The path of sustainability

It has already been some time that, in the construction world, terms such as “sustainability”, “digitization” and “environment”, are overwhelmingly becoming part of the daily lexicon, a symptom, perhaps a little late, of a progressive awareness of stakeholders and a maturation of the sector, both desired and necessary.

It is true that the Construction Products Regulation (CPR) n. 380/11 for a long time denoted and indicated a very clear direction to take.

The sustainable use of natural resources, as the seventh requirement, introduced by the CPR, represented and still represents an absolute novelty in the context of construction works: they must be conceived, built and demolished so that the use of resources natural resources is sustainable and guarantees in particular the reuse or recyclability of construction works, their materials and their parts after demolition; the durability of construction works and the use, in construction works, of environmentally compatible raw and secondary materials.

The seventh requirement extends and deepens the concept of sustainability of building materials, and has been defined with the aim of spreading the use, in the building, of construction products that are recyclable and reusable after demolition, as well as of recycled material inside of the work.

The Environmental Product Declaration EPD (term that derives from the English Environmental Product Declaration) represents an important form of communication, aimed at the dissemination of environmental information relating to the production of a product / service. Although the tool has existed for more than 15 years, thanks also to the birth and development of the national EPD management program, EPDItaly, its diffusion has had a very high growth in recent years. Companies have believed and invested heavily in the use of the EPD in order to enhance the characteristics of their products.

In recent years, CEN, the European regulatory body, has also drawn up and disseminated standard assessments for calculating the environmental impacts of a construction product, such as EN 15804 “Sustainability of constructions – Environmental product declarations – key development rules for product category ”, which describes which stages of the life cycle are to be considered in the development of an EPD for a building and therefore for the construction product that constitutes it, and which processes are to be included, as well as the parameters to be declared.

The construction sector seems to be heading towards an increasingly massive use of EPDs: just think that from June 2019 to June 2020 there was an increase in the EPDs published on the portals of the major European Program Operators by almost 30% (7023 vs. 9849). Despite this, the European Community, with Recommendation no. 2013/179 / EU, introduced in Europe the use of common methodologies to measure and communicate environmental performance during the life cycle of products and organizations: thus the PEF (from the acronym Product Environmental Footprint) was born which launched an experiment in different sectors.

With reference to these aspects, the Directorate General of the European Commission (DG Grow) has drawn up an information document that has been distributed to all Member States, to understand what future awaits construction products in the context of the implementation of the seventh requirement, in the present and future context of CPR.

All Member States that participated in the survey agree with the position that the methodology for declaring LCA results at the level of construction products must be compatible and support calculations / declarations at the building level.

It also emerged that the building-scale approach could address wider issues than what is covered at the product level (e.g. biodiversity in the surrounding nature).

The position of the Member States is clear: they do not want to introduce a new methodology in the calculation of environmental impacts (in addition to EN 15804 and PEF) and it has also emerged that there is a preference of the construction industry towards the EN 15804 approach. for several reasons:

There are, however, some points still outstanding: neither the use of EN 15804 nor the PEF methodology meet all the requirements of the seventh requirement (eg durability of construction works); the methods underlying some indicators, such as biodiversity loss, use of resources, resource efficiency and circularity, need further development; for other impact indicators, the method used still raises some doubts (eg. Potential for abiotic depletion of the elements) and eg. the advantage of carbon storage in products is not recognized by EN 15804 and PEF.

Ultimately: it is common opinion that the EPD approach, resulting from the use of the EN 15804 Standard, is the most suitable for the construction sector, in which the PEF, more oriented towards end consumers, does not seem to have taken hold.