As recently covered in another Vision 2020 story, Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) initiated in Europe quantify all of the environmental inputs into a product—energy, water, and materials—based on a life-cycle assessment (LCA). In other words, EPDs determine a product’s carbon footprint. And while most of the green community agrees that EPDs are an important step in meeting future sustainability goals, there is another critical side of products that EPDs don’t cover—health.

According to Bill Walsh, executive director of the Healthy Building Network (HBN), the health side of a product is about identifying hazards, something an EPD can’t quantify. “There’s no way you can boil that down or click it up into a single number because you are dealing with so many different chemicals in a product and so many different hazards,” he says. “In Europe, a certain chemical might be considered a known human carcinogen, whereas in the U.S. it might be considered a probable human carcinogen. Without that kind of easily quantified background, you have to address health in a different way.”

That is why Walsh, joined by his HBN colleague Tom Lent and a group of key green building leaders, decided to create the Health Product Declaration (HPD), a standard form for manufacturers to use to report content and related health hazard information about building products and materials. Developed to complement the EPD, the HPD is an open standard, which means anyone can use it. In essence, it creates a common language that can be easily integrated into a product LCA or even used as a platform for other programs. The International Living Future Institute, for example, plans to use the language and definitions set by the HPD for its Declare product ingredients label.

The draft version of an HPD is divided into eight different components, which you can see here . The meat of the document can be found in sections 2 and 3, which address the level of content disclosure and a list of contents in order of quantity. The contents list includes chemicals by name and identifier number, content percentage, and the identified hazards and references (i.e., Proposition 65). It also indicates when a chemical has “no warnings found” and if it meets a GreenScreen benchmark, a tool used by manufacturers to identify alternative, less hazardous substances.

Walsh admits that HPDs are more extensive than many current transparency requests, but he says this not only benefits end users but manufacturers as well. “The benefit to manufacturers would be one-stop shopping,” Walsh says. “It would satisfy the most rigorous customers and would make information available to any customer—and they wouldn’t have to keep repeating the process.”

Now that there is some discussion that LEED 2012 may give credits for increased product disclosure, Walsh says HPDs will be a critical tool for the green building community. But even if that doesn’t happen, Walsh still believes HPDs represent a necessary shift in the way we evaluate sustainable building materials. “The future of materials evaluation is going to be rooted in disclosure as opposed to where it’s now rooted, which is in certification to certain performance standards,” Walsh explains.

So where does the HPD initiative stand? In mid-March, 30 building product manufacturers, including Vision 2020 sponsors GAF and Knauf, signed on for a pilot program that will test and improve the Draft HPD Open Standard. The goal is to use the pilot project to create a final draft of the HPD Open Standard that will be available by the end of the year.

According to Walsh, the HPD pilot project is one of the first steps toward what many are calling the age of radical transparency. “You really have to be ready for the day that somebody opens the window on your company,” Walsh says. “Now, it’s not a question of if ... it’s a question of when.”

For more information on the HPD and its endorsers, visit