We all know how the famous children’s fable, The Three Little Pigs, ends. Despite the Wolf’s best effort, all three pigs end up alive and well inside the house made of bricks.
For architects and engineers living in the real world, selecting building materials is much more complicated process than a “huff and puff” test, especially when it comes to the sustainability of the project.
A primary tool these decision makers rely on for guidance is the Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that manufacturers publish for their products. But it’s not enough.
To capture the ‘big picture’ sustainability of a project from end to end, architects and engineers should keep these 4 points in mind:
1. The building context
EPDs and environmental impacts in general must be compared in the building context. All things being equal, choosing a product with lower manufacturing-related emissions is a good choice. Unfortunately, in most cases things are not easily comparable.
Most important is to ensure we are comparing the same application and the same technical performance — and not, for example, comparing a product intended for a roof application with one intended for a partition wall.
2. Consider durability and performance over time
Will the selected product require additional parts or materials to complete the installation? Does it have a lower environmental impact but also a decreasing performance over time, which will require it to be replaced or refurbished? Durability and stable performance over the lifetime of the construction may change and must be part of a product’s evaluation.
3. A product’s entire life cycle
Many declarations account for the environmental impact of the manufacturing of a product and its raw materials. But a product’s environmental impact is about much more than its production and raw materials.
For that reason, a product should always be evaluated based on its entire life-cycle — including installation requirements and expected lifetime.
For example, when a house is remodelled or torn down, can the product in question be recycled or reused or is it destined for a landfill?
4. Environmental impact beyond the EPDs
Getting the full picture when it comes to sustainability means looking at all the information in the EPD, not just the headlines.
The CO2 emissions of a product are a good example. This is important information, but only relevant if evaluated in the overall context of the project. How do CO2 emissions impact the entire footprint of the building? What are the possible emission savings that you obtain?
Another good example is insulation materials that save significant amounts of energy and emissions by reducing energy consumption for heating and cooling.
Make EPDs work for you
The EPD provides valuable information about the environmental impact of a product, but unlike the pig’s brick house, there are many more factors to be consider when evaluating the overall sustainability of a project.
Remember these four points and you’ll be off to a great start with your next project.
Finally, as EPDs may not always be up-to-date we recommend always contacting the manufacturer to obtain the latest version. Doing that will provide the best basis for decision making when it comes to saving energy and reducing emissions, which again will help curb the effects of climate change.