THE ROLE OF ENVIRONMENTAL PRODUCT DECLARATIONS IN THE CONSTRUCTION SECTOR
The construction sector plays a significant role in shaping our built environment. However, it also has a substantial environmental impact, using about 40% of extracted raw materials and contributing 40% of global carbon emissions.
Embodied carbon in the production of building materials is responsible for 28% of emissions from the building and construction sector globally, says David Maucor, Edge Impact regional principal, New Zealand.“Between now and 2050 it is expected to account for almost half of total emissions from new constructions, with concrete, steel and aluminium considered some of the more challenging materials to decarbonise,” explains Maucor. “A key instrument to dramatically reduce this environmental impact is increased transparency and accurate information about the products and materials we use.
”This is where Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), compliant with the EN15804 standard, come into play. In this article, we will explore the role of EN15804 compliant EPDs in providing transparency and reducing life cycle carbon emissions in the construction sector.
Understanding EN15804 and EPDs
EN15804 is the internationally adopted standard that sets the framework for the development of EPDs for construction products.
“EPDs are standardised and independently verified documents that provide transparent and credible information about the environmental impact of products throughout their life cycle. They offer a comprehensive analysis of the product’s environmental performance, including carbon emissions, energy use, resource depletion, and waste generation. Importantly, the environmental data is presented in clearly defined stages, so you can compare step-by-step along the products’ life cycles,” says Maucor.
He says the number of published construction product EPDs have grown from a low base to mainstream over the last decade. According to international LCA and EPD expert Jane Anderson, there are likely 130,000 EPD for construction products globally, of which only 149 have been published through the EPD Australasia.
EN15804 compliant EPDs play a crucial role in increasing transparency within the construction sector.
“They enable stakeholders, including architects, contractors, and building owners, to make informed decisions based on reliable and standardised environmental data.”
Maucor says that by providing a clear understanding of a product’s environmental footprint, EPDs allow for better comparison between similar products and support the selection of more sustainable alternatives.
Reducing life cycle carbon emissions
One of the primary benefits of EN15804 compliant EPDs is their contribution to the reduction of life cycle carbon emissions in the construction sector. EPDs provide insights into the carbon emissions associated with each stage of a product’s life cycle, including raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, use, and end-of-life. Armed with this information, stakeholders can identify areas of high carbon intensity and implement strategies to minimise emissions.
“EPDs also foster innovation and encourage the development of low-carbon products and processes. By highlighting the environmental impact of construction materials, EPDs incentivise manufacturers to invest in research and development to create more sustainable alternatives. This drives the industry towards reducing carbon emissions and promoting the adoption of greener practices and technologies.”
Increasing brand credibility and impact
Maucor says that leading organisations are increasingly combining the scientific backing of Life Cycle Assessment and EPDs with their corporate strategies and storytelling.
“A great example is the Holcim New Zealand launch of their new brand identity and lower carbon cement products, which coincided with the opening of their low-carbon cement replacement facility in Auckland.”
He says each year over 1.5 million tonnes of traditional cement is used in New Zealand, generating 1.3 million tonnes of CO2.
“By embarking on a transformation to provide lower carbon solutions for people and planet, Holcim New Zealand’s EcoPlanet can reduce embodied carbon by more than 30% compared to General Purpose (NZ) Cement resulting in a meaningful contribution to the carbon impact of construction in New Zealand.”
Holcim NZ used a science-backed rebrand journey, by helping to localise the global Holcim brand guidelines and make the Holcim New Zealand positioning, products and collateral tailored to the New Zealand market. The sustainability and creative experts at Edge Impact worked with the Holcim NZ team to rebrand, launch and create a new brand story, all backed by EPD to demonstrate how Holcim NZ is taking a meaningful science-based approach to reduce carbon emissions through lower carbon products.
“The development of the EPD was instrumental to the way we delivered on the rebrand and localisation project for Holcim. It gave us the evidence base to inform the positioning and messaging at a more general brand level, right the way through to the way we talk about products and services.
“We leveraged the EPD in a way that made it more like a part of the brand strategy than a technical report, helping us shape the brand architecture and ultimately the final brand and marketing collateral. A true example of science, strategy and storytelling coming together to deliver more impactful results,” says Jordan Stokes, creative director at Edge Impact.
Supporting Sustainable Building Certifications
EN15804 compliant EPDs are closely linked to sustainable building certifications, such as our local Green Star and ISC Infrastructure Sustainability Rating Schemes, and international LEED and BREEAM. These ratings and asset certifications recognise and reward projects that prioritise environmental performance. “EPDs provide the necessary data to earn credits or points within these rating systems, encouraging the use of products with lower environmental impact and facilitating the achievement of sustainable building goals,” says Maucor.
Collaborative industry efforts
The adoption of EN15804 compliant EPDs requires collaboration among all stakeholders in the construction sector.
“Manufacturers must voluntarily disclose their products’ environmental data and work with independent third-party verifiers to ensure the credibility of the information provided. Architects, engineers, and specifiers play a vital role in integrating EPDs into their decision-making processes and demanding transparency from manufacturers. Industry associations and governing bodies also have a responsibility to promote the use of EPDs and establish policies that incentivise their adoption.”
In the quest for a more sustainable and low-carbon construction sector, EN15804 compliant EPDs have emerged as a powerful tool.
“By increasing transparency and providing accurate environmental data, EPDs support informed decision-making, promote the use of low-carbon products, and drive innovation towards greener practices. As the construction industry continues to embrace sustainability, the widespread adoption of EN15804 compliant EPDs will be crucial in achieving significant reductions in life cycle carbon emissions and shaping a more sustainable built environment for future generations.”