Sustainable documentation is an important aspect of the construction industry, as it helps to ensure that the materials and components used in building projects meet certain environmental and performance standards.
Major environmental impacts, and also social ones, are embodied in materials and is key to sustainable development (1).
This article discusses the importance of control and supervision in ensuring reliable information regarding environmental and health impacts, as well as product-specific life cycle assessments (LCA) (2).
Today it is difficult for consumers, companies, and other market actors to make sense of the many environmental labels and initiatives on the environmental performance of products and companies. There are more than 200 environmental labels active in the EU, and more than 450 worldwide; there are more than 80 widely used reporting initiatives and methods for carbon emissions only. Some of these are reliable, some not; and they vary as to which issues they cover. EU.
Similarly, there are various different certification systems and standards that are used to assess the sustainability of buildings and building materials, such as DGNB (Deutche Gesellschaft für Nachlighältiges Bauen/German Sustainable Building Council),BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) (3) Cradle to Cradle, EU-Ecolabel/Swanmark and Environmental Product Declarations (EPD
This is especially important in today’s world, where there is a growing focus on reducing the environmental impact of the built environment and increasing energy efficiency in buildings.
Independent third-party verification
However, not all these systems are impartial or checked thoroughly as to their methods and facts. Which ones to trust? Some impressive looking systems are, if one checks carefully, funded by certain corporations. Others are run by well-meaning but not always scientifically solid environmental groups. The importance of reliable data cannot be overstated. There is a need for control over sustainable documentation by an independent third party.
Reliable documentation is important for several reasons. First and foremost, it helps to ensure that the materials used in a project are environmentally friendly and meet specified performance standards. This ensures reduced he environmental impact of the building over its lifetime. In addition, sustainable documentation boosts the reputation of a company, as it demonstrates a commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility.
There is a general desire for more transparency regarding the production of goods and the provision of services, especially regarding sustainability, human rights and working conditions. The Transparency Act introduced in Norway in 2022 requires enterprises to conduct due diligence assessments, meaning that they must look at both their own business, their supply chain and their business partners to identify risks.
Including provisions for assessing and reporting on environmental impacts would be a valuable addition.
Life Cycle Assement (LCA)
LCAs evaluate the environmental impact of a product or service from the extraction of raw materials to the end of its useful life. This includes impacts related to resource extraction, transportation, production, maintenance, durability, and disposal. LCAs enable one to identify areas where improvements can be made to reduce environmental impacts; as well as to evaluate and compare different options for materials and products. Additionally, LCAs help one to identify and avoid toxic chemicals and waste streams to reduce negative impacts on human health and the environment.
Visualization of Life Cycle Assessment Phases within a Product’s Lifecycle.
It is important that LCAs be conducted by a third party and evaluated by an independent organization, in order to ensure their credibility and integrity. Independent organizations are able to verify the data and methods used in an LCA and ensure that it is conducted in accordance with international standards and guidelines.
Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)
An EPD (4) presents the results of LCAs in a format that is easily understood by architects, engineers and building owners.
EPDs provide transparent and reliable information about the environmental impact of building products, without disclosing confidential information about the production process. EPDs are verified and certified by an independent organization, and are based on international standards and guidelines, such as ISO 14025; this ensures that the information provided is accurate, comparable, and can be used to make informed decisions about building products.
Compare same product category
When evaluating environmental impacts, it is important to compare the materials against other materials within the same category. For example, comparing a solution in steel to one using concrete or wood. This can be a complex question where several aspects and issues must be considered, not only the direct environmental impacts.
Generic versus product specific EPDs
It is important to be aware of the difference between generic and product specific EPD’s. A generic EPD provides general information about a material category such as steel, wood or concrete. It is based on data from a representative sample of products within the category and can be used to compare the environmental impact of the same product categories. However, the results may not reflect the environmental impact of a specific product, as they are based on average data and do not consider the specific conditions of production, transportation, or disposal. For example, PVC from one factory may be far better than from another producer (Leif Oye Ph.D)(5).
On the other hand, a product specific EPD provides detailed information about the environmental impact of a specific product, taking into account its unique characteristics, such as the origin of the raw materials and the production facility. It is based on data from the product’s actual life cycle and can be used to compare the environmental impact of different products within the same category. Product-specific EPDs are more accurate and reliable than generic EPDs, but they are only available for a limited number of products.
The environmental impact can vary widely depending on the country of origin, as well as the methods and data used. For example, producing as well as recycling steel in one country may have a lower environmental impact than in another country due to differences in type of energy used, the factory’s energy efficiency, emissions, and waste management practices. Steel made in Sweden, for example, may be from a factory where much of the energy is renewable and with lower emissions compared to steel produced in a developing country where the factory uses coal and has few emission controls. Hence when evaluating environmental impact, it is important wherever possible to consider the specific conditions of production and recycling.
Similarly, some factories use an increasing amount of recycles materials. Scrap iron or steel is a recycled material, which means that it has already been through the production process, and therefore requires less energy and generates less emissions than virgin raw materials. The use of scrap iron or steel in steel production can also help to conserve natural resources, such as iron ore and coal, and reduce the amount of waste generated during the production process.
Generic EPDs encompass inaccurate particulars, such as, for instance, incorrect quantities of scrap steel acquired from Belarus, evading detection by building owners, stakeholders in green finance, and policymakers.
Lack of LCA control by regulatory body
It is notable that Life Cycle Assessment data and documentation are not typically controlled by regulatory bodies in the same way that economic documentation is in the financial sector.
The Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA) (6) has the power to enforce rules and regulations related to financial documentation and data input, such as financial reports and statements, to ensure that they are accurate, transparent, and in compliance with laws and regulations. This includes the supervision of financial institutions such as banks, security trading, and pension funds to ensure that they comply, and to protect the interests of consumers and investors.
LCA data and documentation are generally self-reported by companies or organizations and are often used to support sustainability or environmental claims. There are guidelines and standards developed by organizations such as ISO (International Organization for Standardization) (7) and GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) (8) that provide best practices for conducting and reporting LCA, but there is no formal government regulation or oversight of this process.
Without regulations or oversight, there may be a lack of consistency and comparability in the way that LCAs are conducted and reported, making it difficult to compare the environmental impact of different products or services. This can lead to confusion among stakeholders and decision-makers and can make it difficult to achieve real improvement.
Another issue is that without regulations or oversight, there may be a lack of accountability for the accuracy and integrity of the LCAs, with errors or bias in the results.
A Supervisory body for LCA
Having a supervisory body in charge of LCA, similar to the way financial regulatory bodies oversee the financial industry, would be extremely beneficial and is, in our opinion, a growing necessity.
A supervisory body would have the authority to enforce guidelines and standards for conducting and reporting LCA, and audit and verify LCA data and documentation.
It would ensure that the data and documentation are reliable, comparable, and transparent, that claims of environmental performance are accurate and verifiable. This would increase the credibility of LCA as a tool for assessing the environmental impact of products, services, and activities, and would help companies and organizations to identify opportunities for improving their environmental performance. Moreover, it would provide a level of assurance to the public, consumers, and investors.
(5) Leif Oye Ph.D PVC study
Unlock the power of eco-friendly building with our science-backed sustainability information for the industry.
Boost your building products or projects credibility by promoting them with our reputable eco-documentation.
+47 47847774 / firstname.lastname@example.org