thinkstep’s proven solutions in the growing market for EN 15804 EPD

The number of Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) verified to EN 15804 is growing rapidly. For the past couple of years, I have been monitoring the number of EPD produced within each of the construction EPD programmes around the world, and my infographic shows there were more than 3600 EPD verified to comply with EN 15804 at the start of this year.

This rise is largely a consequence, firstly of regulation, e.g. in France and Belgium the requirement for EPD to support environmental claims about products and in the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland the requirements to undertake Building Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for some buildings; secondly, the increased recognition of EPD in Building Assessment schemes such as BREEAM, LEED and Greenstar, with the new Irish scheme, Housing Performance Index being the latest to provide credits for products with EPD; and thirdly the interest in using EPD within Green Public Procurement, with Stattsbygg in Norway, for example, asking for EPD as part of their procurement process.

ECO Platform, the organisation representing all the European EPD Programmes, is also assisting by providing a central registry of EcoPlatform EPD from all the member programmes where the ECO Platform verification guidelines have been followed.  Companies pay an additional fee of up to 100 euro to have the EPD listed on ECO Platform, and take up has been good for EPD from the UK and Scandinavia, but there are far fewer (as a proportion of total EPD registered) from Germany and Spain and none from France. However both France and Germany have excellent, searchable EPD databases of their own (see inies and oekobau.dat), and have also made their EPD databases easily available for Building LCA tools.

Trade associations have initially dealt the demand for EPD by producing “generic EPD”, providing the impact of products using data from all, or a representative sample of their members. These EPD provide a good indication of impact for the most commonly specified products, or the average impact of a range of products – Architects and Consultants can use them in Building LCA or Embodied Carbon assessments to understand the relative impact of different building solutions at a stage in the design process when specific manufacturer’s products are not being considered.

But increasingly, there is concern that generic EPD might be hiding the impact of poorly performing products. For this reason, LEED for example, gives only half the credit for a trade association EPD compared to a manufacturer specific EPD.  This is driving the search for solutions which can enable manufacturers to provide specific EPD not just as an average for a range of their own products, but for specific products.

thinkstep has been working with its trade association and manufacturing clients for many years to provide proven solutions for EPD at scale.  These solutions fall into three main categories.

1 GaBi Envision tools.

GaBi is thinkstep’s market leading LCA software, where trained users develop LCA models to represent cradle to gate or grave production, allowing  environmental impacts to be calculated.  By adding the Envision interface to the underlying GaBi model, the complexities of the LCA modelling can be hidden and users with minimal training can enter key product data to allow specific EPD results to be calculated. During the development of the LCA model for an Envision tool, all the production variables, such as input materials, energy sources, transport and waste routes e.t.c. are considered and those variables which have a significant impact on the different specific products are parameterised, allowing the underlying LCA model to be altered for each product. The Envision tool includes a report which provides all the parameters entered into the tool, together with the EPD Indicator results and any tables based on the LCA which need to be included in the EPD and project report,  for example listing input materials or breaking down the source of impacts.

Envision EPD tools such as those produced by thinkstep for UK Cement for the Mineral Products Association or for steel products for UK CARES can be verified by EPD programmes using a slightly more expensive tool verification process, and then “locked down” so that the underlying LCA model cannot be altered by the users.  The resulting EPD from the verified tool are then able to be verified and registered by the EPD programmes much more quickly and cheaply.  Some trade association clients are looking to operate these tools as a service to their members, for example Timber Trade Federation and British Precast.  Others, provide licences to their members to use the tools directly, and some contract thinkstep to operate the tools on behalf of their members.   We also have manufacturing clients using GaBi who develop Envision tools from their own LCA models.

IBU was the first EPD programme to verify EPD Tools, but thinkstep has now developed Envision EPD tools which have been verified with BRE and the International EPD programme (Environdec).

2 EPD solutions linking to ERP systems.

For clients like Zumtobel and Tarmac, we have developed EPD solutions which link our GaBi LCA data with production data in their ERP systems. Again, the tools can be verified by EPD programmes.  This means Zumtobel are able to link the manufacturing and Bill of Materials data for any of their 10,000 products with the upstream LCA data to produce EPD in seconds which can then be verified quickly and cheaply if required.

3 Model EPD

There are many products which are high impact per kg, but used in very small quantities in the building, for example adhesives. FEICA, the Association of the European adhesive and sealant industry, worked with thinkstep and IBU to develop the Model EPD solution.  For adhesives, previous LCA studies had shown that the significant impacts were associated with the raw materials, rather than manufacturing, and that Climate change (Global Warming Potential – GWP), Non-renewable Primary Energy (NRPE) and Photochemical Ozone Creation Potential (POCP) were the most dominant impacts.  The model EPD project involved reviewing all the product ranges produced by FEICA members and grouping them into sub-groups based on function and impact.  Each input material was also evaluated in terms of its resulting impact on GWP, NRPE and POCP and given a normalised score.  The worst case product in each functional sub-group was then assessed, and the normalised score for its input materials calculated.  Any manufacturer can then use this worst case model EPD if their product has the same function and their input materials have a lower normalised score than the Model EPD.  If their product has a significantly lower normalised score, then they can be confident in developing their own specific EPD which will have lower impacts, taking the guesswork out of this normally fraught choice.  The Model EPD Approach for FEICA was verified by the German EPD programme, IBU, and once a manufacturer has demonstrated his products meet the criteria, the Model EPD can then be registered with IBU and made available to downstream manufacturers using adhesives who can be secure that their supplier is not “hiding” behind average data.  And of course, because the Model EPD calculations are much quicker than a normal LCA, the cost to produce a Model EPD is hugely reduced.  The FEICA Model EPD concept has been approved by IBU and BRE and the approach could be suitable for a range of other products such as coatings.


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Updated EPD Infographic for 2017

I’ve just updated my infographic showing the number of Construction Product Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) with the latest figures for the start of 2017, and a whole lot more detail.  Thanks to all the Programme Operators who provided information – I hope I’ve interpreted it correctly.

Happy reading.  If you want to provide a quick link, it’s



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Some thoughts on BREEAM (again)

I’m currently heading down to the UKGBC consultation of the development of BREEAM, and thought it would be helpful to review my concerns with the approach to materials and other aspects such as waste and site energy use within BREEAM.

This is drawn from an earlier post written when BREEAM took over CEEQUAL.

So why do I question BREEAM’s scientific methodology in relation to materials? The reason is that the scores for various credits seem to reward some actions in a way which does not reflect the actual environmental impact of the action.

BREEAM scores

As you can see from the table above, which covers Materials Related BREEAM 2014 credits, weighted for a Fully Fitted Out building, the greatest score can be obtained by using building elements with a Good Green Guide rating.  However, some of this score can come from the use of products with Environmental Product Declarations.  This might show that the product used is the terrible in terms of environmental impact, but the Mat 01 uplift points will still be awarded.

Where I really question BREEAM however is in the weighting given to construction waste.  It is possible to obtain 3.8% of a perfect BREEAM Score by reducing construction waste to exemplary levels (Wst 01).  This is excellent, and performance based.  But with construction waste being between 2 and 10% of materials used, does it really merit half the BREEAM score from specifying low impact building elements (8.8%)? Additionally, if you recycle exemplary levels of what construction waste you do produce, you are able to obtain a further 1.9%, meaning you can obtain almost as much reward for doing something good with less than 10% of the materials used, compared to the reward for choosing low impact materials in the first place.  If BREEAM was scientific, it would not be possible to obtain more than 10% of the Mat 01 score from Wst 01.

Similarly, 1.9% is available by specifying exemplary levels of Recycled Aggregates.   Recycled aggregates are already considered within the Green Guide ratings for upper floors, concrete structure and hard landscaping, so this is a double counting of benefit.  On top, does the use of recycled aggregate really merit about 30% of the score for specifying low impact materials for walls, floor, roof and hard landscaping?

The same is true for insulation which has 1% compared to 6.8% for the other building elements. Many studies have shown insulation has a tiny influence on the embodied impact of the building – its major effect is in reducing operational impacts – but BREEAM focusses heavily on the embodied impacts of insulation using Mat 04 without any scientific basis.

Hopefully, through the process of consultation as BRE now develop BREEAM, it will be possible to ensure that the credit structure has a more scientific basis.  But evidence from BREEAM 2014 shows that credits are more often weighted towards aspects which can be easily measured, or which ensure BRE business from Green Guide ratings and certification, rather than on the basis of impact.

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I’m for Remain

I believe, as members of the EU, the UK really does influence the Standards and Regulations which the EU creates. I have seen this as a UK expert on the Standards Committee I work on. If we leave, we will have no influence but exporters will still have to meet the standards created without our input. This will be the worst of all worlds.

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Are cyclists really bad for the planet?

Ieuan Compton (@welshboy) asked me what I thought of an article that suggested that cyclists following a Paleo diet were travelling in a worse way for the planet than those driving cars.
The answer is really that the Paleo diet is the problem, not the cycling.
Cycling a kilometre uses an additional 30-50 calories (actually kilocalories but calories that dieters count). These calories are additional to the normal metabolic energy use that will happen whether we are active or not. The way that we obtain these, say, 50 calories can have big implications for the carbon impact of cycling (or any other activity that uses 50 additional calories, like running at the gym).
One of the lowest carbon impact ways of fuelling activity is with sugar. British Sugar calculated the carbon footprint of sugar as 600 g using the PAS 2050 standard. 1 kg of sugar has about 3800 calories so you can get 50 calories of energy for 8 grams of CO2.
Walkers Crisps calculated the carbon footprint of a packet of crisps as 80 g of CO2 for a 23 gram, 130 calorie packet. So if you us crisps to fuel your 50 calories there will be 31 g CO2.
But beef has a footprint of around 13300 g CO2 per kg, with a calorie content of about 2000 per kg. this means 50 calories has 266 g CO2 associated with it.
So you can see that there are plenty of low impact ways to cycle. But how does this compare to driving. The average petrol car produces about 240 g of CO2 per km, accounting for direct emissions from the vehicle and the emissions associated with producing the fuel. But an efficient, small diesel car could have much lower carbon emissions. As the driver is not active in the car, he has no additional calories to fuel so it is right that a Paleo cyclist would have a similar impact to a typical car travelling the same distance. But if the driver used the gym to get his exercise after driving to work say, whereas the Paleo cyclist cycled to work but didn’t go to the gym, then it would be pretty equal if the driver used sugar. But if he too was Paleo with a big car then driving would be terrible.
And if the cyclist used anything other than beef then cycling would be less damaging, with sugar being close to zero impact compared to driving.

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Companies that listen to climate science on Climate Change and the need to Act

155 companies have signed up with Science Based Targets to set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets based on climate science.

These included the construction and real estate related companies Autodesk, Owens Corning, Kingfisher, Outokumpu Oyj and Land Securities.

The full list can be found here.

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Would concreting over the UK to build housing reduce house prices?

IMG_6255.PNGThe government could cover the whole of Britain in new housing and property prices would continue to rise if monetary policy remains as loose as it is now, according to notorious Societe Generale strategist, Albert Edwards.
Let’s test the hypothesis. Urban land use, meaning all buildings and infrastructure, including parks and gardens, is less than 12% of land use in the UK. If we build at 16 homes per hectare, the typical rate for the green belt, we could build 330 million new homes on all the remaining land.

Methinks such oversupply (enough for every man, woman and child to have five houses each) might affect house prices!

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President Obama on Climate Change and why it gets him anxious and keeps him up at night

Plus some other important stuff too

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Why it’s worse to pay too little than too much

“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

John Ruskin

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Why we should celebrate the “goatman”

In the Toaster Project, Thomas Thwaites took a toaster, bought for less than £5, and tried to remake it from basic raw materials. By trying to refine iron to make the element and mould recycled plastic to make the case, he demonstrated how fantastic our materials science and manufacturing expertise has become that we now take these products entirely for granted. He showed how totally disassociated we have become from the supply chain and impacts of our consumption. When you see him spending nearly a day burning LPG to try and reduce iron ore to iron with little success, the reality of embodied energy and the successful efforts of industry to increase energy efficiency become very much more real.
I am sure that the complete change of mindset required to “become a goat” will generate ideas which will stimulate innovative thinkers and designers like Thomas for many years to come. I look forward to reading his book, ‘Goatman: How I took a holiday from being human’.
Thinking outside the box in this way is a skill which should be nurtured.

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