Environmental impact assessment made easier

21 April 2017

Life Cycle Assessments and Environmental Product Declarations are becoming increasingly important in building materials specification, but there are increasingly user-friendly tools to generate them, writes Dr Shamir Ghumra, director at the BRE Centre for Sustainable Products

We’re blessed with data nowadays; whether it’s about friends and family on social media or related to health implications of our diet. It’s everywhere, and we’re showing no signs of data fatigue.

This is part of a shift towards greater transparency and even accountability. Environmental impact is no different and, in the case of construction materials and products, particularly connected to the terms of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPD).

LCA studies can consider the environmental impact associated with extraction of raw materials, processing and transportation to a facility, where it is then made into primary products, for instance doors, bricks or paving slabs.

They can also consider the distribution chain to site, followed by the use and life of the product; end disposal/ re-use and perhaps even benefits beyond the life cycle.

The results can then be verified by competent individuals as part of an EPD scheme. The result is a verified EPD which not only provides the LCA data at each stage of the life cycle, but also useful information about the product and the assumptions/data sources used in deriving the results.

BRE operates an EPD scheme to the European standard (EN 15804) which is increasingly becoming the common language of EPDs.

It has verified around 100 EPDs which are all publicly available on www.greenbooklive.com. It also has over two decades’ experience and knowledge on LCA, having pioneered the Environmental Profiles methodology and the Green Guide to Specification, a key part of the materials section in BREEAM for years.

One challenge to getting more EPDs into the market place has been the linear approach taken by some consultants. The narrative relates to the need for an EPD and then the process ensues to create one. BRE wanted to create more value for the company making product manufacture the core of a circular approach to generating LCA results.

Then along came BRE’s LINA, a simple tool that allows product manufacturers to input primary data relating to products and for LCA results to be generated within seconds.

They can use LINA for product development, material optimisation and of course to generate LCA results to obtain a verified EPD. The tool is also pre-verified to EN 15804, so results have a degree of assurance built in.

The British Woodworking Federation (BWF) took the first delivery of LINA late 2016 and have been working with key members to promote its use.

Mumford and Wood were presented with the very first EPD that was verified using results from LINA at Ecobuild. Other BWF members are already working on their own results and we’ll see more in the coming months. The BWF has shown tremendous leadership in adopting LINA as more of their members make the environmental impact of their products more transparent and available.

EPD will have more currency as we evolve our BIM capability and really begin to consider environmental impact at asset level.

Perhaps one day we can see exactly the make-up of the built environment just by scanning it.

Dr Shamir Ghumra, director at the BRE Centre for Sustainable Products