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Making sense of labels and certifications

  •   27 October 2020

As sustainability becomes increasingly important – and marketable – across all industries, some organisations have begun to engage in misleading green marketing, otherwise known as greenwashing. But, just as greenwashing has been increasing, so too have the number and variety of green certifications in the market.

Interface’s Sustainability Manager (and environmental expert) Aidan Mullan, is clear about the importance of certifications in the construction industry: “They are vitally necessary. ”, he insists. “Architects and designers are under increasing pressure to deliver green projects, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult for them to be able to compare apples with apples when it comes to sustainable product choices. Looking at a product label won’t tell me whether it’ll help me to reduce my embodied carbon or environmental impact; but if I can see that the product is certified, I know immediately that it’s fit for purpose, safe and sustainable.”


The Importance of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)

Mullan explains that there are three main categories of certification – or ecolabels – which help specifiers to identify all aspects of a product’s suitability.

“Type 1 – ecolabels cover whether a product is fit for purpose – as an example for flooring, this covers slip ratings, fire ratings and indoor air quality specifications; the things that make it safe for people and the environment.

Type 2- ecolabels make self-declared environmental claims and are rarely used.

Type 3 – is for Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). EPDs provide full transparency with respect to a product’s environmental impacts across its full lifecycle. Data for global warming potential, ozone depletion and abiotic depletion (nonliving resources such as fossil fuels, minerals, clay, and peat) are scientifically calculated and third party verified to allow the customer make fair comparisons when selecting a raw material or product.”.

Interface takes EPDs very seriously, using them for the dual purpose to help architects better understand their product credentials while internally assisting the business to understand their own progress towards becoming a carbon negative organisation – a goal they plan to achieve by 2040. “EPDs help us look at our products individually, from cradle-to-gate and understand just how environmentally friendly they are. The EPD gives you a very black and white assessment, based on scientific evidence of the product’s footprint”.


Cutting Through the Greenwash

For Mullan, the future potential of EPDs to actively increase sustainable building practices can’t be overstated. “In the US, Interface has been involved in a project called the ‘Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator’ (EC3, for short). Data from all the different EPDs, for a massive array of products and raw materials, has been collated into an online tool enabling designers to build with 20, 30 or even 40% less embodied carbon, simply through their product selection”.

As a local example of the opportunities available, Mullan points to the recent Barangaroo development by Lend Lease, which achieved a 20% reduction in embodied carbon by using EPD data in a similar way. Interface supplied carpet throughout the entire development – the equivalent of 50 football fields – and worked closely with project specifiers to maximise the environmental gains.

“EPDs are important in driving change in our industry”, Mullan concludes. “The Green Building Council is doing a fantastic job, recently changing its focus from operational carbons to whole-of-life embodied carbon in the built environment. That’s where everyone needs to be paying attention to. These associations are leading organisations to be proactive and restorative rather than meeting minimum requirements. We’re starting to see a shift in momentum – which is exciting and hugely promising”.


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Commercial Architecture (Large)