Sustainable construction starts with the use of sustainable materials, including raw materials. But how does an architect, contractor or builder know which construction products qualify? By consulting the EPD, an information sheet collecting all data on the impact of construction products on the environment, the climate and human health. The EPD (environmental product declaration) is a standardised way to quantify and report on the ecological footprint of a construction product, process or system.
EPDs collected in national database
As early as 2014, the minimum requirements that EPDs must meet were set out in Belgian legislation. For example, they must be based on a thorough life cycle analysis (LCA). This includes the environmental impact of raw materials, water and energy consumption, CO2 and other air pollution emissions, waste production, as well as the impact on human health (for construction workers as well as for building users) and the required transport. This last aspect is not unimportant: locally produced building products are preferable to products that have to be transported from the other side of the planet. The results of this analysis are compiled in an EPD and then validated by an independent third-party expert. Finally, the EPD is uploaded into a public database, managed in Belgium by the federal government.
Gaining a quick insight into LCA and ecological footprint assessment
Manufacturers of construction products therefore benefit greatly if they can demonstrate the (preferably limited) environmental impact of their products by means of an EPD. They can do this through the brand new spin-off of VITO & EnergyVille, Enperas. It develops software that allows companies to make their own LCA and calculate the environmental costs in practice. The results of the LCA form the basis of an EPD, through which companies can offer their customers accurate and certified information about the environmental impact of their products. ‘Until now, the LCA and assessment of the ecological footprint of a product was very time-consuming,’ says Luc Plancke, CEO of Enperas. ‘By digitalising the entire process, we’ve gained a lot of time. As a result, companies can now quickly cover their entire product range.’
Making the entire chain more sustainable
The Enperas software also offers companies a powerful tool for better understanding the ecological footprint of their products. By altering parameters in simulations, they can discover how their business operations can be made more sustainable. This sustainability exercise is not limited to the company’s own activities, but can span the entire life cycle. Plancke: ‘In such an exercise, everyone in the company can get to work with our software: from the buyer who evaluates different suppliers against one another, to the product manager who makes sustainable adjustments to a product, to the person responsible for waste management.’ In addition to software, Enperas can also advise companies on the sustainability of construction products.
Software for country-specific results
In addition to European regulations, EPDs must comply with strict national legislation on sustainability certificates for construction products, which is different in each country. One of Enperas’ strengths is that its software takes this into account and can easily convert this national test with a single mouse click. For example, results for Belgium can be immediately converted to results for France, allowing the product in question to be described from the relevant market. The increasing market demand for these country-specific results is the main reason why the spin-off was launched. ‘Our focus on this makes us absolutely unique and allows us to add value to a product’s ecological footprint for our customers,’ says Plancke.
Enperas spin-off for LCA/EPD-software
The decision to create this spin-off from VITO/EnergyVille’s activities was already taken in September 2019. Last year, the structure was put in place and investors were attracted. ‘You need that time to get off to a good start,’ says Bart Swaelens of VITO. Since Enperas became independent, VITO remains a shareholder of the company, which now has four employees.
The Enperas spin-off will serve the growing European market demand for LCA/EPD software and advice. VITO/EnergyVille keeps the expertise about LCA and sustainability methods for innovative research and development for and with companies and governments. Important innovations can be expected about circularity and sustainability aspects of building stock, energy technology and systems such as batteries and power to molecules, in close cooperation with the technological R&D on sustainable energy, materials and chemistry from VITO/EnergyVille.