One of the worst things about life cycle assessment (LCA) is the jargon which those that do LCA everyday understand and reel off without thinking, but which those new to the subject, including many of our customers, find bewildering. Two new bits of jargon will be starting to make more of an appearance in the construction products arena with the publication of BS EN 15804 in the UK. My aim here is to give you a little background to this new standard, and the work of CEN/TC 350, the European Standards committee that developed it, so that hopefully by the end, you will be a little clearer about what they are.
LCA has been used in the construction industry in the UK since the early 1990s, and by 2008, there were schemes in the UK, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden to assess the environmental impact of manufacturing construction materials. At an international level, standards had also been developed for LCA (ISO 14040 and ISO 14044) and more specifically for Type III environmental declarations (ISO 14025: 2006) which is the LCA based mechanism, more commonly known as Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) which most countries have used for these assessments.
Although these assessments of construction products all use life cycle assessment and comply with the ISO Standards, these have only been written to provide a consistent framework for the assessment, but the detailed approach of the different schemes remains highly varied. In most cases this means that manufacturers cannot make use of EPD or the underlying Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) from one scheme anywhere else in Europe. On top of this, countries have adopted very different ways of taking this environmental data for products and evaluating it at the building level.
The mandate for CEN/TC 350 standards
CEN’s Technical Committee 350 (CEN/TC 350) was set up under a mandate given by the European Commission to CEN to “provide a method for the voluntary delivery of environmental information” for construction. The mandate addresses the “mounting costs for industry” and “non-acceptance of environmental product information” arising from the conflicting EPD schemes in Europe, with the mandate stating that “to ensure that comparable environmental information is generated and used, without creating barriers to trade, national schemes need to be based on a common European programme founded upon European or International standards for Environmental labels and declarations – type III environmental declarations”. The mandate also covers the provision of a standard that provides the methodology for the aggregation of materials data or data on components to provide the overall integrated environmental performance of a building, whilst allowing an insight into the design of the building and guidance allowing design variability.
Since the Committee started work in 2004, CEN/TC 350 has initiated the development of a suite of European Standards covering the assessment of sustainability for construction products, buildings and the wider built environment.
The CEN/TC 350 Approach
CEN/TC 350 covers sustainability by looking at the three aspects of Environmental, Social and Economic performance, and at the different levels of construction product/component, building and through framework documents which set out the approach.
The latest significant development is the publication of EN 15804, a standard providing the core rules for the production of Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) for construction products, which means the work on the environmental suite of standards is complete for now.
Going back to the original mandate, EN 15804 provides the common rules for type III environmental declarations which can be used by EPD schemes across Europe as a consistent method for providing the core environmental information on construction products which can then be used with data for other products to evaluate the building. This new standard will ensure that comparable environmental information is generated wherever a product is manufactured or used and it is hoped that this core information can be transferred from scheme to scheme across Europe, minimising barriers to trade.
What does an EN 15804 compliant EPD look like?
Although EN 15804 fixes the information that must be provided, it does not imply any particular layout for the EPD, so EPD from different schemes will still probably look very different from each other. However the standard does ensures that all EPD will use the same environmental indicators, which again, currently vary between different schemes and that they will be consistently laid out in tables using the same life cycle modules as shown in Figure 1. Some examples of EPD which were produced last year to align to the standard as it was in development are for Kalzip and Gyproc.
EN 15804 compliant EPD can report performance against the indicators for 17 life cycle modules which are shown in Figure 1. The Product stage is made up of three modules, covering raw materials supply (A1), transport (A2) and manufacturing (A3), though these can be amalgamated into one stage A1-A3. The Product stage is the only stage which it is essential to provide within an EPD, as the impact of making a product will not vary depending on where it is used. Other life cycle modules voluntary and are reported on the basis of scenarios for installation, use and disposal for particular situation within a building in a particular location – as such they are indicative because it may not be relevant for the way the product is used in other buildings or locations.
Table 1 shows the 24 environmental indicators used in EN 15804 compliant EPD. There are seven environmental impact indicators including Global Warming Potential which is the same as Embodied Carbon measured using CO2e), ten resource indicators, quantifying the amount of resource consumed through the life cycle. There are three waste indicators, quantifying the amount of waste produced through the life cycle and 4 output flow indicators, showing the amount of material leaving the system boundary which will be used in another product system, through reuse, recycling or recovery.
Table 1: The 24 Environmental Indicators used in TC 350 standards
|Environmental Impact Indicators|
|Resource Use Indicators
|Waste Category Indicators
|Output Flow Indicators
With the publication of EN 15804, and the completion of the current suite of environmental standards from TC 350, manufacturers should be able to undertake a single EPD study for their product manufacture which can be used across Europe. Already, EPD schemes in Germany and Sweden have consulted on a revision of their scheme rules to align with EN 15804 and EPD which fully comply with the standards should be produced in the coming months. The recently published NEN EN 15804 in the Netherlands has superseded their national standard, NEN 8006: 2004 which has been used as the basis for Dutch construction product LCA, and this is expected to be the case in France for NF P01-010:2004 used as the basis for Fiches de Déclaration Environnementales et Sanitaires (Environment and Health Declaration Sheet – FDES) listed in inies when EN 15804 is published there.
In parallel, the Calculation Methods Standard, EN 15978, provides the rules to evaluating and reporting the whole life impact of a building over its lifetime. The IGT final report published in 2010 stated that “CEN-TC350, which will become available over the next two years, should be the basis of measuring CO2e in products and projects”. So now that these standards are finally available, we should be able to move to a consistent method of measuring and reporting embodied impact and embodied carbon across the industry. In addition, with the adoption of the standards within Europe, the availability of compatible environmental data for construction products evaluated to the same standard should become very much wider.