Saying that you produce environmentally friendly building materials is one thing. Proving it is quite another. This is why the Federal Government incorporated the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) in a Royal Decree in 2014, which lays down the rules regarding environmental claims on building products.

The EPD is an information sheet that is compiled by the manufacturer and provides objective, detailed and quantitative information on the environmental performance of a building product throughout its service life. If a manufacturer intends to make an environmental claim, it is required to carry out a life-cycle analysis, include it in an EPD, and have it registered.
The database of specific EPDs is managed by the Federal Government. The great virtue of this database is that, by combining the EPDs of different materials used in a single building, it is possible to analyse the environmental performance of an entire building based on specific data.  

Life cycle analysis of buildings 

Two years before the publication of the Royal Decree in 2014, VITO had already collaborated with KU Leuven and WTCB (Belgian Scientific and Technical Institute for the Construction Industry) on behalf of OVAM (Flanders Public Waste Agency) to develop a method of mapping out the material performance of building elements over their entire life cycle: the MMG (environmental material performance of building elements). The life cycle analysis (LCA) forms the common thread here. In order to support the Belgian construction sector in objectifying and reducing the environmental impact of buildings, the three regions in Belgium worked in collaboration with universities and research consultancy firms, including VITO, to develop the TOTEM (Tool to Optimise the Total Environmental Impact of Materials) based on the MMG. The tool is currently still using generic data, but if the specific EPDs from the government database can be included too, the picture will be truly complete. It means that engineers or architects can also compare different buildings or building element variants based on specific EPD data, and choose the most ecological solution. What is more, every future Federal Government tender for public buildings will be assessed using the TOTEM.

EPD obligated 

Manufacturers intending to bring a building product onto the Belgian market with an environmental claim will need to compile an EPD. It is easier said than done, however. In order to make the preparation of the specific EPDs more accessible for business owners, VITO and BMP-PMC (association of Belgian construction materials manufacturers) set up a support programme. The process must be made as straightforward as possible for a company, plus the cost price must be acceptable for small companies. This is why, to make collection of the necessary data a smoother process, a handy data collection tool was developed in 2018, as well as an app with an interactive chat function.
Two pilot projects were initiated in the summer and autumn of 2018, which included information sessions. They demonstrate the benefits of an EPD, how an EPD must be prepared, and how the EPD can even be used to boost a company’s competitive profile. This project will continue until 2021.