Comparing PEF and EPD for construction products
A large construction trade association was interested in comparing PEF and EPD to improve its reporting. Therefore, PRé did PEF studies on two equivalent products and compared the results to EPDs based on the EN 15804 standard.
The construction sector is very active in sustainability. Since the popular EN 15804 standard was released, which specifies how to do environmental product declarations (EPDs), interest in LCA soared. Each year, many new EDPs are produced for construction products.
A large trade association in construction, representing manufacturers and national associations of construction products, has also been promoting their products with environmental footprint data. Previously, they had used EN 15804 to measure the impacts of their products and to compare their products to equivalent products. Now, the association wanted to analyze their products’ performance with the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) methodology.
They were particularly interested in the similarities and differences between PEF and EN 15804, how using the different methodologies changes the comparison between the two products, and where there were opportunities for improvement based on PEF.
A PEF model for today and the future
We built a comprehensive, parameterized model of the life cycle of the product in question in SimaPro, following the most recent PEF guidance. The robustness of this PEF study was high due to the consistent modelling approach, the completeness and the high level of detail. To address the limitations of the PEF methodology, we did a series of sensitivity analyses for the impacts on toxicity, resource use and end-of-life. Biodiversity is not part of the current PEF methodology, but we included these aspects at the request of the trade association.
The parameters prepare the model for future methodology or data updates. End-of-life, for instance, is still a topic of discussion within the ongoing PEF developments. The model did appear sensitive to the chosen approach for end-of-life modelling, which means the results could change significantly depending on the end-of-life approach chosen. The parameterized model can easily be updated once the end-of-life modelling approach has been finalized in the PEF pilot project.
EN 15804 versus PEF
Our PEF study assesses the environmental performance of two equivalent construction products. EN 15804 had been used to assess these construction products in earlier studies, and the trade association was eager to understand how the current study differed from the previous one.
Over the course of the PEF study, PRé kept track of the differences between the PEF and the EN 15804 standards. The resulting overview of the similarities and differences between both standards, a qualitative comparison based on expert judgement, was much appreciated by the trade association.
- Thorough benchmarking and insights to increase competitive advantage. PRé identified environmental hotspots and explained the difference in performance between both products. The study also uncovered opportunities to increase competitive advantage.
- Deep understanding of PEF and EN 15804. The trade association appreciated the detailed overview of the similarities and differences between PEF and EN 15804 and the consequences the choice of standards has on the results. This clarified the potentially confusing situation around EPDs, legislative activities in the European Union and construction product LCAs and enabled them to prioritize the improvement opportunities.
- Flexible model for easy updates. The model was made flexible to incorporate future updates in methodology or data collection. This way, an updated or follow-up study can be done very efficiently. The model can also be used to calculate PEF studies for individual member companies with relatively little effort.
PRé has been actively collaborating with the European Commission in the development of the PEF methodology, acting as the Technical Helpdesk, testing and reviewing different aspects. This broad experience related to PEF has given us the opportunity to use our insights to solve the practical challenges described in this project.