Crediting low impact materials – thoughts on the SKA Retail consultation

The RICS consultation on SKA Retail finishes today but the treatment of materials specification within SKA provides some interesting talking points. 

The D19 Materials Specification asks that “at least 80% of the materials installed as part of the fit-out meet one of the following criteria:

  • are reused or reclaimed;
  • contain at least 80% recycled or recyclable content;
  • have an A or A+ rating in BRE’s The Green Guide to Specification;
  • have an A or A+ rating in BRE’s Green Book Live database; or
  • are supplied with an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), written in accordance with ISO 14025 standards.”

 The first thing to point out here is that there are four very different types of environmental criteria being used here to assess products, and that in many cases, they are far from comparable.

1              Material is reused, reclaimed or contains at least 80% recycled content: Reused and reclaimed products will usually have very low impact, and so long as there are not relevant problems of durability or appearance their use should be encourages.  Products with recycled content will generally have much lower impacts than their virgin material partners, but this does not mean that they are always a low impact option.  Take recycled glass floor tiles, which may have still have much higher impacts than some alternative, virgin options – they will have much lower impact than virgin glass, but to be honest, you very rarely see these so it is not a “real” benefit. 

2              Recyclable content: all tetrapak containers are recyclable, it’s just that in many parts of the country, councils don’t collect them.  And even when they do, many people still put them in the general waste and they end up in landfill.  Is the fact that the container contains recyclable content really that positive if it is rarely recycled?  The wording also allows material content which is recyclable, even if other content in the material means that it cannot be recycled. For example, untreated waste wood can be recycled into chipboard.  However, once it has been treated (preservative being a very small % of the content) the material can no longer be recycled into chipboard.

3              An A or A+ rating in the Green Guide or the Greenbooklive.  Both of these mean that, undertaking a full cradle to grave life cycle assessment, using a range of environmental indicators, the specification has an impact in the best third of the range between the best and worst specification for that element.  This criteria will mean that materials used do have low impact.  The difficulty is that the Green Guide elements only applies to a small number of the specifications used in fitout (flooring, internal wall partitions and insulation), so it can only be applied to a small number of the materials.  Another problem is that all materials with a certified BRE or BBA Environmental Profile have an ISO 14025 compliant EPD – but they might get any rating from A+ to E in the GreenBookLive database (or for ceiling tiles, not be rated), depending on the performance within the range of elements.  Finally, as written, it may be possible for a material which gets an A rating in one building element (for example cladding) to use this rating even when it is used in a different element (eg worktops).  In the retail environment, use Is much heavier than in the domestic setting say so product ratings can vary between these two for the same product, but the criteria doesn’t state whether the material must get the rating in the retail category if appropriate. 

4              Materials with an EPD, written in accordance with the ISO 14025 standards.  An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is a robust, independently verified assessment of the environmental impact of a product.  ISO 14025 EPDs can be cradle to gate (just covering manufacture) or covering other life cycle stages up to cradle to grave.  And having an EPD just means that the product has been assessed.  It does not mean that the product actually has a low impact, although the information in the EPD will enable you to evaluate this.  EPDs can also be manufacturer specific or for a group of manufacturers through a trade association for example.  For generic EPDs, not all members of the trade association may have provided data, but even if your manufacturer did, his might have been the worst or the best data.  ISO 14025 EPDs can also be product specific – eg for an individual carpet product, or cover the whole range of an individual manufacturer.  Again, the product which you might be using might be the worst product within the range, or the best. 

Hopefully these examples will demonstrate the difficulties in the use of criteria for materials and environmental selection. 

LEED has recently included a new Pilot Credit 43 giving additional credits where over 10% of non-structural materials (by value) have environmental assessment or certification.  Credits vary depending whether the assessment is of a single attribute (eg recycled content), an ecolabel (such as the EU’s ecolabel), a Life Aycle Assessment (LCA) study or an EPD, and also depends on whether the information is self declared, peer reviewed, verified, and also whether it is based on generic or specific data for the product.  This is not the whole solution, and the % and coverage of only non-structural materials is questionable, but it is a step in the right direction.

About constructionlca

Co-author Green Guide to Specification, expert in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), EPDs and sustainability for the construction materials sector Researching Building LCA and how we can increase uptake at the Open University. Tweets as @constructionlca
This entry was posted in Environmental Product Declarations, EPD, Green Guide, LCA and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Crediting low impact materials – thoughts on the SKA Retail consultation

  1. Benedikte Ranum says:

    A very useful contribution to the sustainable building materials debate – thanks for sharing it.

  2. Shamir Ghumra says:

    Different sectors are beginning to get to grips with the issues around materials assessment; this article is applicable to many different industries.

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