All very revealing

7th July 2016


Related Topics

Related tags

  • Business & Industry ,
  • Built environment ,
  • Construction ,
  • Products ,
  • Ecodesign



Use of environmental product declaration in the construction sector is small but growing, reports Gordon Miller

There are about 2,000 construction products with an environmental declaration (EPD) available in Europe. To put this into perspective, merchant Travis Perkins carries around 100,000 building products. A long road to travel, then, but one that more manufacturers are taking.

The UK’s research establishment for the built environment, BRE, has developed a comprehensive EPD scheme aligned with European standard EN 15804: 2012 for construction products (see panel, below).

‘EPD has become increasingly significant as a means of communicating environmental impact data about construction products in the supply chain,’ says Dr Shamir Ghumra, associate director and head of responsible sourcing, at BRE’s Centre for Sustainable Products. ‘Declarations verified to European standards by third parties give contractors and clients more confidence when specifying and procuring products.

‘We still need to create a wider market acceptance and demand for EPD data. Only by getting more product groups with EPD and a significant rise in the volume of EPD available in the market will we see the shift in decision-making.’

Critical mass

As ever, establishing and communicating the drivers are critical to uptake. Major construction firms are key to this, given their position at the top of the supply chain.

Bechtel’s Mike de Silva, sustainability manager on the Crossrail project, says the advent of EPD is an important step towards understanding significant environmental impacts and allowing construction firms to make more informed choices when selecting products and materials.

‘With the focus on carbon in recent years, it is important not to forget that the manufacture of products used in the construction industry can also have other significant impacts,’ he says. ‘The increasing availability of EPD support material- and product-related credits in building and infrastructure assessment methodologies, such as BREEAM and CEEQUAL, and their increasing availability will help to secure these credits on Crossrail.’

De Silva also says EPD is an increasingly important tool in supporting the environmental criteria for lifecycle assessments (LCA) within standards such as BES 6001, the framework standard for responsible sourcing of construction products. ‘EPD is important in improving the visibility of environmental impacts in product manufacture and, in so doing, it helps to drive environmental improvement,’ he says. However, he warns that further harmonisation of methodology is required and says the development of EPD should not place undue costs on smaller manufacturers.

The cost of producing an EPD is a factor in how broadly and quickly the sector will adopt and use product declarations. Already, the cost of carbon has established itself as the primary currency in the debate. Nigel McKay, managing director of Responsible Supply Chain and former procurement operations director at HS2, says: ‘In the past the value of EPD has never been recognised as an important element by clients.’

He adds that discussions with clients about LCA have usually centred on the total cost of ownership – a financial estimate to determine the direct and indirect costs of a product. ‘The total cost of ownership has usually been assessed against a balance between capital costs and operational costs. So many procurement practitioners would be used to a call for an LCA to be based on balancing capital and operating expenditure.

‘However, times are changing, and now product LCA is defined more as the environmental impact of the product from source to destination.’

In another development, McKay has noticed that the cost of carbon is replacing conventional monetary values in assessments. ‘For the first time in 2016, I witnessed a client inserting a mandatory clause into its contract works information, which asked the procurement team to demonstrate how a lifecycle assessment process will be implemented to identify and reduce the embodied environmental impacts in the procurement process,’ he says. ‘So clients are becoming much more informed about the impacts of materials rather than just the cost.’

Design element

At project level on new builds, interpretation of the client’s carbon reduction demands invariably falls first to the design community. BIM Level 2, as outlined in PAS 1192-2: 2013, is now mandatory in the UK. Data presented in a construction product EPD can be combined in 3D CAD/BIM software tools, including IES-VE and TALLY, to quantify the environmental impact of materials for whole building analysis. The results generated by the IES-VE IMPACT compliant tool can be used in whole building assessment schemes such as BREEAM.

EPD capability in a whole building context is significant to the whole supply chain and in particular to several actors. Professor Jacqueline Glass, of the School of Civil and Building Engineering at Loughborough University, says: ‘Designers can see clearly the balance of impacts for a given product. If EPD is configured correctly, this can lead to better decision making. As they are first engagers on a project, it’s critical they have access to such transparent, consistent and comparable analysis and data.

‘Looking up the supply chain, EPD provides manufacturers with a detailed analysis of their impacts – and therefore costs – across their product ranges and production facilities. This gives them the opportunity to improve efficiency, reduce costs and enhance their environmental credentials by targeting production and manufacturing processes and materials to tackle the most significant environmental impacts.’

Benefits for producers

One company that holds EPD in high regard is building materials firm Forterra. David Manley, environment and energy manager, says: ‘We were one of the first to be issued with a BRE BS EN 15804 EPD. Decalarations are a recognised, clear and transparent method of communicating the impacts of a product, and allow users to decide which indicators are most relevant to their particular project. They also make it possible for us to compare with either generic sector decalarations or direct competitors’ EPD to establish whether our impact can be further reduced.’

He discerns a link between EPD and the international standard for environmental management systems. ‘Since the latest version of ISO 14001: 2015 introduced lifecycle thinking into the standard, EPD has a crucial role in how Forterra can demonstrate its commitment to environmental management with the development of simple tools that allow us to produce our own product declarations. This, in turn, will ensure they become a more common tool within our product development, allowing us to quickly modify recipes, including using more recycled or alternative raw materials, and swiftly see what effect this has on the overall impact.’

Travis Perkins, one of the UK’s building product merchants, looks to EPD to support its drive to reduce carbon emissions and improve resource efficiency across its business. Its focus is the supply chains as this accounts for 98% of the firm’s impact across energy, water and waste. Direct operational, logistical and transport impacts account for the balance.

Jez Cutler, group environmental director, says EPD provides an accessible framework. ‘EPD will not on its own to transform markets nor is it the perfect vehicle for declarations, but anything that increases transparency must improve performance,’ he says.

Travis Perkins has identified four product groups – timber, plasterboard, cement and insulation – as a primary focus for product declarations. The groups represent the heaviest impact across the company’s supply chain by overall volume and value (not per m2 of environmental impact). ‘The big challenge is timber,’ says Cutler. ‘FSC certification alone is not enough. For too long the sector has seen FSC, BES 6001 and EPD as interchangeable. However, product declaration through EPD is the most promising tool we have to drive improvement.’

Room for improvement

Although EPD may be the best available, no system is without room for improvement. Glass highlights some of the criticisms levelled at EPD. ‘Decalarations can be between four and 40 pages. Some believe they can be both too simple for an expert and too detailed for a lay consumer. So it is critical to produce declarations that are appropriately detailed for the intended end-use and end-user.’

EPD accounts solely for environmental data, which some critics argue is an artificial distinction and urge integration of information on social and other aspects. Glass is one. She says: ‘There is no equivalent standard or methodology for producing social declarations. So information tends to remain very separate.’

She warns consumers must be aware of the types of EPD. ‘Environmental data can be produced and disseminated by the “host” organisation, or by a third party. There are different degrees of depth, credibility, evaluation and auditing, which can be confusing.’

There are several barriers to widespread adoption. Manley says cost may be one, given most assessments are carried out by specialists. Also, many potential users may not realise how they compare with the generic sector EPD and may have concerns over how a declaration could be interpreted. For example, Forterra’s paint grade block has a slightly higher carbon footprint than its standard equivalent. But this is offset in use because there is no need for treatment before painting.

McKay identifies three significant barriers and challenges, the first of which is ignorance. ‘Ask 100 people in construction what an EPD is and, unless a person is a sustainability or environmental manager, most – with the exception of one or two enlightened procurement managers – would say “I have no clue”. That could also be the same for consultants, designers and architects. So the biggest barrier at present is communication and education.’

The value of EPD is another issue. McKay says: ‘Most people in the industry, in my opinion, would struggle to understand why we should spend money on getting an EPD when no one asks for it. I would say that is true at present. But, if you look for how far the industry has come on responsible sourcing since around 2007 when we all first started to explore the subject, having an EPD in the future could give a manufacturer a significant advantage.’

McKay identifies a third barrier in the lack of a route map on including declarations in the procurement process and the value that should be assigned if it becomes part of a balanced scorecard assessment. ‘Most clients would say we leave the procurement to the main contractors and main contractors say we leave the procurement of materials to the trade contractors. But who is educating the trade contractors on the subject of EPD?’

So the learning may be steep and challenging with several high barriers to hurdle, and the journey a long one but, on balance, the construction sector backs EPD. ‘In short, EPD is an excellent tool for our industry,’ says Manley. ‘But it needs to be utilised as part of a wider assessment of the building fabric, as opposed to a like-for-like basis.’

McKay agrees: ‘EPD is not only here to stay but will become a significant source of data in the next five years to demonstrate how companies are becoming more responsible in their management and procurement systems. And, in 2020, if we ask ourselves the same type of questions that we have today around EPD, we won’t struggle to answer them in a more positive manner.’

Gordon Miller is co-founder and chief operating officer of communications business Sustain Worldwide and a trained BREEAM assessor. For more information on BRE’s GreenBookLive EPD verification scheme visit

EPD scheme at BRE

The UK’s research establishment for the built environment, BRE, operates an environmental product declaration membership programme, which can count among its number:

  • Crown Paints for its Trade Clean Extreme Matt Vinyl paint, Trade FastFlow quick dry gloss, Trade Matt vinyl emulsion and Crown Trade FastFlow quick dry primer undercoat;
  • building materials firm Forterra for its Thermalite Autoclaved Aerated concrete block; and
  • sealing products company Sika, which holds five decalarations, including for its Sika-Trocal S, a homogeneous, multi-layer, synthetic roof waterproofing sheet.

Details of the BRE scheme are at


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

Weather damage insurance claims hit record high

Weather-related damage to homes and businesses saw insurance claims hit a record high in the UK last year following a succession of storms.

18th April 2024

Read more

The Scottish government has today conceded that its goal to reduce carbon emissions by 75% by 2030 is now “out of reach” following analysis by the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

18th April 2024

Read more

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has issued a statement clarifying that no changes have been made to its stance on offsetting scope 3 emissions following a backlash.

16th April 2024

Read more

While there is no silver bullet for tackling climate change and social injustice, there is one controversial solution: the abolition of the super-rich. Chris Seekings explains more

4th April 2024

Read more

One of the world’s most influential management thinkers, Andrew Winston sees many reasons for hope as pessimism looms large in sustainability. Huw Morris reports

4th April 2024

Read more

Vanessa Champion reveals how biophilic design can help you meet your environmental, social and governance goals

4th April 2024

Read more

Alex Veitch from the British Chambers of Commerce and IEMA’s Ben Goodwin discuss with Chris Seekings how to unlock the potential of UK businesses

4th April 2024

Read more

Regulatory gaps between the EU and UK are beginning to appear, warns Neil Howe in this edition’s environmental legislation round-up

4th April 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close