ENVIRONMENT: Green manufacturing and life-cycle planning are the new buzzwords as industry adapts to the circular economy

by Nigel Griffiths

 

The COP21 climate summit in Paris last December showed how business and industry are getting strongly behind moves towards ‘green’ production, smaller carbon footprints and better resource use. While politicians have wavered about climate change, much of industry now embraces the idea of the ‘circular economy’ and a full life-cycle planning of its products and processes. In fact, major players in the construction sector, such as Volvo Construction Equipment, have been leading the field in promoting the better use of resources.

 

One of the strongest voices calling for climate action and resource efficiency has been the European Union. It has drawn up a comprehensive strategy for refocusing European economies around the idea of the circular economy, cutting energy consumption, reducing emissions and using resources sustainably. A core element of this relates to the construction sector.

 

“Research shows that the building sector is one of the biggest resource users in our society,” says Josefina Lindblom, environment policy adviser at the European Commission. “Construction uses about 50% of our extracted materials and more than 50% of our energy. One-third of water goes on buildings in one way or another, and more than one-third of our total generated waste is construction and demolition waste.”

 

While everyone is promoting green buildings there seems to be no common understanding of what a green building actually is. Everyone has different ideas, according to Lindblom. “Many people just focus on the use phase of a green building, but we think it should be a wider approach that looks at the full life cycle – extraction and production of the materials, the construction, use of the building and its demolition,” she explains.

 

In 2014, the Commission published a strategy document on ‘Resource Efficiency Opportunities in the Building Sector’. This identified the need for a common European approach to assess the environmental performance of a building throughout its life cycle. To achieve this, a three-year study is currently under way to identify a common EU framework of indicators to assess the environmental performance of buildings, which is to be adopted in 2017.

 

Josefina Lindblom, environment policy adviser at the European Commission

Josefina Lindblom, environment policy adviser at the European Commission

GOOD INDICATION

Groups of industry stakeholders have been working closely with Commission experts to help guide the process. A public consultation is being carried out and a set of common indicators will be presented by the end of this year.

 

“We aim to develop a tool with a handful of indicators to allow reporting between the actors. By having a common language – core indicators – we can help influence decisions along the value chain,” says Lindblom. “By agreeing on a common language and indicators, we will have comparable data that will help support the business case for green buildings. It will also support the transfer of good practice in the mainstream market. We aim to provide something simple to use that is suitable for the standard, mainstream market.”

 

Sweden has taken the lead in pushing for better resource efficiency in construction. The Royal Swedish Society of Engineering Sciences (IVA) has undertaken a ground-breaking study which showed that the carbon footprint of Sweden’s construction sector is as great as that of the whole automotive sector.

 

In large infrastructure projects, the biggest generator of carbon emissions is not construction vehicles – machinery, excavators, haulers, lorries, etc – but the production and use of construction materials – concrete, cement, asphalt, reinforced steel, etc, which account for almost 50% of the carbon emissions produced by a project.

 

This year, armed with this evidence, Sweden has taken action at national level by setting carbon emission requirements for large infrastructure projects (more than €5 million). This measure came into force in February and requires a 15% reduction of carbon emissions by 2020.

 

Many countries now require an assessment of the environmental cost of construction projects for public projects. For Europe’s largest infrastructure project, the 230-km high-speed rail (H2S), carbon impact assessments are closely integrated into all design, procurement and construction processes, as a government requirement.

 

France now has an online carbon calculation system known as the éco comparateur (SEVE), which can be used by contractors bidding for public works projects. In the Netherlands, the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management has introduced a green procurement process which uses DuboCalc, an environmental assessment tool to compute the environmental effects of the complete project life cycle. A contractor’s bid will today comprise its solution, its price offer and the environmental cost indicator value that is calculated with DuboCalc.

 

MAGNUS

Magnus Bäärnhielm, CCC project manager

EARLY ADOPTERS

In 2014, Volvo CE initiated the Climate Construction Challenge (CCC) to bring together the key players in the construction sector to reduce the carbon footprint of the entire construction process.

 

“Through the CCC, we have created a platform for dialogue with industry, academia, government and NGOs which is promoting sustainability, life-cycle and resource-efficient thinking throughout the entire construction industry value chain,” says Magnus Bäärnhielm, CCC project manager.

 

As part of its work program, CCC has commissioned research projects in key areas, in particular circular business models, resource and energy efficiency, collaboration along the value chain and innovation and emerging technologies.

 

Volvo Group as a whole has teamed up with the highly respected environment body the World Wildlife Fund to support its Climate Savers program and to set and meet company-wide goals to reduce carbon emissions.

 

“The science of sustainability is getting clearer, which makes it easier to communicate and create awareness,” says Volvo CE President Martin Weissburg.

 

“We need to work together on a collaborative basis to make sure that governments, the market place and all participants are driving the mechanisms and the units of measure to make it more obvious what needs to be changed and to put some rules around this so that change occurs.” efficient thinking throughout the entire construction industry value chain,” says Magnus Bäärnhielm, CCC project manager.

 

As part of its work program, CCC has commissioned research projects in key areas, in particular circular business models, resource and energy efficiency, collaboration along the value chain and innovation and emerging technologies.

 

Volvo Group as a whole has teamed up with the highly respected environment body the World Wildlife Fund to support its Climate Savers program and to set and meet company-wide goals to reduce carbon emissions.

 

“The science of sustainability is getting clearer, which makes it easier to communicate and create awareness,” says Volvo CE President Martin Weissburg.

 

“We need to work together on a collaborative basis to make sure that governments, the market place and all participants are driving the mechanisms and the units of measure to make it more obvious what needs to be changed and to put some rules around this so that change occurs.”