Embodied Emissions event at London Climate Week

Event:            Managing embodied emissions to improve global climate governance
Time:             5:00pm to 7:30pm
Venue:           University College London, 
Cost:               Free


Sadly  I’m not able to make this event where Simon Sturgis will be talking.  There is a real drive to include embodied impacts in the new London Plan, with the London Assembly Environment Committee recommending action, and 459 architecture practices having signed up to include whole life carbon modelling as part of their basic scope of work, to reduce both embodied and operational resource use as part of Architects Declare.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

30th May 2019 was a Big Day for Embodied Carbon in the UK

As a Board Member of the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP), it was great to chair the ASBP event yesterday that marked the launch of the RICS Building Carbon Database, a rebrand of the WRAP Embodied Carbon Database set up with UKGBC in 2014, and alongside it, the launch of an update of Craig Jones’ Inventory of Carbon and Energy (the ICE Database) which will be available to those who didn’t attend the launch from his circularecology website shortly.

RICS are looking to update the Building Carbon Database based on user feedback, and if projects which measure embodied carbon use the data then the benchmarks it provides will be better and more detailed.

craig and ice (2)

Craig shows the data quality information for aggregates

The updated ICE database has used the more than 6000 EPD now available to provide much more information on the embodied carbon of key building materials.  For example, where in the 2011 v2, there was just one figure for aggregate, there are now embodied carbon figures for 10 types of aggregate.  The database will provide data quality indicators, links to the sources and information on the range of values for product types – the data geeks amongst us at the launch can’t wait for the email with the database to arrive this morning!

And yesterday was also the day that 16 architectural practices, winners of the Stirling Prize, declared a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency and committed to act.  For those with a fascination and focus on the embodied impact of materials, they will seek to:

  • Upgrade existing buildings for extended use as a more carbon efficient alternative to demolition and new build whenever there is a viable choice.
  • Include life cycle costing, whole life carbon modelling and post occupancy evaluation as part of our basic scope of work, to reduce both embodied and operational resource use.
  • Collaborate with engineers, contractors and clients to further reduce construction waste.
  • Accelerate the shift to low embodied carbon materials in all our work.
  • Minimise wasteful use of resources in architecture and urban planning, both in quantum and in detail.

At the time of writing (9.30am on 31st May) 225 practices have signed up, which is fantastic news.  You can sign up here – https://www.architectsdeclare.com/.

There are lots of resources out there to help those working on embodied carbon, including the RIBA Whole Life Carbon Guidance, the UKGBC Guide for Clients, the RICS Professional Statement on Whole Life Carbon, UKGBC’s Tackling Embodied Carbon in Buildings, UKGBC and BRE’s How-to Guide  and older publications from WRAP Cutting Embodied Carbon on Procurement, which are still available.

But we know that it is not easy, so the ASBP will be convening a working group in the autumn which I will be leading. The aim of the group is to bring together forward-thinking organisations in the sector (clients, designers, manufacturers, contractors etc) to share learning, fill gaps in knowledge, provide feedback and input to research, standards and policy development, and to increase awareness of embodied carbon and whole life carbon assessment. The group will meet next in the autumn. Please message me if you would be interested in joining.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More than 6000 EN 15804 EPD now available!

My latest update of EPD numbers at the start of 2019 is now available – bit.ly/2019EPD


Posted in EN 15804, Environmental Product Declarations, Environmental Profiles, EPD, LCA, Life cycle assessment, Standards, TC 350 | Tagged | 1 Comment

For every five houses built, does one house worth really go to landfill or incineration?

Duncan Baker-Brown recently claimed this in an article on Construction21, I guess, based on the fact that he also said, “We know that the construction industry in the UK wastes approximately 20% of the material delivered to a building site”, and I’m assuming he thinks all this waste is only going to landfill or incineration; in other words that none of it is being recycled.

So does any of this stand up to scrutiny?

The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) provide statistics on the recovery of UK construction and demolition waste (see page 7) , and between 2010 and 2014 (the last time the figures were provided), the recovery rate rose from 87.6% to 89.9%, so it is clear that the assumption that 100% of waste from construction is going to landfill or incineration is incorrect, although prior to the Landfill Tax (introduced in 1996) and the Aggregates Levy (introduced in 2002), this might have been closer to the truth. For example a Construction and Waste Resources Platform (CWRP) Report calculated the recovery rate for construction and demolition waste in 2005 to be just over 50%.

Next let us consider whether 20% of the material delivered to a building site is wasted?  The same DEFRA statistics above stated that 55 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste were generated in 2014.

The Construction and Waste Resources Platform (CWRP) published a “An overview of UK demolition waste” in 2009 which estimated that 31.8 million tonnes was due to demolition in 2007.  Assuming this is has reduced by 25% to account for the economic downturn, then 31 million tonnes of waste are caused by construction alone.

So how much material is used in construction?

The UK Mineral Products Association states UK construction used  (in 2015)

  • 225 million tonnes of aggregates (of which 28% were from secondary sources)
  • 13 million tonnes of cementitious materials

In addition, the following were used in construction:

  • 2 billion bricks (BEIS) (4 million tonnes at conservative 2 kg a brick)
  • 5 million tonnes of stone (source)
  • 3.3 million tonnes steel (29% of 11 million tonnes (steelconstruction.infoISSB))
  • 1.33 million tonnes bitumen (EAPA)
  • 0.75 million tonnes of plastics (23% of 3.3 million tonnes (BPF)
  • 3.7 million m3 UK produced and 6.6 million m3 of imported sawn timber (Forestry Commission) (3.8 million tonnes sawn timber at 375 kg/m3)
  • 3 million m3 UK wood based panels and 3.4 million m3 of imported wood based panels (Forestry Commission)  (4.5 million tonnes wood based panels at 700 kg/m3)
  • 0.7 million tonnes of plaster and 200 million m2 of plasterboard (DTI) (2.45 million tonnes assuming 12.5mm plasterboard at 700 kg/m2)
  • 0.5 million tonnes flat glass (estimate)
  • 0.25 million tonnes aluminium (25% of 1 million tonnes)

In total, this gives a minimum consumption of 263 million tonnes of construction materials.

If we compare 31 million tonnes of waste to 263 million tonnes this would give a maximum wastage rate of 12%, much lower than 20%.  And as 89.9% of this is recovered, then only 1.2%, or 3.1 million tonnes of construction materials are going to landfill or incineration.

So in reality, you would need to build 83 houses before one house worth’s of construction materials were sent to landfill or incineration.  Quite a difference from 5 houses!

Image courtesy of WRAP.

Posted in Embodied Impacts, Recovery, resources, Waste | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Update to 2018 EPD numbers

With the revival of the Finnish RTS EPD programme, and the latest numbers from Inies for Verified French ‘Fiche de Declaration Environmental et Sanitaire’ (EPD in French), the numbers for Verified EN 15804 EPD in January 2018 which I have been collecting over several years have now exceeded 5400!  For more information, see my earlier posts on 2018: EPD numbers continue to increase… and EPD numbers for 2017: Updated EPD Infographic for 2017

2018 EPD graph update

Posted in EN 15804, Environmental Product Declarations, Environmental Profiles, EPD, LCA, Life cycle assessment, TC 350 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Policies on embodied impacts of buildings increase interest in EPD

As one of thinkstep‘s lead consultants in construction, I recently wrote an article for the Newsletter of Eco Platform, the European association of construction product EPD Programmes detailing how national and regional policies relating to embodied impacts are increasing interest in EPD. You can view the Newsletter here.

Posted in policy, regulation | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EPD numbers continue to increase…

epd rise 2012-2018Following on from my 2017 EPD Infographic,  I have again tracked the numbers of verified EPD for construction products aligning to EN 15804. Growth in numbers has continued, and there are now over 5000 EPD available globally.  In 2017, new EPD programmes were launched in Ireland, India and Belgium, and the well established programmes, IBU in Germany, International EPD®, and EPD Norge in Norway all showed significant increases in numbers of EPD. The PEPecopassport EPD programme, which covers HVAC and electrical equipment used in buildings, has also shown strong growth.  As this scheme is for electrical products rather than construction products, it is covered by CEN ELEC rather than CEN and does not use EN 15804 as an normative standard, however it aligns very closely with EN 15804 in terms of methodology and has been considered as compliant here.  In the Netherlands, the MRPI scheme has now made some of its recent EPD available publicly, accounting for the rapid increase here.  EPD which have not been published (as per ISO 14025) and made available to download (for example some MRPI and the Tata Steel EPD) have not been included in this study.

Drivers for the growth in EPD continue to be diverse, including:

  • Credits within Sustainable Building Assessment schemes such as BREEAM and LEED
  • Legislation in France and Belgium, requiring EPD to support environmental claims about construction products
  • The need for EPD to support building level life cycle assessment (LCA), which is increasing required by legislation, for example in the Netherlands for new housing and offices and Germany for public buildings, or credited within voluntary schemes such HQE, DGNB, LEED v4, HPI in Ireland or GreenStar in Australia. The EU Level(s) scheme also aims to increase the focus on building LCA.
Posted in Embodied Impacts, EN 15804, Environmental Product Declarations, EPD, LCA, Life cycle assessment, Standards, TC 350 | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Importance of Reducing Embodied Impacts


I’ve just come across this 2014 image from the Construction2030 website, which considers the energy footprint of all the office space globally expected to be built between 2015 and 2030 – 83 billion m², both embodied (from the materials used in their construction in each year from 2015 to 2030, and operational, from their heating, cooling and lighting from construction through to 2030.

Construction 2030 estimate that a building will “break even”, with operational energy matching embodied energy, after 15 years.  As you can see, this assumption means that for the offices built in the 15 years to 2030, the embodied energy consumed until 2030 is almost 3 times the operational energy consumption.

As Climate Change, one the most significant impacts associated with energy consumption needs to be tackled sooner rather than later, it is clear why a focus on embodied impacts could be beneficial.

Firstly, we have already focussed on reducing operational impacts and many of the big gains are already forced on buildings through regulation, whereas many design teams focussing on embodied impacts are able to obtain significant savings (greater than 20%) with little or no additional cost (for example, see my earlier blog, https://constructionlca.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/reducing-embodied-carbon-how-easy-can-it-be/).

Looking at the graph above, it seems clear that a 20% saving in embodied energy across all office buildings globally would generate 3 times the energy savings and resulting impacts than a 20% reduction in operational energy across all new global office buildings could achieve in the next 15 years.

I am therefore really pleased that with thinkstep, we are helping support EDGE, the World Bank IFC’s sustainable building assessment tool aiming to reduce not just  operational and water impacts but also embodied impacts of new buildings in emerging economies, by over 20%.

I compare this with Bloomberg’s new Headquarters in London, which they claim is the most sustainable office building, with a BREEAM score of 98.5.  This is whilst it appears to have a much higher materials consumption per employee in comparison to a normal office building: (15m3 concrete, 400kg aluminium, 3.8 t steel, 150kg bronze, 250m fibre optics, 0.75m3 sandstone and 125 LED lights per employee (source 1, source 2 )), which Dr Qian Li estimates will result in 18 tonnes of embodied CO2 per employee, higher than normal, and which Simon Sturgis claims is  “a huge /m2 construction carbon footprint which puts it way down the league“.

Until BREEAM and LEED really start to focus on sustainable building certification meaning in significant reductions in embodied impact, it seems unlikely that we will achieve much in the new build construction sector to reduce global impacts.

Posted in EDGE, Embodied Impacts, Global Warming | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Who should benefit from recycling in construction product EPD?

EN 15804, the construction product EPD standard, attributes the impact of treating waste to the waste producer, according to the polluter pays principle.  After treatment, when waste has been recovered and reaches the “end of waste”, the resulting secondary material enters its next product system with no impact. Those using secondary materials therefore get a benefit as their input material has no impact, whilst primary input materials will have impacts from extraction and processing.

Anyone using secondary material needs to take account of any manufacturing impacts after the “end of waste” to make their products – these are the impacts reported in Modules A1-A3 of an EPD.  At the end of life of the construction product, the impact of waste processing until the end of waste state is reached is reported in C1-C3, the impacts of disposal (landfill or incineration) if the waste cannot be recovered are reported in C4.

This approach used in EN 15804 is sometimes known as the recycled content, cut-off or 100:0 approach in life cycle assessment.

Where end of life waste is recovered and used in the next product system, EPD to EN 15804 are able to show the benefits of this recovery as additional information in Module D, but Module D is outside the system boundary of the product system.  The approach in Module D shows the “avoided burdens” from recycling, and derives from the recyclability, avoided burdens or 0:100 approach sometimes used in LCA, which the metals industry often recommends.

Perhaps the most important question is why does EN 15804 use the 100:0 recycled content approach that attributes the benefit of recycling to the user of recycled content, whilst only providing additional information on the benefits of end of life recycling in Module D, rather than within the product system LCA.  The answer, in my view, lies in looking at the construction sector as a whole.

In the UK, a mass balance for the construction industry conducted in 2000 calculated the total mass of materials added to the built environment in 1998 to be 275 million tonnes, which required an input of 420 million tonnes of material resources, of which 43 million tonnes were recycled material, giving a recycled content of around 10% (Viridis, 2003) with an overall resource efficiency of only 65%. At this point in time, just over 50% of construction and demolition waste was estimated to be recycled.

In contrast, DEFRA estimate the most recent recovery rate in 2014 from non-hazardous construction and demolition waste in the UK was 89.9 per cent, with over 49 million tonnes of waste recovered. (DEFRA, 2016).  The total amount of waste recovered or recycled in the UK in 2014 was only 91 million tonnes, accounting for less than 50% of all UK waste generated, and if ALL of this recovered waste was used in construction, it would still give a recycled content of less than 50%.

Within UK construction, we are therefore already achieving very high levels of end of life recycling, but are still using lower percentages of recycled content with low overall resource efficiency.

With an 89% recycling rate, most UK construction products would already be able to show considerable benefits from end of life recycling if EN 15804 was changed to give end of life recycling the benefit using the 0:100 approach. This approach would also give those using recycled content higher impacts, and over the full life cycle taking account of the avoided burdens, primary and recycled products would have similar impacts, meaning there would be less reason to recycle.

Instead, the incentive to recycle is, in my view, correctly placed with the user of recycled content in EN 15804, following the polluter pays principle.   The use of the 100:0 recycled content approach in EN 15804 recognises the need to incentivise construction products to use secondary materials and to look not just to construction but to other sectors with much lower waste recovery rates to source secondary material.

Viridis, 2003 https://trl.co.uk/reports/VR4%20%28REVISED%29

DEFRA, 2016: https://www.mrw.co.uk/download?ac=3050506

Posted in Embodied Impacts, EN 15804, Environmental Product Declarations, EPD, LCA, Life cycle assessment | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

thinkstep’s proven solutions in the growing market for EN 15804 EPD

The number of Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) verified to EN 15804 is growing rapidly. For the past couple of years, I have been monitoring the number of EPD produced within each of the construction EPD programmes around the world, and my infographic shows there were more than 3600 EPD verified to comply with EN 15804 at the start of this year.

This rise is largely a consequence, firstly of regulation, e.g. in France and Belgium the requirement for EPD to support environmental claims about products and in the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland the requirements to undertake Building Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for some buildings; secondly, the increased recognition of EPD in Building Assessment schemes such as BREEAM, LEED and Greenstar, with the new Irish scheme, Housing Performance Index being the latest to provide credits for products with EPD; and thirdly the interest in using EPD within Green Public Procurement, with Stattsbygg in Norway, for example, asking for EPD as part of their procurement process.

ECO Platform, the organisation representing all the European EPD Programmes, is also assisting by providing a central registry of EcoPlatform EPD from all the member programmes where the ECO Platform verification guidelines have been followed.  Companies pay an additional fee of up to 100 euro to have the EPD listed on ECO Platform, and take up has been good for EPD from the UK and Scandinavia, but there are far fewer (as a proportion of total EPD registered) from Germany and Spain and none from France. However both France and Germany have excellent, searchable EPD databases of their own (see inies and oekobau.dat), and have also made their EPD databases easily available for Building LCA tools.

Trade associations have initially dealt the demand for EPD by producing “generic EPD”, providing the impact of products using data from all, or a representative sample of their members. These EPD provide a good indication of impact for the most commonly specified products, or the average impact of a range of products – Architects and Consultants can use them in Building LCA or Embodied Carbon assessments to understand the relative impact of different building solutions at a stage in the design process when specific manufacturer’s products are not being considered.

But increasingly, there is concern that generic EPD might be hiding the impact of poorly performing products. For this reason, LEED for example, gives only half the credit for a trade association EPD compared to a manufacturer specific EPD.  This is driving the search for solutions which can enable manufacturers to provide specific EPD not just as an average for a range of their own products, but for specific products.

thinkstep has been working with its trade association and manufacturing clients for many years to provide proven solutions for EPD at scale.  These solutions fall into three main categories.

1 GaBi Envision tools.

GaBi is thinkstep’s market leading LCA software, where trained users develop LCA models to represent cradle to gate or grave production, allowing  environmental impacts to be calculated.  By adding the Envision interface to the underlying GaBi model, the complexities of the LCA modelling can be hidden and users with minimal training can enter key product data to allow specific EPD results to be calculated. During the development of the LCA model for an Envision tool, all the production variables, such as input materials, energy sources, transport and waste routes e.t.c. are considered and those variables which have a significant impact on the different specific products are parameterised, allowing the underlying LCA model to be altered for each product. The Envision tool includes a report which provides all the parameters entered into the tool, together with the EPD Indicator results and any tables based on the LCA which need to be included in the EPD and project report,  for example listing input materials or breaking down the source of impacts.

Envision EPD tools such as those produced by thinkstep for UK Cement for the Mineral Products Association or for steel products for UK CARES can be verified by EPD programmes using a slightly more expensive tool verification process, and then “locked down” so that the underlying LCA model cannot be altered by the users.  The resulting EPD from the verified tool are then able to be verified and registered by the EPD programmes much more quickly and cheaply.  Some trade association clients are looking to operate these tools as a service to their members, for example Timber Trade Federation and British Precast.  Others, provide licences to their members to use the tools directly, and some contract thinkstep to operate the tools on behalf of their members.   We also have manufacturing clients using GaBi who develop Envision tools from their own LCA models.

IBU was the first EPD programme to verify EPD Tools, but thinkstep has now developed Envision EPD tools which have been verified with BRE and the International EPD programme (Environdec).

2 EPD solutions linking to ERP systems.

For clients like Zumtobel and Tarmac, we have developed EPD solutions which link our GaBi LCA data with production data in their ERP systems. Again, the tools can be verified by EPD programmes.  This means Zumtobel are able to link the manufacturing and Bill of Materials data for any of their 10,000 products with the upstream LCA data to produce EPD in seconds which can then be verified quickly and cheaply if required.

3 Model EPD

There are many products which are high impact per kg, but used in very small quantities in the building, for example adhesives. FEICA, the Association of the European adhesive and sealant industry, worked with thinkstep and IBU to develop the Model EPD solution.  For adhesives, previous LCA studies had shown that the significant impacts were associated with the raw materials, rather than manufacturing, and that Climate change (Global Warming Potential – GWP), Non-renewable Primary Energy (NRPE) and Photochemical Ozone Creation Potential (POCP) were the most dominant impacts.  The model EPD project involved reviewing all the product ranges produced by FEICA members and grouping them into sub-groups based on function and impact.  Each input material was also evaluated in terms of its resulting impact on GWP, NRPE and POCP and given a normalised score.  The worst case product in each functional sub-group was then assessed, and the normalised score for its input materials calculated.  Any manufacturer can then use this worst case model EPD if their product has the same function and their input materials have a lower normalised score than the Model EPD.  If their product has a significantly lower normalised score, then they can be confident in developing their own specific EPD which will have lower impacts, taking the guesswork out of this normally fraught choice.  The Model EPD Approach for FEICA was verified by the German EPD programme, IBU, and once a manufacturer has demonstrated his products meet the criteria, the Model EPD can then be registered with IBU and made available to downstream manufacturers using adhesives who can be secure that their supplier is not “hiding” behind average data.  And of course, because the Model EPD calculations are much quicker than a normal LCA, the cost to produce a Model EPD is hugely reduced.  The FEICA Model EPD concept has been approved by IBU and BRE and the approach could be suitable for a range of other products such as coatings.


Posted in Embodied Impacts, EN 15804, Environmental Product Declarations, EPD, LCA | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment