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Public sector specifiers for construction and infrastructure projects are now challenging the supply chain for sustainable solutions; but the bigger question is to ask what evidence there is to demonstrate tangible sustainability results from suppliers states Paul Thompson, Marketing Manager for Saint-Gobain PAM UK.
There are very few who now doubt that climate change is altering our weather patterns. We see examples of extreme events, such as flash flooding far more frequently than over the past decades. This is causing both social and economic issues for the country and local communities.
Against this backdrop sustainable procurement is coming to the fore, but if you are to achieve your sustainable goals then suppliers at every level of the supply chain need to collaborate. It is not enough to understand what your Tier 1 suppliers do, since according to industry figures typically 80 percent of their spend is with Tier 2 or 3 suppliers.
It is often the suppliers further down the supply chain that are in the best position to innovate and provide more sustainable long term solutions since they provide the products and systems that are installed.
The good news is that both the private and public sector are getting better at collaborating to achieve innovation. The challenge moving forwards is to show that these solutions are sustainable over the long term.
After all when talking about sustainable solutions to, for example, deal with flash flooding, it has to be incumbent on the supply chain to prove that it is offering the best possible answer to minimise its affect on the very problem that it is trying to solve.
While you may have every confidence that your organisation is doing every thing that it can to reduce its impact on the environment, how can you be sure that your supply chain is doing the same?
It is simple for a supplier to claim that they are a sustainable organisation; proving that they are and further more that they are taking further steps to further improve, is quite another. If an organisation is serious about its sustainable credentials then it should be audited through initiatives such as CEMARS (Carbon & Energy Measurement and Reduction Scheme).
This independent audit looks at every aspect of a business’ environmental footprint and far more. This provides a benchmark from which it can then set targets to continually improve on a year-by-year basis.
So using Saint-Gobain PAM UK as an example, our business produces ductile and cast iron pipelines, access covers, gratings and drainage products. It is not surprising to learn that our actions are targeted at our foundries to significantly reduce and mitigate our environmental impact.
While initiatives such as this is a useful start for procurement in that it demonstrates a supplier’s attitude to environmental sustainability, does it really offer enough granular information for the specifier of a particular project to make an informed choice based on a sustainable outcome?
So digging deeper you should actually be looking for the sustainable credentials of an individual product over its service life. This can be determined by conducting a life cycle analysis, the results of which are declared within an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD).
EPDs also reflect a more mature approach to procurement in that they show a product’s affects on the environment over its entire lifecycle, from cradle to grave. It has been developed to provide environmental information from life cycle analysis studies in a common format, based on common rules known as Product Category Rules.
Make sure however that you understand what type of EPD is being declared. If it is a type 3 EPD it means that the methods used to collect and present the data are independently verified to ensure full compliance with the relevant standards EN15804 and EN ISO 14025.
And such audits are thorough. In the UK they cover the entire product’s life from raw material extraction and processing, through manufacturing, transport, installation, maintenance and finally end of life recycling.
The result is a series of measurements that the specifier can use to assess a product’s sustainable credentials, such as its carbon footprint, its ecological footprint and its water footprint.
And the advantages of such an approach reach right through the supply chain because it provides data that the manufacturer can take action on to further improve its results.
Again using Saint Gobain PAM as an example, one of the product ranges that we manufacture are ductile iron access covers and gratings for the road network. Unsurprisingly the biggest contributor to our product’s carbon footprint is in production, so, just like CEMARS identified, it suggests that targeted action here will lead to further improvements in our product’s sustainable measurements.
But sustainability explores a product’s entire lifecycle and this casts a light right through the supply chain. Using the same example if the product is to achieve its maximum lifespan, and therefore reduce its impact on the environment, then it needs to be installed and maintained properly; so effective communication between the manufacturer and installing contractor and then between the manufacturer, asset owner and maintenance contractors for preventative maintenance is vital.
Collaboration throughout the supply chain leads to innovation that impacts upon the environmental, social and economic elements of sustainability, but only if all of the tiers in the supply chain understand what the objectives of the project are and then communicate effectively. Not all the answers lie with Tier 1 suppliers.
Equally measuring sustainability reveals where further improvements can be made so that future projects are even more sustainable. If you don’t measure it, how do you know what to benchmark and what to improve?
And the great thing about data is that once you have it, it can be applied. BIM is an area that the Public Sector has had to embrace for its buildings and in the future presumably for its other infrastructure development. Equally embodied carbon in products will gain in importance if we are to make serious inroads into the UK’s climate change obligations.
Capturing a product’s sustainability data within BIM is something that is being advocated and will no doubt see further development in the near future.
For now though it is important to understand how the entire supply chain contributes to your sustainability goals and most importantly how it measures these impacts. By involving the whole supply chain you will get visibility and the benefit of innovations that will reduce a project’s environmental impact, improve its social impact and tick the economic box through life cycle costing as well.