11 April 2022
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How can manufacturers help specifiers to make sustainable product choices?

Trust and communication between product manufacturers and specifiers has never been more important to deliver durable and sustainable buildings.

How can manufacturers help specifiers to make sustainable product choices?

When specifiers look to make product choices that can be considered sustainable and reduce the environmental impact of construction projects, they are heavily reliant on manufacturers offering suitable solutions. At the same time, manufacturers have to understand the needs of the specifier, and communicate what steps they’re taking to meet those needs.

As a result, the relationship between product manufacturer and specifier has, arguably, never been more important.

By itself, meeting the challenge of joint climate and biodiversity emergencies is a significant undertaking. But issues of trust and communication run much deeper than delivering a more sustainable built environment. They tie in to questions of performance, and whether products do what manufacturers say they will over the life of the building.

The focus of this post is on how products and services can help reduce any negative environmental impacts of buildings. Throughout, however, the implication is clear: if specifiers and manufacturers engage with one another, delivering a ‘green’ building can also mean delivering a well performing building.

The shifting balance between operational and embodied carbon

By now, you probably don’t need to be told that the built environment accounts for about two-fifths of global carbon emissions (39%). That total can be split between:

  • emissions associated with the life cycle of products that go into buildings (the sourcing of raw materials, their manufacture and processing, installation and maintenance, and their disposal); and
  • emissions associated with the operation of buildings themselves such as heating, cooling and lighting.


Manufacturers can reduce the embodied emissions of their products by reducing the carbon footprint of their manufacturing operations, reducing energy consumption or generating more renewable energy, using raw materials more efficiently and reducing or recovering the amount of waste that is generated.

But they also have a crucial role to play in developing new solutions that will reduce the operational emissions associated with buildings as well as the embodied carbon associated with the use stage. For example, they can offer product guarantees, which reassure specifiers that products are durable, and will perform as declared and minimise maintenance to the products during the life of the building.

How traceability and transparent reporting support operational carbon reductions

Coils

Tata Steel’s Shotton Works, based in Deeside in North Wales, galvanises and innovatively paints steel to create a wide range of roof and wall cladding solutions. The site has a rich history of operation – at the time of writing, it recently celebrated 125 years of steelmaking – and it uses steel produced at Tata Steel’s own facility in Port Talbot, in South Wales.

Having complete control over this part of the supply chain is just one piece in Tata Steel’s fully traceable supply chain – a level of transparency that is backed up by the Shotton site’s products having held BES 6001 certification, which demonstrates responsible sourcing, for more than a decade.

By understanding and assessing environmental impact through the complete supply chain – from raw material sourcing onwards – Tata Steel can report that environmental impact in the form of not only pre-finished steel specific environmental product declarations (EPDs) to EN 15804 but also for end cladding system impacts from Colorcoat® supply chain partners.

Making EPDs available, that have been produced in accordance with recognised standards, gives specifiers and other construction professionals the tools to assess the environmental impact of product choices over the life of a building.

It also means that Tata Steel can offer the Confidex Sustain® Guarantee, the world’s first Carbon Neutral building envelope guarantee in the UK. It covers the cradle-to-cradle impacts of pre-finished steel cladding systems, and in fifteen years of operating the scheme, around 140,000 tonnes of carbon have been offset in projects in developing countries. These projects reduce carbon emissions, provide affordable and clean energy, support good health and wellbeing, and deliver decent work and economic growth to communities around the world in line with UN sustainability goals.

Carbon neutrality is over and above a guarantee of up to 40 years for durability. Durable products that deliver their declared performance across the life of the guarantee give specifiers confidence that the performance of their buildings will meet expectations – and show the importance of considering the whole life carbon impact rather than just upfront embodied carbon. Durable products are reinforced with the Confidex® Guarantee for up to 40 years – a real peace of mind benefit that has been provided on the products for 30 years! 


What sort of innovations are possible in developing pre-finished steel solutions?

Pre-finished steel for walls and roofs offer opportunities for innovation both in their developments but also in the applications they are used with. Examples include incorporating renewable technology on top of achieving a high performance, fabric first approach.

Among the solutions being explored and adopted by Tata Steel, and incorporated in the products made at Shotton, are:

  • pre-finished steel liners that are highly reflective and capable of reducing the operational carbon of a building by up to 3% (they also achieve, uniquely, an A+ rating when assessed for the emission of volatile organic compounds);
  • solar reflectance pigments in dark cladding colours, allowing them to effectively perform the same as light-coloured buildings in terms of reflecting sunlight, which reduces operational carbon emissions associated with mechanical cooling;
  • investigating bio-based and solvent-free alternatives which will not only allow us to be more carbon efficient as a site but also reduce the embodied carbon of the end product. 
  • creating the pre-finished steel products of tomorrow by researching game changing options for producing pre-finished steel products in a fundamentally more carbon-efficient way, such as alternative curing methods


Engagement is key to understanding how these innovations can be implemented as part of building designs in order to deliver long-term sustainability in the built environment.

‘Sustainable products and services’ is one of four key principles employed at Shotton in order for the site to have a positive legacy for the planet. All four are equal in their importance, with the other three principles being Carbon footprint reduction, Biodiversity protection, and Material efficiency.
 

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