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LCA expert explains the launch of the world’s first Social Product Declaration for transport company
25 years after the world’s first Environmental Product Declaration was published by EPD International, it is now time for a new initiative — a Social Product Declaration (SPD).
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
6 Mar 2024

The SPD was developed for one of the train models of the multinational company Hitachi Rail. It presents third-party verified data on a product’s or service’s social sustainability performance from a life cycle perspective, from production to waste or recycling.

— EPDs is a transparent and standardised way to calculate and communicate verified environmental data, primarily business to business, Gustav Sandin Albertsson, responsible for the work to enable verification and publication of SPDs at EPD International (a subsidiary of IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute), explains. It’s been around since the 90s but has had a striking surge in the past 3-4 years. It’s used mainly in the construction sector but its use in textiles and other sectors are growing rapidly as well. There are many EPD programme operators, but EPD International of Sweden was the first one, and also the inventor of the term ’EPD’ 25 years ago. 

— Now we are again a frontrunner, as we’re the first EPD programme to publish a social product declaration (SPD) — very similar to an EPD, as it conveys verified sustainability data calculated using pre-set rules, but the focus is on social sustainability issues. Instead of being based on a regular, environmental LCA, this is based on a Social LCA (S-LCA).

Which use cases do you see for Social Product Declarations?

— As I mentioned, an SPD has similar areas of use as an EPD: it can be used to communicate information about your product and to show that your organisation is at the forefront of transparent sustainability data, says Sandin Albertsson. The strength of an EPD is also the strength of an SPD; its comparability and objectivity, which is ensured by the fact that the rules are defined in an open and participatory process and that each single SPD must be verified by an independent third party. What SPDs will be used for more specifically is now up to the market and other actors but I can imagine it being a powerful tool in improving, for example, the sustainability performance of supply chains and for public procurement. Preferably, it’s used together with EPDs to paint a broader picture of the sustainability performance of products.

In this project, the SPD PCR (product category rules) was created for rolling stock. This, Sandin Albertsson shares, means that any manufacturer of rolling stock can use the PCR to produce its own SPD. 

— Of course, just as with EPDs, new PCRs can be created for all types of products and services. In other words, we are happy to support any organisation with an interest to create SPDs. My own view is that SPDs can be very valuable in sectors such as textiles, food and the mining industry. For organizations that take social issues seriously, an SPD can be useful to showcase this in industries known for less-than-ideal working conditions or harmful impact on communities.

How’s the feedback been?

— The feedback to our pilot project has been promising. There seems to be an interest in developing and communicating trustworthy social sustainability data. I sense companies are struggling here, both to map and communicate their own work, but also how to address the issues in upstream supply chains. These issues are increasingly top of mind in several sectors, for example in fashion but also in, for instance, the electronics and mining industries. Several requests have been made to develop SPD product category rules (PCRs) for more product categories. The PCRs are the set of rules that determine how to make the LCA and what can be in the SPD, a necessary first step to enable SPD publications for companies in a given sector. Now, in the first quarter of 2024, we will assess the reactions and market interests, and look into how and when we can offer SPD services to more sectors, beyond the pilot, says Sandin Albertsson. He adds:

— There’s a lot happening particularly in the EPD, and eventually SPD, world, as it goes from a niche activity to mainstream, for instance sometimes required in public procurement — especially with regards to digitalisation and digitisation. It’s about trustworthy sustainability data flowing seamlessly in real-time from the factory floor to verifiers to decision-makers and on — soon for millions of products…