Sustainability Blah! Blah!
by Jonathan Cook, on 12-May-2022 03:06:05
Are there any construction manufacturers today that don’t claim to be behaving in an environmentally responsible way and producing ‘green’ products that are ‘sustainable’? Thankfully, most companies in the sector are on board with the need to actually minimise environmental impact, however it can be difficult when reading through marketing materials and scanning company websites, to check on the reality of environmental impact claims. Have you ever been left wondering: is it all ‘greenwash’?
In this blog, read on to read more about:
- Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)
- What does an EPD actually mean?
- How can EPDs be used?
- Tensar EPDs: now from 'cradle to grave'
- What is a 'cradle to grave' assessment
- Environmental impacts assessed in an EPD
- Environmental impact
- EPDs for new products
Greenwashing is when a company spends an excessive amount of time and money claiming to be ‘green’ to improve their image and increase sales - rather than actually implementing business practices that really do minimise environmental impact.
Environmental Product Declarations
When it comes to the construction sector, there is a way to avoid the greenwash. By asking to see an Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) for any product being considered for use, it is possible to access real data on the environmental impact of specific products. EPDs are regulated by Standard EN ISO 15804. They declare the environmental impacts of manufacture, use, reclamation, and disposal of products through a life cycle assessment (LCA).
The Standard EN ISO 15804 defines product category rules to ensure that the information reported is consistent for similar products, using the same environmental indicators. EPDs are independently verified and publicly available, and environmentally responsible manufacturers will have EPDs for their construction products – you just need to ask. When assessing different products for a particular application, cost is always an important consideration, of course - but it is now also possible to make a true comparison of the life-cycle environmental impact of different design solutions using alternative products, and factor this into the decision-making process.
What does an EPD actually mean?
It is important to understand that simply possessing an EPD does not indicate that a product has been assessed to be ‘green’. Products with high environmental impact can have an EPD in the same way as products with low environmental impact. What the EPD provides is an independently verified and quantified assessment of the environmental impact, in a format that enables direct comparisons between products to be made.
In some cases – where products in the same category provide different functions or different levels of performance - a comparison of EPD values alone will not provide a true comparison of the overall environmental impact. In addition to the information from the EPD, an assessment needs to be made, to consider the impact of the product’s use on the overall project. For example, in a comparison of two geogrids for stabilisation of a road foundation, the required thickness of subbase may be different for each geogrid. The favourable environmental impact of a reduced subbase thickness needs to be taken into consideration when comparing the two solutions.
The European Standard, EN 15804, ensures that all construction products use common life-cycle analysis rules, with the same environmental indicators, and in a way that allows the information for multiple products to be brought together to provide the overall environmental impacts for a project.
How can EPDs be used?
There are a number of uses for EPDs: they can provide key information covering all aspects of a product from the beginning of the design processes through to the end of its life-cycle.
- Procurement – EPDs provide purchasers with confidence that products have been independently assessed and quantified for their environmental impact.
- Design – information from EPDs will feed into the design process and enable the designer to design for minimal whole-life environmental impact of a project.
- Specification – Specifiers can include environmental impact limits as part of their project specifications.
- Product comparison – environmental impact values obtained from product EPDs can be used alongside quantified performance levels when comparing solutions.
- Manufacturing and logistics – by giving transparency to the environmental cost of each aspect of a product’s life-cycle, manufacturing and logistics teams can identify the beneficial impact of any improvements made, supporting a programme of continual improvement.
Tensar EPDs: now from 'cradle to grave'
After a detailed external assessment, Tensar is about to publish ‘cradle to grave’ EPDs for the full range of TriAx stabilisation geogrids and uniaxial soil reinforcement geogrids. Tensar has - for several years - published ‘cradle to gate’ EPDs for the TriAx range of stabilisation products, covering the sourcing and transport of raw materials, manufacture and packaging plus internal warehousing and transportation. The newly issued EPDs go much further and also include an assessment of transportation to site, installation, recovery, recycling, and disposal. The assessments were independently verified and EPDs published by Kiwa – Ecobility Experts from Berlin.
Tensar is about to publish ‘cradle to grave’ EPDs for the full range of TriAx stabilisation geogrids and uniaxial soil reinforcement geogrids.
What is a 'cradle to grave' assessment?
To comply with EN ISO 15804-A2, the assessment must cover the full life-cycle of a product, from manufacture through installation and use, followed by removal and disposal or recycling. The life-cycle is broken down into stages with modules to asses every stage using common rules.
The stages applicable to Tensar geogrids:
Environmental impacts assessed in an EPD
Environmental impact assessment involves much more than counting tonnes of carbon. The EPD assessment is extensive and detailed, covering multiple environmental aspects. Some of the core parameters are listed below:
- Depletion of physical resources
- Fossil fuels
- Impact on marine and water resources
- Impact on soils and land use
- Global warming potential
- Land use and change
- Ozone layer depletion
- Human toxicity
- Particulate matter
and the full list of assessments is even longer
Minimising environmental impact needs to be a core consideration in the commissioning, design and construction of every project. EPDs provide a valuable tool by which clients, specifiers and purchasers can make meaningful decisions about the products they choose to use, based on their overall environmental impact.
EPDs for new products
Assessment for EPD certification involves examination of real manufacturing data over a period of months to establish the true energy and emissions costs of production, material supply and logistics. While environmental impact assessments can be made on short-term production data and knowledge of previous generation products, there will always be a delay between product launch and certification for any company wishing to obtain EPD’s for new products. Tensar is currently in the data gathering stage for ‘cradle to grave’ EPD certification of its next generation products, Tensar InterAx geogrids.
If you would like to understand how solutions including Tensar geogrids can affect your project sustainability credentials, please contact email@example.com
Tensar is currently in the data gathering stage for ‘cradle to grave’ EPD certification of its next generation products, Tensar InterAx geogrids.
Got a burning question about geotechnical engineering?
Why not drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and the answer to your question may feature on the Tensar blog!