Declaring your data
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Gordon Miller provides an update on environmental product declarations in the construction industry
Verified environmental product declarations (EPD) in the construction sector have increased substantially in the past year and growth is expected to continue.
According to consultancy Construction LCA, more EN 15804-compliant EPDs were published in the ten months between March 2016 and January 2017 than published in the two years between March 2014 and March 2016. And, by the start of 2017 more than 3,500 EPD verified to 15804 for construction products had been published.
The global reach is expanding too. Construction product EPD programmes in Poland, Italy and Slovenia have published their first 15804 declarations, while EPD Ireland has launched. There are now around 20 EPD programmes globally that publish verified 15804 declarations. IBU, based in Germany, has published half of all EPD, demonstrating the increasing maturity of EPD in the country and across mainland Europe.
In the UK, BRE, the research establishment for the built environment, has developed a comprehensive EPD programme aligned with the European standard 15804: 2012 +A1: 2013 for construction products. BRE also operates an EPD membership programme that includes a range of organisations including Crown Paints, Sika, Forterra, Saint Gobain, Rockpanel and Synthos. Crown Paints has several product EPDs. Forterra has an EPD for its Thermalite Autoclaved Aerated Concrete Block. Sika holds five EPD including for its Sika-Trocal S, a homogeneous, multi-layer, synthetic roof waterproofing sheet.
‘The recent exponential increase in third-party verified EPD can be attributed to a maturing of understanding by product manufacturers of the benefits of not only measuring their lifecycle assessment data for their own use but also of the value in declaring it. EPD give specifiers, contractors and clients more confidence when specifying and procuring products,’ says Dr Shamir Ghumra, director, centre for sustainable products, BRE.
‘This is especially significant because the data presented in construction product EPD can be combined in 3D CAD/BIM software tools like IES-VE to quantify the environmental impact of building materials for whole building analysis. The results then generated by IMPACT compliant tools, such as IES-VE, Bionova and eTool, can be used in whole building assessment schemes, like BREEAM.’
As sustainability certifications increasingly become a cost of business rather than an add on, assessment credits gain ever greater currency. The dialogue is one among several EPD salient narratives – including systems and products level EPD, BIM integration, the rising health and wellbeing agenda. These will be debated at the second annual EPD event on 28 June 2017 in London (see panel, below).
Mark Allen, technical director at Saint-Gobain in the UK and Ireland, explains why the French multinational producer of building materials produces uses EPDs. ‘A primary factor is so we can achieve transparency in the market against competitors’ products,' he says. ‘It’s also with a view to educating clients around the importance of verified EPDs versus self-declared information.’
The benefit of independently verified EPD, as Allen notes, is they provide a level playing field to measure environmental impacts, for example on embodied carbon. But he warns that this should not be the only considerations and there are other environmental factors that need to be considered: ‘There are many categories in an EPD.
Embodied carbon calculations are one facet of environmental products. To be truly sustainable we need to understand that sustainability is multi-faceted and that designing for just embodied carbon could lead to poor quality design solutions.’ One example is designing buildings with small windows to achieve operational energy efficiency under Part L and s6 of the regulations. However, this could reduce light quantity and quality into the building.
In turn, this could increase seasonal affective disorders, and sick building syndrome problems like depression, low mood, poor sleep patterns, stress and so on – it can also reduce people’s productivity and concentration.
Allen says Saint-Gobain applies BS EN 15978 standard for calculating the environmental performance of a building. ‘It is essential we also understand the other facets of sustainability, like durability, maintenance, life expectancy of buildings and their components and the economics associated with these issues,’ he says.
‘For instance, a composite grate cover may have lower embodied energy than a cast iron solution, but if the solution must be replaced twice as much and cannot be deconstructed for reuse or recycling in the future then all we do is stock pile the problem of carbon, moving it from now to future generations.
‘In our opinion, we need to move towards building level assessments to stop “greenwashing” and to ensure clients obtain value for money. If a client was aware they had to replace a component twice as much as necessary, I am sure they would choose items which last.’
Of course, real estate developers whose business model is non-operational at asset level – build and sell – do not have the same motivations to invest in capex with a clear eye on long-term issues such as durability and being maintenance free. This underlines that different drivers motivate distinct market sectors, and that EPD integration into whole building assessment schemes, such as BREEAM, is vital to normalise it as an expectation level of construction rather than a nice to have.
EPD are also used to assess product performance improvement – what Allen calls eco-innovation. ‘By using an existing EPD we can look at changes to the product to meet market needs, while understanding the ramifications of this requirement. This could result in us deciding not to undertake the change because of possible detrimental impact – one that could have a worse effect than leaving the solution as originally designed,’ he says.
‘This can be seen on a spider diagram with the 11 or 13 categories of an EPD. You then model the solution in software. What you may find is once change is made at a component level there could be unexpected impacts. If, for example, this caused higher water consumption in the process, this would not be acceptable to us.’
Looking to the long term, health and wellbeing are two impact areas in which EPDs can play a significant role to understand and improve products’ environmental performance and enhance people’s lives. Indeed, HPDs (health product declarations) are beginning to gain traction to complement EPDs and other third-party verification, such as for indoor air quality.
Saint-Gobain operates a programme called Multi-Comfort (the firm’s first Multi-Comfort home in France is pictured on p32). It aims to minimise the environmental footprint of a building, focusing on comfort and wellbeing, including thermal and acoustic comfort, indoor air quality, visual comfort and safety. ‘We use EPDs as part of the programme,’ says Allen.
‘The reason for this is simple: firstly, as the LCA includes all the constituent parts of a product, as part of the eco-innovation process we can start to see where we can potentially remove compounds to improve products and ensure we achieve our multi-comfort criteria. Second, we know the designed energy assessment for multi-comfort (those looking at boiler and internal energy usage) is very close to the actual performance of the building.
Therefore, we can be confident adding embodied energy to the building usage will provide a close to reality output – rather than some of the games played with current building regulation compliance tools.’
Driving better sustainable societal outcomes and delivering competitive advantage is critical to Saint-Gobain’s business vision. EPD supports its position by enabling the company to measure the impact of its products and systems, and make that information public. ‘Given we spend up to 90% of our time indoors we need to ensure all avenues help improve the productivity of society to meet the new challenges of tomorrow,’ says Allen.
‘For example, we could improve productivity making us a more prosperous as a nation. A true sustainable material is one that contributes to sustainability of towns and cities and enables a truly global sustainable framework to exist.’
Gordon Miller is co-founder and chief operating officer of communications business Sustain Worldwide and a trained BREEAM assessor.
BRE LINA tool
The British Woodworking Federation (BWF) exhibited the world’s first lifecycle assessment (LCA) calculated using the new BRE LINA tool at at Ecobuild in March. LINA’s functionality enables LCA results to be produced for BWF’s members’ products, which can be uploaded onto the BRE Hub so that a third-party verified BRE Global Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) can be produced.
The LCA results can support the updated version of ISO 14001: 2015 in relation to the clause on lifecycle perspective ion the revised international standard for environmental management systems, and can potentially feed into BIM (building information modelling). Two timber windows made by BWF member companies – the Stormsure Timber Casement by JELD-WEN and the Conservation Casement by Mumford and Wood – have become the first products to receive LINA assessments.
‘LINA is proving to be a powerful calculator and enables us at the BWF to build on the early work of Wood for Good and the Wood Window Alliance to produce bespoke LCA for our members’ products,’ says BWF chief executive Iain McIlwee. ‘The simple approach and science behind the tool unravels many of the complexity excuses made by competing materials about why embodied carbon cannot be taken into consideration. It revolutionises the way EPDs can be produced and takes us one step closer to these declarations hitting the mainstream.’
Dr Shamir Ghumra, Mark Allen, Iain McIlwee are among the speakers at the forthcoming EPD construction products event on 28 June 2017. It takes place at the Saint-Gobain Multi-Comfort visitor centre, 95 Great Portland St, London W1W 7NY. For further information and to register go to bit.ly/2oWuXtv.
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