Turning the tide – a tool to improve sustainability in buildings

February 27, 2019

The construction industry is one of the major contributors to climate change and other negative environmental impacts. As the focus on sustainability is increasing in the industry, environmental product declarations can play a leading part.

In many countries around the world there is an acute housing shortage. Subsequently, there is a pressing need to ramp up construction in order to produce new homes to meet the market needs.

But given the construction industry and building sectors’ poor track record in sustainability and negative environmental impact, it is crucial that we don’t forget to focus on how we build those new homes.

Google and you will come across some quite staggering numbers and facts regarding buildings, relating to their negative impacts throughout the entire life cycle of buildings, especially during the in-use phase. For example, the US Green Building Council (USGBC) has estimated that buildings account for:
• 41 percent of the world’s energy use on average
• 73 percent of the US electricity consumption
• 38 percent of all CO2 emissions.

The USGBC also estimates that the construction of buildings uses up 40 percent of the world’s raw materials. In the UK, the UK Green Building Council has estimated that the construction sector accounts for almost 60 percent of total waste.

Be part of the solution, not the problem

Many products and building materials have an adverse effect on the environment or on human/animal health at some stage during their life cycles. Generally, these impacts are local in scale, but they can also be regional or even global, as is the case with acidification.

These negative impacts include climate change, ozone depletion, depletion of non-renewable resources, harmful impact on nature and biodiversity as well as on general health and wellbeing. They span a wide range, from mild to the irreversible.
• Earth – for example, depletion of minerals and fossil fuels
• Water – phosphorous and nitrogen nutrient loading of water and rain
• Atmosphere – smog, ozone layer depletion and climate change.

The good news in the construction industry and building sector is that sustainability is increasingly moving to the top of everybody’s agenda. From architects to construction companies to building owners and tenants, ever more stakeholders are taking responsibility to be part of the solution, not the problem. There is also legislation to give the industry a push in the right direction.

Use EPDs to do fair product comparisons

To support sustainability throughout buildings’ full life cycles, it is vital to find a way to measure and verify the environmental impact of products and building material. A tool that also makes it possible to do fair product comparisons.

Environmental product declarations (EPDs) go a long way towards filling these needs, and are increasingly used in the construction industry. Based on ISO-certified life cycle assessments (LCAs), EPDs:
• are third-party verified and provide information that gives a balanced overview of most important current environmental concerns
• reflect relevant continuous product improvements
• can contribute to earning points in green building certification systems such as LEED and BREEAM.

While EPDs will not solve all sustainability problems throughout the life cycle of buildings, they can certainly be a useful and flexible tool. Enabling transparent and just product comparisons, they will benefit the industry’s continuous turning to more sustainable solutions. 

Don’t miss our new white paper which explains what EPDs are and how they are produced. And above all, how you will benefit from using them. Download your white paper!

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