Using technology to reduce embodied carbon: From EPDs to PDTs

Modified on June 8, 2021

Today, market leaders across the globe are looking at reducing embodied carbon as a key consideration in their growth strategies.

Organisations such as Willmott Dixon, Skanska Group, Royal BAM Group, Knauf Insulation, LafargeHolcim, Saint-Gobain, Stora Enso and many more have publicly stated and endorsed the vision for coordinated action across the whole value chain to achieve global sustainability goals such as net-zero carbon by 2050.

In light of this market shift towards really focusing on the environmental impacts from building and infrastructure materials, decarbonisation has become a driver for not only sectoral change but also a long-awaited change in traditional business models.

Businesses have started looking at revolutionising processes holistically – with focus on creating the right set up for technology and innovation to elevate the performance and sustainability of the whole value chain rather than translating old inefficiencies to new digital means.

digital twin

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology fuelled by credible, digitised, standard-based information as best practice

A great example of this is the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology. Claimed to be ‘the most reliable scientific-based methodology to quantify the environmental impacts of construction products across the life cycle of the built assets’, LCA relies on standard-based, digitised information at its core.

Analysis based on standardised documents

When product or materials are concerned, LCAs are informed by environmental product declarations (EPDs). The environmental product declaration or EPD is a standardised document that provides information on the life-cycle environmental impact of a product.

Take a deep dive into the environmental performance of construction products in our whitepaper “Construction Products Key Environmental Indicators”.

Standardisation has been applied to EPDs to set category rules that ensure all EPDs for a given material are based on the same test methods, use the same language and are linked to harmonized product standards as per the CPR, defining the environmental characteristics of a given product.

Having this common framework in place, EPDs become a credible source of information that can be digitalised to great merit.

Through such standard-based, digitised information carbon reductions can be achieved early on using prescriptive design guidance and material specifications.

Digital requirements can be set at different points in the design and construction stages and automatically validated by software tools. In this way, clients and contractors can make sure that the developed specifications for low carbon and carbon-positive materials are actually fulfilled. And the performance of each product, system or material is as intended.

Indeed, because of the common language and structure of EPDs has been found so instrumental for tracking and regulating environmental impact some European countries, such as France, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and Finland are moving towards legislative adoption of LCA requirements for the construction industry.

Beyond the environmental data

Similarly, to what has been done by the market with EPDs, there are standards that are already available today that create a digitisation framework for ANY TYPE of INFORMATION using credible sources such as EPD documents, Declarations of Performance and harmonized product standards. These standards prescribe the use of a common structure and common language by any actor in the supply chain. The Data Dictionary and Data Template standards: EN ISO 23386 and EN ISO 23387 are the ‘rock stars’ that enable the industry to eliminate the ambiguity of language from digital information exchange, to track the data to its trusted origins and create a common digital structure for different purposes.

digital twin

Data templates are what the industry has agreed to be the basis for the use of any data, including environmental data, during the whole life cycle of a project and for the use of data by any actor in the whole supply chain. They ensure a seamless digital flow of information using consistent terminology from credible sources. Based on data templates designers can set project requirements and specifications. And then LCA experts, for instance, can search for conformant products based on these requirements.

Read more about Data Templates.

In practical terms, the work that is done on Data Templates has already enabled actors to take advantage of digital automated processes for setting firm environmental requirements on products and keeping them in check during the construction stage. This is an example of how a process that has been traditionally cumbersome and source of a great performance gap has now been enabled through digital means.

Here is a flow that is available as part of Cobuilder’s system Cobuilder Collaborate that is entirely based on the use of Data Templates.

A step towards sustainable construction with Cobuilder Collaborate

Environmewntal product data infographic

In Cobuilder Collaborate the client or contractor can set data requirements for the collection of environmental data based on the EPD document, e.g. values for global warming potential, use of non-renewable energy or non-hazardous waste, but also for relevant technical data, like U-value.

This is done by using Data Templates to create requirement templates for different construction objects, be it materials, products or systems.

These requirement templates are then sent to the suppliers or sub-contractors when inviting them to the digital project. The client or the contractor can also set deadlines for the delivery of the data that is required of the different actors in the supply chain.

Once the required environmental information is entered as data in the system, it is automatically delivered to the contractor or the client, so that he can validate it. The system will also give automatic notifications if some of the data is missing or if it is not delivered within the deadline, so that the contractor can follow up with a reminder to the actor who has not delivered the data.

Once the environmental data is collected and validated, it can be integrated into different BIM-software or any other third-party system for that matter. As an additional service, we provide API integration with any system that the client or the contractor is using for their specific purposes. Cobuilder also offers free plugins for Revit and Navisworks that allow the users to connect the product data collected in the digital project to a 3D model in the BIM-software that they use.

In addition, Cobuilder Collaborate has its own functionality for data integration. Users can upload an IFC-model, link the collected data to objects in the model and then export it. This can also be used for checking and validating ‘as-built’ information against what was originally designed with the help of model checker solutions.

This process for managing environmental data (and any type of data) on the project allows the users to collect all the required information in real-time. It gives better control of what exactly goes into a built asset by creating a digital ‘golden thread’ of information. It saves time and resources when doing LCAs and it ensures digitisation is used to its best advantage in the strategic efforts to reduce embodied carbon. Finally, it helps to avoid waste and rework based on installing the wrong materials that can be very costly to correct in a later stage of the project.

Contact us if you want to learn more about Cobuilder Collaborate.