Applying PEF rules to construction products

In the construction sector, which widely adopted the EN 15804 standard, organizations are interested to see what the new Product Environmental Footprint standard will mean for the assessment of their products. For a trade organization, PRé analyzed three construction products according to the PEF method and compared the outcome to earlier EN 15804 studies. This provided valuable information about the products, but also about how the PEF standards look at products differently than an EN assessment.

About

The construction sector is one of the sectors with growing interest in environmental footprinting. This industry had already broadly accepted the EN 15804 standard, and they are now curious to understand the changes environmental footprinting might bring. Proactive organisations are already conducting shadow Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) studies to get insights into the consequences this new standard might have for their business.

Challenge

Our customer – a construction trade organisation – was interested in gaining insights into the hotspots of two products, one standard and one with recycled content. They also wanted to know how these products perform in comparison to a third, competitive system. Since there are was no specific guidance for that product yet (which would require development of PEF Category Rules), the focus was on using the general rules defined in the PEF Guidance document and reviewing how those would influence the environmental performance assessment.

Solution

PRé built a model of the standard product and the version with recycled content in SimaPro, using data provided by multiple member companies of the trade organisation. In parallel, PRé modelled the third, competitive construction system using the data from a previous study conducted for the client. Following the PEF guidelines, we identified the hotspots of each system and compared the three products.

These steps would also be part of a standard PEF study. But to pinpoint the differences in results caused by the application of PEF rules, we compared the outcomes with those of older studies that used the EN standards. We then analysed the relevant differences to understand whether they are related to a change in the product formulation, the new impact assessment method, differences in background data or modelling principles specific to PEF. Understanding the consequences of using PEF guidelines for the environmental performance results of their products was as valuable to our client as the results themselves.

Benefits

  • Important insights into environmental performance and hotspots. The study provided deep insights into the environmental performance of the three construction products. Environmental hotspots were identified and the differences in performance between the products explained. The trade association got a thorough understanding of how their product compares to an equivalent product and whether introducing recycled content makes a difference for the environment.
  • Deep understanding of PEF. The outcomes of this study were explained in light of the PEF methodology, putting our client in a good position for future PEF studies. Furthermore, the study provided insights into using the PEF guide for products that are not covered by a PEFCR at the moment, which is common for this client’s portfolio of construction products.
  • Flexible model for multiple applications. The LCA model we created is flexible, using parameters and other SimaPro features. Any future applications of the model will be cost-efficient: updating the study with new production data, plugging in the environmental footprint-compliant datasets, offering shadow PEF studies to individual member companies, and more.

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