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Why the industry is in need of a harmonised approach to EPDs

Nerissa Deoraj, Senior Public Affairs Manager, Systemair, sheds light on the crucial need for a harmonised approach in the HVAC industry and the necessity for standardised rules to facilitate the cost-efficient generation of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that genuinely enhance sustainability.


Executive Summary

  • Growing importance of LCAs and EPDs: Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and Environmental Product Declarations are gaining prominence in the HVAC industry, specifically in countries like France, Norway, and Denmark where they are mandated in national building codes and regulations.

  • Need for common rules and cost-effectiveness: There is a need for standardised rules to create valid and consistent EPDs across EU markets. The current documentation process is both costly and time-consuming.

  • Impact on product development and efficiency gains: The economic burden affects suppliers and may hinder product development, impacting the incremental gains characteristic of HVAC technology.

  • Application-dependent considerations: HVAC systems are highly application-dependent, which is not being duly considered in the current approach.

Growing Importance of LCAs and EPDs

Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are ongoing topics of discussion in the HVAC industry. LCAs for buildings are steadily gaining importance and are already mandated in building regulations in countries such as France, Norway, and Denmark. EPDs form an incremental part of the LCA process and have focused predominantly on ordinary construction products.

In technical Working Groups such as the CEN TC/156 WG c-PCR, ongoing work has focussed on coordinating the development of suitable c-PCRs to benefit the HVAC industry, integral to EN 15804 as the underlying standard for developing EPDs.

Nerissa Deoraj
Nerissa Deoraj

Senior Public Affairs Manager, Nerissa Deoraj emphasises the crucial requirement for standardised rules facilitating the cost-effective creation of EPDs that genuinely contribute to improved sustainability. She highlights the alignment of industry interests with environmental considerations, emphasising that success benefits all stakeholders in a win-win scenario. Conversely, failure would result in widespread losses for nearly everyone, except for sustainability consultants.

Need for Common Rules and Cost Efficiency

Deoraj underscores a concern related to the evolving documentation demands in construction projects. She explains that in the environmental data for a specific product, a life cycle assessment (LCA) approach is employed for the building, where the total load of the building is a crucial aspect of the analysis. As a major manufacturer, and supplier of ventilation products, the challenge lies in establishing a system that allows the creation of such documents which are universally valid across markets. Maintaining consistency is essential for a company dealing with a vast array of products and operating in multiple countries, including Sweden and Germany.

She points out that the documentation process is both expensive and time-consuming. “We have examples where consultants were tasked with the EPDs for a single product, and the prices reached up to EUR 30,000. The magnitude of this expense becomes apparent when considering the potential need to generate a large volume of EPDs considering our vast product portfolio. Therefore, there is a pressing need for more cost-effective, efficient methods in this regard.”

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Impact on Product Development and Efficiency Gains

Deoraj emphasises the importance of taking the economic aspect into account. She notes that the current cost burden on suppliers is significant, and if this trend persists, there may be no option but to transfer a portion of these costs to customers. She also points out that, from an environmental perspective, this situation could impede product development, a key characteristic of HVAC technology.

Admittedly, the HVAC sector is not known for large paradigm shifts sharing: “We’ve experienced a few changes over the past 50 years, but they’ve been relatively infrequent. Our reputation lies in consistently making small, incremental improvements to enhance product quality and efficiency. This approach involves making minor updates to our products as we progress. However, if we have EPDs that are applicable to our product range, making changes that require updates creates hesitation among us and other manufacturers. It may even lead to postponing such initiatives.” These small efficiency gains, when multiplied, would have a large overall impact. “A system that will hinder slow and steady process will have significant building industry implications. We must understand this is one of the key pitfalls to be avoided.” she says.

According to Deoraj, EPDs serve another crucial purpose within companies by acting as an environmental compass. They provide manufacturers with transparency on the life cycle stages that yield the most significant impact, enabling the creation of a strategic guide for product development. In her words, "For example, if it is material use, we can focus on that. If it's at the use stage, we can focus on efficiency, SFP, thermal efficiency and so on." This holistic perspective allows companies to sharpen their efforts for improvement based on a comprehensive

The Benefits Of A Harmonised Approach

In recent times, the introduction of mandatory requests for building LCAs by consultants or developers has heightened the demand for EPDs in construction projects. Deoraj points out that the challenge with the current analytical approach is that it groups HVAC products with ordinary, non-energy consuming construction products such as concrete, wood, roofing, and windows. “What separates our products from ordinary construction products are here main issues: energy use, heat recovery and cooling recovery.”

She addresses the current limitation, stating, ‘The problem is these three factors are not taken into account, even at the use stage.” Using an example of a rotary heat exchanger with 200kg of aluminium, she explains that efforts to optimise life cycle stages by reducing materials may be at the expense of thermal efficiency, a factor not reflected in EPDs. She emphasises the potential sub-optimisation where the need to heat or cool the air more intensively arises, underlining the importance of addressing these crucial elements in the analysis.

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Application-Dependent Considerations

She adds that HVAC systems are also highly application-dependent, which is not being duly considered. “Simply explained, let us consider this scenario: Two identical bricks manufactured in Northern Turkey, one transported to the UAE and the other to Norway. Over a period of 60 years, both bricks would exhibit a similar life cycle impact. In contrast, two identical Air Handling Units (AHUs) dispatched from our manufacturing facility in Turkey, one to Norway and the other to the UAE, would display significantly different environmental impacts based on variations in climate and usage despite having identical construction and specification.”

This clearly highlights the challenges of projecting a scenario which spans the life cycle of a product with fictitious values which do not consider or address these critical differences.

Systemair is committed as a leading ventilation manufacturer with a diverse product portfolio to tackle the challenges presented to us, emphasising the need for responsibility within the HVAC industry. Deoraj advocates for a shift towards project-specific product selection, tailored to the unique requirements of each building application, rather than relying on generic EPDs. She also reminds us not to lose sight of the fundamental purpose of the products in question. This approach aligns with Systemair's dedication to ensuring both environmental sustainability and the optimal functionality of the offerings.