A Success Story: Will This Currently Voluntary Construction Industry Standard for Environmental Impact Product Disclosures Become a Legal Requirement?
It is generally acknowledged that the construction sector plays an especially important role when it comes to the advancement of sustainable construction. The European Construction Products Regulation (CPR) issued on 9 March 2011 marked the first time that European institutions designated building resource efficiency as one of the seven current Basic Requirements for Construction Works. In addition to the "sustainable use of natural resources", as the new Basic Requirement No. 7 is titled, the requirements for environmental protection (Basic Requirement No. 3) have been expanded from those of the since-repealed Construction Products Directive (CPD). For example, buildings now are also required to be designed and constructed in such a way that their impact on the climate is mitigated over the course of their entire life cycle.
The Basic Requirements for Construction Works can also have an indirect effect on product requirements. This means that essential product characteristics with respect to the Basic Requirements for Construction Works need to be defined and stipulated in harmonised technical specifications. These could either be harmonised European standards or European Assessment Documents (EADs). The product manufacturer is required to declare data on all of the product’s essential characteristics in the Declaration of Performance (DoP). This declaration, in turn, forms the basis for CE marking.
The new Basic Requirement 7 and the extended Basic Requirement 3 have not yet, however, resulted in the inclusion of concrete product requirements in any of the total of ?x? harmonised construction product standards. Normally, this would take place in response to one or more standardisation mandates the European Commission would request from the CEN.
Nevertheless, in the recitals, which are not legally binding, the Construction Products Regulation recommends that evaluation of the sustainable use of resources and assessment of the environmental impact of buildings be based upon Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) (recital 56). EPDs represent a standardised instrument for providing product-related environmental data. The information they contain is based upon a life cycle assessment and in recent years, EPDs have established themselves in Germany and throughout Europe as a voluntary construction industry standard. In Europe, the basis for EPDs is the European standard EN 15804:2012+A1:2014, which, as a horizontal standard, provides basic product category rules that EPDs must follow for construction products and all types of construction-related services. According to this standard, a total of 25 different environmental indicators must be declared in an EPD: potential environmental impact, energy and material resource use, output flows, and waste categories. At a minimum, these must take into account the production phase ("cradle to gate"). However, as declaration holder, the manufacturer has the option of including further life cycle phases, such as the use phase or the disposal phase ("end-of-life"). Before an EPD can be published in a dedicated program, it must first be evaluated by an independent verifier.
At the request of the European Commission, EN 15804 is currently being revised. Among other changes, declarations will now have to take into account the entire life cycle. In addition, EPDs will require a number of new life-cycle-assessment indicators. Publication of this revised standard is not expected until 2019, at the earliest.
It can be assumed that, on the basis of the revised standard and with the aim of transferring the environmental performance indicators defined in EN 15804 as essential characteristics into harmonised product standards, the Commission will issue one or more mandates to the CEN. The individual CEN-TCs (Technical Committees) would then need to develop uniform reference scenarios for the various product groups, e.g. for use or end-of-life phases. Because the EN 15804 is a horizontal standard for construction products and all types of construction-related services, it cannot provide this itself, but can only provide a standardised framework of conditions for defining the scenarios. However, to enable comparisons of the environmental indicators contained in the EPDs, the use of standardised scenarios is critical. In addition, manufacturers, as distributors, have no influence over – and cannot be held liable for – what is done with their products once they leave the factory.
The politically-driven future focus on the entire product life cycle also leads to an issue that is a legal formality. A key additional question here will be how to maintain the high quality of EPDs, which currently is ensured through independent verification and publication in an EPD programme, if, in the future, environmental performance indicators will be required to be stated directly in the declaration of performance. This would require the establishment of a AVCP system 3 (AVCP: assessment and verification of constancy performance) that would conform to CPR regulations. The recourse to a higher system for the assessment and verification of constancy performance (system 3 or higher) has until now, however, been required only when the safety of workers and/or occupants was directly affected.
Should the key figures and regulations set forth in EN 15804 be converted into harmonised product standards, thus becoming a component of the declaration of performance, "ECO Platform", as the umbrella organisation for the various national EPD programme operators in Europe, advocates the use of a System 3 assessment and verification of constancy of performance. To ensure a consistently high level of quality, a requirement should be established that EPD programme operators continue to participate in the verification process. Whether this will make accreditation and/or notification of the EPD programme owner necessary is a topic for further discussion.
With regard to the legal formality issue mentioned above, one possible alternative to the direct inclusion of individual environmental indicators in the declaration of performance could be to include a simple reference to an EPD in the declaration. This approach would, in any case, likely come closest to fulfilling the original intention of recital 56.
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Institut Bauen und Umwelt e.V.