Carbon Transparency: The Importance of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) in the Construction Industry

Decarbonising Construction

Construction is the backbone of human progress, a testament to our ingenuity, resilience, and aspirations. It transforms raw materials into structures that shape our world, from towering skyscrapers that pierce the sky to humble dwellings that provide shelter. Construction is the bridge between imagination and reality.

However, construction in the 21st century faces major challenges, none more pressing than the need to decarbonise. The construction sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for 37% of global emissions according to the UN Environment Programme. The production and use of materials such as cement, steel, and aluminium have a massive carbon footprint. There is an urgent need to reduce the sector’s emissions, improve energy efficiency, and embrace greener building materials.

To avert the worst impacts of climate change and preserve a liveable planet, global temperature increases need to be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this, emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

Architects, specifiers, contractors, and developers play a crucial role in shaping our built environment. Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) have emerged as essential tools in this effort. These documents allow professionals to make informed decisions about the materials and products they choose, aiding their efforts in decarbonising the construction industry.

What is an EPD?

An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is a document that transparently communicates the environmental performance or impact of a product or material throughout its entire lifecycle, detailing the embodied carbon required for its creation. An EPD encompasses the extraction of raw materials, manufacturing processes, transportation, use, and end-of-life disposal or recycling. It includes key information such as energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and water usage in a standardised way, allowing architects and specifiers to draw fair comparisons between different manufacturers’ products.

EPDs are based on a rigorous Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) conducted in accordance with international standards. AG’s newly published EPDs have been assessed in line with standards such as EN 15804+A2, ISO 14025, and ISO 21930. The data presented in AG’s EPDs has also been verified by an accredited third party, EPD Hub, ensuring accuracy, reliability, and transparency.

AG’s Top EPD Tips

Focus on GWP-total

The most important figure in an EPD is the Global Warming Potential total (GWP-total), measured in kg CO2e. This metric provides a clear indication of the product’s environmental impact.

Compare Like-for-Like Data

Ensure you compare data accurately when reviewing EPDs. In our EPDs, we list our products’ GWP total in cubic meters, allowing for easy calculation of carbon embodiment regardless of product depth. Some manufacturers list GWP in square meters, often referencing only the shallowest product in the range, which can make their figures appear more favourable. For your convenience, we provide GWP totals in square meters on NBS Source and our data sheets, considering each product’s depth.

Check Product Range Grouping

Some manufacturers group similar product ranges in their EPDs, resulting in generic figures. We minimise this practice to ensure our EPDs provide clear information on the environmental impact of each individual range.

How is an EPD created?

An EPD is created through an extremely rigorous process that includes five key stages:

1. Data Collection

Data is collected for every product being assessed, including information on raw materials, resource consumption, and waste.

2. Life-cycle Assessment (LCA)

A comprehensive analysis of the product’s entire life cycle is conducted, from raw extraction to disposal. AG’s EPDs cover the first three modules in the LCA (A1-A3), known as ‘cradle to gate,’ as well as C1-C4 and D, which cover End of Life and Disposal.

3. Background Report

Details about the LCA methodology, including assumptions, approaches, and standards adhered to, are collated to support third-party verification.

4. Third Party Verification

All information and data are verified by an independent third party to ensure accuracy and reliability. AG’s EPDs have been verified by EPD Hub.

5. Publication

Once verified, the finalised EPDs are published. Our EPDs are available to view and download on our website as well as on EPD Hub.

Why are EPDs important?

Carbon Transparency

EPDs provide the construction industry with transparent and standardised information about a product’s environmental performance. This transparency enables informed decision-making, allowing professionals to choose products that align with their project’s sustainability goals. By presenting standardised data, architects can evaluate the environmental impact of various options, helping them select products with lower ecological footprints. This contributes positively to the overall environmental performance of the built environment.

Our Woodward Smooth Brick Range features nearly 46% less embodied carbon per square meter compared to the industry standard clay brick. With the average home using 8,000 facing bricks, that translates to a savings of 1,968 kg of CO2 per home when comparing AG Woodward Brick to clay bricks.

Sustainability without Sacrifice

EPDs help demonstrate that affordable, low-carbon solutions can outperform traditional alternatives. Low carbon doesn’t have to cost the earth. For instance, our Woodward Smooth Brick Range features nearly 46% less embodied carbon per square meter compared to the industry standard clay brick. With the average home using 8,000 facing bricks, that translates to a savings of 1,968 kg of CO2 per home when comparing AG Woodward Brick to clay bricks.

To illustrate the broader impact, if every brick manufactured and imported into the UK (based on 2022 Office of National Statistics reports of 1.9 billion locally manufactured bricks and 570 million imported bricks) were an AG Woodward Low Carbon Masonry Facing Brick, it would save 713,830 tonnes of CO2 per year—equivalent to driving around the world 73,000 times.

Comparison data is sourced from the most recent verified EPDs provided by the Brick Development Association, based on cradle-to-gate figures.

Plaza, one of AG’s bestselling commercial ranges, is a prime example of sustainable product development. Recognised as the lowest carbon premium paving block on the market based on available and verified EPD information, Plaza has undergone significant enhancements. By incorporating new aggregates and replacing a portion of the cement with Supplementary Cementitious Materials (SCMs), we have not only strengthened the final product but also achieved a 25% reduction in embodied carbon compared to its predecessor.

The benefits of Plaza extend beyond its composition to its installation. When compared to granite, which requires a concrete base and mortar joints—both costly and carbon-intensive—Plaza can be laid using an unbound method. This approach saves materials and reduces excavation time and costs. For pedestrian use (Category 3), AG’s 50mm Plaza requires only a 30mm layer of sharp sand on top of a 40mm MOT1 aggregate layer, whereas granite necessitates a 100mm concrete bed with 6-10mm mortar joints to meet BS 7533-101 standards. Consequently, Plaza not only lowers environmental impact but also significantly reduces installation costs and time.

Market Differentiation + Compliance

In an era where sustainable and eco-friendly construction practices are increasingly prioritised, having EPDs for materials can be a powerful differentiator. EPDs provide verifiable proof of a product’s environmental impact, offering a clear advantage in the market. Housebuilders and commercial contractors can leverage EPDs to showcase their commitment to environmental responsibility, attracting environmentally-conscious clients and investors. This commitment enhances the reputation of projects, aligning them with green building principles and demonstrating a proactive approach to sustainability.

Architects and specifiers who integrate EPDs into their projects not only contribute to environmental conservation but also ensure compliance with evolving industry standards. This proactive stance mitigates potential legal, financial, and reputational risks. Moreover, EPDs are recognised by various green building certification systems, including LEED and BREEAM, which can be pivotal in securing necessary accreditations for projects.

Looking ahead, the Future Homes Standard (FHS) will be instrumental in the UK’s efforts to achieve net zero carbon emissions. By 2025, compliance with FHS will be mandatory, aiming to reduce carbon emissions of new homes by 75-80% compared to current Building Regulations. This standard emphasises improving heating and hot water systems and minimising heat waste through the adoption of high-quality building materials, triple glazing, and low-carbon heating solutions like heat pumps. By preparing for these changes now, housebuilders and contractors can position themselves at the forefront of sustainable construction, ensuring future compliance and market leadership.

Incorporating EPDs and aligning with standards like FHS not only positions companies as leaders in sustainability but also offers tangible benefits in terms of market differentiation, customer attraction, and long-term regulatory compliance.

Our EPDs represent a pivotal milestone in our carbon reduction journey, emphasising our steadfast commitment to leaving a lasting low-carbon legacy.

AG’s Low Carbon Legacy

Construction plays a pivotal role as a catalyst for economic growth, creating jobs and driving innovation through sustainable building techniques, advanced technologies, and groundbreaking design concepts. It transcends mere construction; it lays the groundwork for a brighter future for future generations.

AG’s Carbon Reduction Journey exemplifies our unwavering commitment to this vision. With one of the construction industry’s smallest carbon footprints, we prioritise minimising environmental impact across our operations and product lines. Our recently launched EPDs underscore AG’s relentless dedication and innovation, showcasing significant progress in achieving impressive carbon metrics and setting a new standard in our sector.

Valid until 2029, our EPDs serve as benchmarks for promoting low-carbon innovation across all product categories. The comprehensive data they provide will identify opportunities for enhancing sustainability throughout our supply chain, reinforcing our position as an industry leader in sustainable practices. Our EPDs represent a pivotal milestone in our carbon reduction journey, emphasising our steadfast commitment to leaving a lasting low-carbon legacy.

Corporate Social Responsibility Overview

Learn about some of the fantastic work completed by our team over the last few years across our main CSR pillars – People, Planet and Performance.

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