In recent years, the understanding of sustainability - and the importance of incorporating sustainable practices and products in architecture and design - has grown exponentially. Unfortunately, so has the amount of greenwashing that industry professionals have been faced with in the bid to make more environmentally-friendly choices and deliver more sustainable outcomes.
Ecolabels and Standards such as Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), Global GreenTag GreenRate™ certification and ResponsibleSteel™ are a powerful source of truth when it comes to an organisation’s or product’s sustainability credentials. BlueScope, one of the most prominent providers of innovative steel materials, products, systems and technologies, considers them key to their offering. “Responsible products and supply chains are a critical part of BlueScope’s broader sustainability strategy,” says Philippa Stone, BlueScope’s Sustainability Manager. “The third party verification that accompanies our sustainability certifications ensures that the information is robust and credible,” she continues.
Environmental Product Declarations
For BlueScope, transparency underpins their sustainability efforts. “Specifiers and customers want to know the impacts of the products they're using,” Philippa explains. That’s why BlueScope was an early adopter of EPDs, being the first manufacturer in Australia to publish one in 2015, and why these documents sit at the very centre of the brand’s sustainability value proposition.
An EPD communicates transparent data about the environmental impact of a product over its full lifecycle. It’s a type III environmental declaration that was born out of the need for credible, consistent and transparent product disclosures. “An EPD doesn't suggest whether a product is environmentally ‘good’ or ‘bad’ - what it does, is provide the user with a set of facts that enable them to make an informed choice, much like a nutritional label,” Philippa clarifies. “The information included in an EPD includes environmental indicators such as global warming potential, water use and resource depletion. This data can be entered into a life cycle assessment model for a building which then helps design teams make informed decisions around which products will help to achieve their sustainability objectives.” The documents also include critical information about the global warming potential of the product, which can assist when undertaking embodied carbon assessments.
EPDs have to be reviewed every five years - or more often if there’s been a significant change to relevant processes - to ensure they continue to be a fair representation of a product. BlueScope last updated a number of theirs in 2020 - a process which took almost 12 months to complete. “It’s a very comprehensive and rigorous procedure. In our case, the life cycle assessment model mimics our steel works which is incredibly complex. That means as significant changes in the steel works occur, or as our inputs like raw materials and energy consumption change, we revise our model to reflect them,” says Philippa. “It’s a significant undertaking but the updated EPDs are a great way for us to benchmark our progress, with our latest updates showing improvements across the majority of environmental indicators, including global warming potential. Updating the EPDs was also an opportunity for us to build on the information we first published in 2015, providing our stakeholders with more specific and accurate information about our products,” she continues.
With EPDs as a solid foundation, BlueScope continues to build upon their product credentials, recently achieving Global GreenTag GreenRate™ ‘Level A’ certification for a number of key products. While an EPD doesn’t evaluate the product, GreenRate™ - a type I eco label - establishes what good looks like, and sets a standard for products to achieve. This provides independent recognition of the product’s sustainability credentials.
GreenRate™ takes a broad view of sustainability considering both environmental and social factors. Philippa mentions some of the elements taken into consideration: “Factors that are assessed include the availability of a carbon footprint, a water footprint and health and eco toxicity of the product, but also the company’s approach to social sustainability including human and labour rights. It’s a holistic assessment,” she concludes.
Ecolabels such as EPDs and GreenRate™ are incredibly valuable - and not just for BlueScope as a manufacturer. They have a crucial role to play in building rating tools, like Green Star. Selecting products that have these ecolabels attached to them can be an easy and cost effective way for project teams to achieve Green Star points.
ResponsibleSteel™ is a new standard which Philippa suggests “sets out to do for steel what FSC has done for timber.” As Philippa explains, ResponsibleSteel™ was born out of a BlueScope idea and has grown into a robust, global certification system.
Launched in 2019, the ResponsibleSteel™ Site Standard is a stewardship scheme that provides a simple and robust framework for organisations and project teams to meet their sustainability objectives and manage risk in their supply chains, when utilising steel in their design. There are 12 guiding principles that include climate change action, water stewardship, biodiversity and human and labour rights.
“The rigour of the Standard is what sets ResponsibleSteel™ apart”, Philippa explains. “The strength of the scheme is its multi-stakeholder approach. Along with BlueScope, steel giants such as ArcelorMittal and Tata Steel, amongst others, are also ResponsibleSteel™ members. Broader steel value chain members in Australia include BHP, South32 and Lendlease. Civil Society Members such as CDP, The Climate Group and Mighty Earth ensure that the Standard is robust and Associate Members such as the Green Building Council of Australia, Infrastructure Sustainability Council and the Australian Supply Chain Sustainability School facilitate its adoption in industry,” Philippa explains.
BlueScope’s commitment to transparency, stewardship and continuous improvement sets them apart as an Australian-based steel manufacturer and as a sustainability leader in the steel industry on a global scale.
For more information visit BlueScope here.