As printed in the summer 2023 issue of AIJ – by Dan Rising RegAI, National Sales Manager, CES Security Solutions
Compliance and professionalism are something which we strive for in our sector. A key objective of an AI’s delivery is to support designers of buildings, to ensure what they create is not just beautiful, but ultimately, functional, fit for purpose and compliant.
A new challenge our sector is currently faced with is maintaining this level of professional delivery whilst supporting the global drive to achieve net zero. Too often this is mistaken as a need to reduce carbon emissions in our day-to-day business activities. As key stakeholders in the construction industry, our responsibility goes much further than this.
The construction industry is responsible for 39% of global carbon emissions and, with the World Green Building Council urging this percentage to be reduced significantly ahead of global target dates, all stakeholders have an obligation to make drastic changes to the way projects are approached.
Material manufacturers play a fundamental role in providing designers of buildings with not just a declaration of their commitment to net zero targets as a business, but to playing a supporting role in defining the embodied carbon calculations for the individual products we supply, but also, providing those figures on a project-by-project basis.
Gone are the days where one of the most important parts of the design process involves how to make the most of the budget. Rapid changes within the construction industry have forced developers to look further than the cash they’ll be parting with and where money can be saved; it’s now also pivotal to consider the carbon cost of a project, both during the construction phase and beyond.
When it comes to construction, it is both the embodied carbon and operational carbon that need to be accurately calculated before a project commences. In other words, how much carbon will be emitted at all stages of the development, from concept to completion? Carbon cost needs to sit at the heart of projects for the construction industry to even be in with a chance of hitting net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Whilst in our sector there is little we as manufacturers can do to affect a project’s operational carbon, there is plenty we can consider regarding the embodied carbon impact attributable to our products.
What many fail to consider is that the factors affecting a product’s carbon cost go much further than the raw materials used, and the manufacturing process undertaken to create it.
It’s about more than just material and product choices. Anything from the transportation of goods, the fuel it takes to get the work force to site (in both sourcing the raw materials and manufacturing the product), and the amount of waste produced, can be recorded to determine the real impact the choice of product has had.
To stay ahead of the curve and remain competitive in this space, it’s vital for suppliers and manufacturers of product to not only cost a project in monetary terms, but also the total carbon cost. If accurate calculations are not easy to access for the building designers’ life cycle assessment, you can guarantee that an alternative product that can, is likely to be specified.
Embodied carbon figures normally encompass emissions from all the raw materials’ extraction, transport and manufacturing processes required before products are ready at the factory for delivery to the customer. It should also cover transport to site, installation impacts, maintenance such as cleaning, repairs, replacement and refurbishment of the products, and the impacts associated with the product’s end of life, such as recycling and disposal.
Whole life carbon costs are therefore influenced by durability – component replacement interval, maintenance activities and frequency as well as the supplied product’s initial carbon cost. BRE published a national methodology for assessing the cradle to grave environmental impacts of construction products with the Environmental Profiles Methodology published in 1999. This type of analysis should be considered our marker in the sand. EPDs are no longer a reasonable method of assessment, they are simply static data.
EPDs do not require data to be provided for the life cycle stages beyond the manufacturing plant, and so users of EPDs need to include the data for the product’s life cycle scenario beyond that, relevant for the building in which they are using the product.
For example, an EPD for a product manufactured in the Far East will not be specific to the transport required for its intended project’s location, most likely its transport carbon will be based on it staying within the continent of origin. Similarly, the service life and maintenance provided for the product may relate to an internal installation in the same continent, rather than an external installation in the UK for example.
Furthermore, the end-of-life scenario may be based on typical disposal in the country of origin, where the end-of-life material may result in a mix of recycling and landfill, whereas in Europe, the end-of-life product would be used for energy recovery.
Put bluntly, EPDs are based on generous assumption, rather than being project-use specific, and this just isn’t good enough. We have the technical ability and the responsibility to not hide behind assumed scenario performance declarations. We should be working with the designers of buildings, providing accurate whole life costs from the sourcing of raw materials, through manufacturing and finishing, to the installation of the product on site. Most importantly, we should be prepared to stand by the carbon cost of our individual products, be proud of them, or seek ways to reduce them.