Everything you need to know about sustainable specifications

Specifiers are facing an increasing demand to deliver sustainable solutions.
Douglas Masterson reports on what to be aware of and what more the industry can do

The evidence of climate change is there for all to see, and we know we have a responsibility to look at the reduction of environmental impacts on all aspects of our lives. So let’s look at the issues impacting the ironmongery industry from
a sustainability perspective…

Current industry impacts

One measure of the industry’s current approach is seen in the GAI Specification Awards where we have introduced sustainability as a new criteria for judging. On our shortlisted entries we have seen substantive evidence of the impact this is having on both new products being placed on the market as well as the supply of ironmongery material to construction projects. For example we have seen local sourcing to reduce carbon footprint of supply; products manufactured in factories run from 100% renewable supplied energy; products being made from predominantly recyclable material such as cast aluminium, steel and zinc; use of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and the supply of product with fully recyclable packaging.

New industry initiatives

Some of our members are looking at taking sustainability a step further through new initiatives such as take back schemes or more sustainable finishes. One example of this is d line Re-handle (one of the products shortlisted in the GAI RIBA Specification Awards.) This is where original products are taken back and refurbished. This initiative is stated to help reduce the carbon footprint between 54-91%, depending on the product. Another GAI member – FSB – has developed a new finish for aluminium entitled Aluminium Pure. Thanks to the naturalness of the largely untreated surface, Aluminium Pure when compared to an anodised surface consumes 37% less energy during production.

What more can we do as an industry?  

One of the biggest impacts specifiers can make is to look at the longevity of products we are specifying. Whilst budget is always a factor in specification it is essential to look to offer longer term solutions in schedules rather than products which will inevitably need to be replaced over a short period of time. Every new product that is produced and placed into the world has CO2 impacts, some of which may be more severe than others. 

We also need to be more aware of what is happening in sustainability and GAI has plans this year to educate our membership further in this area. We are currently preparing a CPD Core presentation entitled “Ironmongery and sustainability” which will be written by industry experts. It will cover topics such as Net Zero, Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), Life Cycle Assessments and environmental standards such as ISO 14001.

GAI has now set up a new sustainability working party to look at what the industry can do. As part of this we will be creating a new suite of sustainability briefings throughout 2024 on topics such as Environmental Product Directives (EPDs) and relevant industry standards. These will complement our existing “Ironmongery and the Environment” RIBA approved CPD which is available for members to deliver to their practices, as well as the accompanying GAI Specifiers Guide on the same topic. 

Impact of regulations

We also need to be aware of the impact of upcoming changes in regulation both in UK and in Europe.  The process to push embodied carbon further up the UK government agenda has already been set in motion by leading figures in our industry who have called on the government to implement Part Z into Buildings Regulations 2010. If enacted, Part Z would ensure that embodied carbon is assessed on all projects, as part of a comprehensive whole life carbon assessment. Although not yet mandatory, it is  gaining industry support and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has agreed to consult on its strategy for embodied carbon regulation and has commissioned further industry research on the topic. The results of these are expected later this year.

The revised European Construction Products Regulation (CPR) is due to be published late 2024, this will make an impact on construction products in terms of sustainability.  According to the proposed Regulation, the manufacturers will have to deliver environmental information about the life-cycle of their products. Moreover, they will have to comply with several obligations, including:

  • Design and manufacture a product and their packaging in such a way that their overall environmental sustainability reaches the state of the art level;
  • Give preference to recyclable materials and materials gained from recycling;
  • Respect the minimum recycled content obligations and other limit values regarding aspects of environmental sustainability;
  • Make available, in product databases, instructions for use and repair of
    the products;
  • Design products in such a way that re-use, remanufacturing and recycling
    are facilitated.

As with all relevant industry issues and concerns GAI will continue to keep membership aware of any changes which will impact membership. 

Story for AIJ? Get in touch via email: [email protected]

Latest articles in Features