Challenges of sustainable products


Laura Sharman interviews the Alliance of Sustainable Building Products

Paul Jones, managing director of Pittsburgh Corning:

Q: What are your thoughts on sustainability in the UK and do the current regulations and classification systems for this industry really work?

A: The sustainability agenda in the UK is very heavily focused on energy in use, while Europe is keen to expand assessment of efficient use of natural resources as well as the carbon used to make them into building products. The current UK assessment systems exclude or limit much of this information and provide only broad scores across a range of sustainability issues. This makes it difficult for manufacturers to highlight areas of excellence or for specifiers to identify the most sustainable choices.

Q: Do you think local authorities are really embracing the sustainability agenda and what else could they be doing?

A: There have been many individual initiatives by local authorities that have shown real leadership, but sharing this knowledge requires a common approach to assessing excellence, beyond the current narrow definitions often used in specifying sustainable construction. Local authorities are under immense financial pressure to deliver public services and the infrastructure required to support it, unfortunately despite all the rhetoric on sustainability, cost is still the primary driver.

Q: Is the Government doing enough to support the construction industry on sustainability issues?

A: Again there have been some great examples of new approaches, around the Olympics for example. However the baseline, the way in which it is assessed and the lessons from these projects are not being taken forward to help implement best practice.

Q: Should the emphasis be more on building low or zero carbon new homes or on improving the efficiency of existing homes?

A: Both are important and the Government’s Green Deal is clearly targeting the existing homes where improved efficiency will provide environmental and cost benefits. However, we need to drive standards upwards for both new and existing buildings, creating more efficient and healthier homes from more efficiently deployed resources. We should also create schemes and systems that are closed loop in terms of quality and performance but not a closed shop in relation to manufacturers. The current proposals for the Green Deal have set the standard high in terms of performance, but equally high in terms of qualification criteria, which only increases the burden of proof required with high cost certification. This cost will eventually be paid for somewhere, diverting un-necessary funding away from improvements.

Q: Why were Pittsburgh Corning one of the founding members of the Alliance of Sustainable Building Products (ASBP) and how will local authorities benefit from its creation?

A: We believe that the UK construction industry can benefit from significantly higher rates of innovation and use of sustainable products, and that the debate about how these are assessed and used needs a fresh independent voice. We feel that the ASBP can provide this and will lead a debate that in time will offer a wider range of sustainable options to local authorities and others challenged with reducing the impact of their estates. This will be achieved through the provision of simple guidelines that are not based on a manufacturer’s ability to pay but instead, a well- rounded and independent appraisal of performance. Further proof can be demonstrated through certification but this is not the ‘single method’ of qualification.

Q: What will the ASBP do to shape the future of sustainability?

A: The ASBP is challenging the narrow definition of sustainability in the UK drawing on lessons learnt from across Europe. The ASBP is absolutely committed to providing a wide range of independently proven data and offering real product specific outputs to those designing and delivering sustainable construction.

Q: Why is the Natureplus label an improvement on existing systems?

A: Natureplus is Europe’s most widely used trust mark for sustainable building products. It is not in itself a replacement for existing UK schemes, which could be compared to an audit certificate or general compliance, but is more akin to a fairtrade label, highlighting a smaller range of products which demonstrate ‘stand out’ qualities in additional areas of health and responsible sourcing.

Q: Is there a risk it could confuse specifiers who may not know what to look out for when selecting products?

A: The tools available to specifiers in the UK are too generic and too blunt. If we are to drive real sustainability, we need to have a wider range of information available to specifiers and designers. Many specifiers are already pushing for a more comprehensive and effective toolbox when designing for sustainability, and we feel that the time is right to start discussing how we all deliver the tools that will bring the additional rigour and clarity required. Gary Newman, director of the ASBP:

Q: Why was the ASBP launched in the first place?

A: The ASBP was founded to promote the understanding and use of demonstrably sustainable building products and the healthy, durable buildings that they can create.

Q: What is the main remit of the group and what are the key objectives going forward?

A: The ASBP is a not for profit group which aims to bring clarity and rigour to assessment of sustainability in building. This goes beyond just reducing energy consumption of finished buildings to include embodied energy, resource efficiency, health and social impacts of the products used in their construction. In spite of a huge number of existing schemes, their differences in focus from generic materials to organisational behaviour make comparison difficult and their use in whole building assessment schemes is often restricted. It is our aim to improve the nature and compatibility of assessments, allowing end users to understand the best available schemes and to use them to select the most sustainable products and uses for them.

Q: How will local authorities benefit from the creation of the ASBP?

A: The ability to easily identify and specify sustainable products and incorporate their use to benefit resource and energy efficiency, and to ensure healthy durable buildings, are key outcomes of our approach and will benefit local authorities and others who procure and use sustainable buildings.

Q: What can be done to make it easier for people to specify sustainable products - what do you see as the main barriers at the moment?

A: Lack of clarity and compatibility are key issues. Too many schemes have a closed remit which does not allow use of other forms of external proof. It is our aim to map the multitude of existing schemes, to fill gaps where they exist by using schemes such as Natureplus, and to ensure that specific product criteria can then feed into independent, whole building, systems such as Building Information Modelling (BIM).

Q: Can you tell our readers more about the Natureplus eco-label - why is it an important standard?

A: Natureplus has become the leading environmental trust mark for building products in Europe, since its inception ten years ago. It brings two important features to the UK building products market: • Firstly, it certifies only specific products which demonstrate leading performance across a range of measures including health in use, embodied carbon and resource protection. • Secondly, as a meta standard, it takes existing information on those products,

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