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Everything You Need to Know About Health Product Declarations (HPDs)

Posted on Nov 10, 2015, by Michael Eckert

Your choice of flooring can have a huge impact on sustainability, health and wellness, and it can be helpful to understand the ingredients that go into your products. Today, we’re looking at one tool for enabling the open disclosure of ingredients – Health Product Declarations – and helping you to understand its strengths and limitations.

What are Health Product Declarations?

As concerns for sustainability, health and wellness continue to grow, businesses and consumers alike have shown an increasing demand for visibility into products and manufacturing processes.

This public demand for the open disclosure of ingredients is even reflected in the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) latest LEED building certifications. LEED v4 was released in November 2013, and in order to qualify for several of its Material and Resource credits, organizations need to be able to disclose the ingredients of some of their products, down to an accuracy of 1000 parts per million.

The Health Product Declaration (or HPD) was created as a standard format for enabling this transparent disclosure of ingredients, designed to allow manufacturers to analyze and publish the material ingredients of their products, down to a microscopic level. By comparing these material ingredients to a list of non-green ingredients and potential hazards, the HPD is designed to help businesses and consumers understand any potential health risks associated with using a product.

Understanding HPDs

The HPD is a valuable tool for encouraging transparency, but in order to use it to inform your flooring decisions, it’s important to understand its strengths and limitations. Relatively few manufacturers use the current HPD standard, and in most cases, there’s no need to limit your flooring choices to products that have a Health Product Declaration.

1) It Analyzes Ingredients, Not Risk

The first version of the Health Product Declaration (HPD 1.0) is essentially a simple list of ingredients, which can then be compared to a checklist of harmful and non-green ingredients. Though this is a useful first-step in encouraging transparent disclosure, HPD 1.0 isn’t designed to be an analysis of the risks of using a product.

For example, silica is a common ingredient in many products, despite having carcinogenic properties. Importantly, these carcinogenic properties pose harm only when silica is inhaled; and when used in most products, silica poses no risk. When a product contains silica, HPD 1.0 will indicate the presence of a carcinogenic ingredient – but it won’t provide any explanation of the actual risks of exposure from the product itself.

As a result, HPDs can sometimes make products appear more harmful than they actually are. This can be extremely confusing for consumers, and in some instances, will dissuade manufacturers from adopting the standard.

2) Not All HPDs Are Created Equal

HPDs allow manufacturers to choose how detailed their want their material analysis to be; and though the LEED v4 standard is 1000 parts per million, some manufacturers will opt for significantly less detail, and analyze to only 10,000 parts per million.

In practical terms, this means that many ingredients will be overlooked, and only a handful of ingredients will be identified and disclosed in the HPD. Though HPDs are designed to offer visibility into ingredients, at this level of detail, it amounts to little more than a box-checking exercise – allowing manufacturers to obtain a HPD without offering any real insight into their product.

3) Some HPD Standards Are Almost Unobtainable

LEED v4 offers additional credits for products that are analyzed to an even greater level of detail, requiring products to be analyzed to an accuracy of 100 parts per million.

Unfortunately, this level of detail is almost impossible for most manufacturers to achieve. Complex products can contain thousands of materials, and few organizations will have the resources or technology available to analyze all of their products to this degree. Some ingredients are also protected by proprietary law, preventing suppliers and manufacturers from disclosing them in the same way.

4) It’s Continuing to Improve

The demand for transparent disclosure of ingredients is continuing to grow, and the Health Product Declaration standard is continuing to improve alongside. The latest version (HPD 2.0) was released as recently as last month, and it’s designed to make disclosure easier for manufacturers; giving them the capacity to discuss why they’re using an ingredient, and if there’s any actual exposure risk.

Additional standards are also being developed, and as more and more manufacturers strive for transparent disclosure of their ingredients, it’s likely that other tools and certifications will be adopted. Though Health Product Declarations play a valuable role in encouraging manufacturers to think about sustainability, health and wellness, in most cases, there’s no need to let HPDs limit your flooring choices.

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Michael Eckert

Written by Michael Eckert