02 August, 2017
In highly efficient or even plus energy buildings – the buildings of the future, the lifetime operational energy consumption is much lower compared with conventional new buildings, while the share of embodied energy is higher due to additional sophisticated construction materials, energy production and recovery systems (Dutil, Rousse & Quesada, 2011)1, along with the use of renewable technologies. Therefore, it is necessary to select building materials carefully, with low embodied energy to minimize the adverse effect on the environment. Beyond the energy dimension, sustainable buildings require construction products that are sustainable in terms of health and material efficiency.
In Europe there is a variety of informative tools for the customers about the environmental impacts of building materials. These independently verified information tools fall into two main categories: eco-labeling and environmental product declaration. They can be operated by governmental agencies or third parties.
Ecolabels of sustainable building materials and components are developed in Europe or internationally. They vary based on the scope of certifiable products, certification criteria and procedure, period of validity etc. The Blue Angel, EU Ecolabel, and The Passive House Components Label, are renowned European and German eco-labels, whereas Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) are internationally operated.
Another important informative tool is the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), which communicates the quantified environmental impacts of a product in a standard format. It is based on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and common rules known as Product Category Rules (PCR). The latter ensures that EPDs of products of the same functional use category created by different organizations apply the same data scope and metrics. Unlike the various ecolabels presented above, the EPD report does not provide judgment of products, leaving that task to consumers (similar to the food nutrients table).
In 2012, the European Commission published “Sustainability of Construction Work– Environmental Product Declarations – Basic Rules for the Product Category of Building Products” (often shortened to EN 15804). It is a European environmental product declaration of construction norm that ensures that all EPDs for building products, building services, and building processes are derived, verified, and represented in a uniform manner according to through PCR.
Its aim is to have a standardized format and methodology defining the set of environmental indicators to be used, underlying calculation rules and reporting requirements for building products and building related services. It also includes calculating rules of the life cycle inventory and the life cycle impact assessment underlying the EPD. This standard is applicable to construction products, processes and services. Currently six mandatory impact categories shall be included in an EPD based on EN 15804:
The environmental information that is presented in an EPD consists of information modules, based on which the LCA is conducted. While the production module (A1–3) is based on existing or historical data, impacts from the following stages are assessed based on assumptions (i.e. scenario based information). Therefore, the production module (A1–3) is the only mandatory part of the EPD.
Currently, EPD is voluntary. A third party organization reviews all information given. The procedure to develop an EPD and the requirements on the organization responsible for each EPD system, the “program operator”, are defined in ISO 14025 (2006).
1Dutil, Y., Rousse, D., & Quesada, G. (2011). Sustainable Buildings: An Ever Evolving Target. Sustainability, 3(12), 443-464. doi:10.3390/su3020443