole building (or civil asset) LCAs.  Shortly after EN15804 was released we provisioned eToolLCD to enable the use of EPDs in whole building LCAs.  Our services team are trained to use this functionality at every opportunity when we conduct our LCA consulting services to further reduce environmental impacts with better product selection. 

Over the last 8 years of operation, eTool did identify some risks associated with the use of EPDs at the whole building/civil asset level.  Although these risks are easy to address in your LCA study and are already being addressed by the wider EPD industry as the frameworks and standards mature, it is however important to be aware of them as some of these risks may still be relevant in your LCA studies: 

  • Using EPD data as a proxy for generic data – This methodology is pretty dangerous and we see it a lot when reviewing LCA studies. It becomes particularly problematic when generic comparisons are being made using EPDs from different companies.  For example, quantifying the benefits of fly ash concrete by comparing a Portland cement concrete EPD from one manufacturer with a fly ash concrete EPD from another manufacturer.  What you’re measuring here is not just the difference in the binder (i.e, Portland cement versus fly ash being the intended comparison) but also the manufacturing supply chains and practices of the two different manufacturers (energy, material inputs, locations etc) and potential methodological differences in the LCA studies of the EPDs.  
  • Using EPDs from other Regions without due Consideration – There are two pitfalls here.  One is the use of an offshore EPD as a proxy for local production. This can occur for global manufacturers who have factories in multiple regions.  You might find an EPD for their product, assume that it’s reflective of the local version of the product and use this EPD in your LCA.  In reality, the EPD may only be valid for the product manufacturing plants of the region where the EPD was produced.  This should be explicitly stated in the EPD and can hence be avoided.  The second issue is using an offshore product that has a valid EPD and not adjusting the A4 (transport) impacts to account for additional transport impacts.  This can sway the decision significantly where products are being transported long distances.  Both of these issues are relatively easy to address in your study provided careful consideration is given to the EPDs you’re using. You can refer to this support post on how to address these issues in eToolLCD.
  • Misalignment of Environmental Indicator Scope – Even though Global Warming Potential (GWP) is always reported, it is unusual for an EPD to report on all the required indicators to be able to conduct a like-for-like life cycle comparison with a generic or competing product. Although it is unlikely for indicators other than GWP to significantly drive a result, there are certainly instances where they do. Fortunately, the latest version of EN15804:2019 ensures a more consistent approach to reporting other indicators beyond GWP.
  • Misalignment of the Life Cycle Module Scope – On a similar vein to the previous point, it is unusual for an EPD to report on all required life cycle modules to conduct a like-for-like, life cycle comparison with a generic or competing product.  Although it is unlikely that maintenance, end-of-life and/or module D impacts to significantly drive a result, there are certainly instances where they do. Although thankfully, the latest version of EN 15804:2019 also ensures a more consistent approach to reporting other life cycle modules beyond A1-3, currently very few EPDs have been published to this standard.
  • Methodological differences between program operators – Athough an unlikely issue for GWP, it may cause unexpected results for less certain environmental indicators. Besides the ECO EPD Platform currently working on addressing this risk, the latest version of EN15804+A2 also tightens things up on this significantly.  
  • Rare cases of poorly executed underlying LCA studies – It should be noted that although this issue rarely affects GWP and have only been a problem for other environmental indicators, we’ve seen instances where EPDs have had to be updated post registration due to data quality issues being identified. The best way to mitigate this risk is to push for more transparency. By publishing EPDs, they are immediately subject to broad scrutiny and consequently improvement.  Ensuring a transparent EPD framework will effectively resolve these issues as they arise.   

 

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