We are seeing a shift in the culture surrounding sustainability.
Previously, and especially during the height of the recession, specification in construction was largely driven by cost.
As the financial climate has altered, however, factors such as wellbeing and sustainability are becoming more of a focus in projects due to assessments such as BREEAM and SKA, as well as energy efficiency Part L regulations.
The outcome is that contractors and specifiers require on-pack sustainability information to be simple to understand and fully comprehensive, so that they can easily choose products that meet sustainability demands as well as fitting all of the specification criteria.
This has previously provided a headache for contractors and specifiers looking to compare like-for-like products and solutions.
Information given about products in the past has often relied on either a general label stating that a product is ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘environmentally-friendly’, or information recording a specific issue (eg carbon emissions or water usage).
The lack of comparative data has made it difficult to conduct a like-for-like review of products or solutions.
“Lifecycle assessments are becoming more commonplace across many industries, from consumer brands to construction, as a solution to the demand for transparency”
However, lifecycle assessments – which clearly demonstrate the full impact of a product from production to usage through to disposal – are becoming more commonplace across many industries, from consumer brands to construction, as a solution to this demand for transparency.
Environmental product declarations are a European industry standard based on LCAs, and show that a reputable and independent third party has validated a product so customers can trust the standard.
In France, the Grenelle Law demands all high-volume consumer products sold in France have an EPD; this is likely to be adopted in other EU countries.
Big data is here
The system gives an incredibly detailed breakdown of the environmental impact of a product over its full lifecycle, including the amount of resources associated with the product, the litres of water and all associated air emissions.
Only awarded to companies that are committed to a full disclosure of what is usually confidential information on product manufacturing, EPDs provide comprehensive, quantified data that specifers and contractors can utilise to make their specification more sustainable than ever before.
EPDs also offer the maximum number of SKA rating points.
As part of our commitment to providing greater transparency and more information, we have recently launched EPDs that cover 16 of the products within our ranges.
However, EPDs are only part of the move towards greater transparency.
BIM is increasing the levels of data available on construction projects and is becoming more common within the industry.
The government has outlined that by 2016 it will be compulsory for fully collaborative BIM to be used on all projects greater than £5m in value.
BIM can be used to increase co-ordination among project teams and decrease energy and product wastage at all stages of a project, not only saving money but reducing environmental impact, too.
A mixture of transparency in product development, regulatory requirements and BIM means there is more information available than ever for contractors and specifiers, making this a real opportunity for the development of truly sustainable projects.
Peter Howard is commercial sustainability lead for AkzoNobel Decorative Paints UK & Ireland