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A harmonised approach to lifecycle carbon is essential

By Knauf Insulation
June 24, 2021

Buildings will play a vital role in achieving France’s ambitious decarbonisation targets — but it is critical that a harmonised approach is taken when it comes to assessing the carbon of a building over its entire lifetime and that innovative approaches are adopted to recycle building waste.

These are the two important messages that Knauf Insulation has been highlighting during this week’s ‘Low Carbon World’ conference in Paris attended by our Group Chief Operating Officer David Ducarme, an event keynote speaker.

France aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% compared to 1990 by 2030. The ambition marks a critical milestone on the road towards total decarbonisation in France by 2050. As buildings are responsible for 19% of GHG emissions in France, it is vital that best practice approaches are taken to reduce these emissions.

Low Carbon World France David Ducarme Knauf Insulation


David (right on the photo) says: “At Knauf Insulation our entire business model is based on the decarbonisation of buildings. Our solutions significantly reduce a building’s biggest carbon source — around 85% — which is from operational energy for heating or cooling.

“We have always believed that energy efficiency must take the first place in the race to decarbonise buildings. That means reducing energy demand with high performing building envelopes. This should remain an overarching priority since 60% of buildings today will still be standing by 2050.”

Knauf Insulation’s embodied carbon priority

However, tackling the embodied carbon emitted during the entire lifecycle of our products — from the sourcing of materials to ultimate disposal — and working towards delivering a circular economy are also critical priorities at Knauf Insulation.

As a company we have cut our own emissions by 23% since 2010, we use up to 80% recycled used glass in our Glass Mineral Wool with ECOSE Technology® and in our sustainability strategy we are committed to a zero carbon vision with an intermediate deadline to further reduce the embodied CO2 of our products by 15% by 2025.

In addition, Knauf Insulation is committed to sending zero waste to landfill. Since 2010, we have reduced our waste to landfill by 67% and have launched a range of initiatives to take back scrap and waste from our customers and significantly improve recycling at our sites.

For more than a decade Knauf Insulation has also used Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) to produce independent Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that forensically detail the environmental impact — including CO2 emissions — of our products from the cradle to the grave.

“We also contributed research to the European Commission’s Level(s) initiative which offers a harmonised one-stop framework to assess the sustainability of a building which can be used by any EU Member State,” says David. “The framework covers everything from resource use, water use and thermal comfort to carbon emissions during a building’s whole lifecycle. It truly provides building professionals with one “language” to assess buildings’ sustainability.”


Unequal assessment of sustainable materials

Unfortunately, France is breaking away from this concept of harmonisation and proposing its own unique national ‘simplified LCA’, which assesses the carbon footprint of products differently to Level(s).

Rather than assessing all building materials equally, the French LCA proposal overestimates the potential benefit of biogenic carbon sequestration in construction products and their delayed CO2 emissions potential — giving bio-based materials such as hemp, cork or wood in particular a major advantage over other building products.”

This not only creates an imbalance between assessing what constitutes a sustainable building between France and other Member States but also by favouring one material over others it shapes an uneven playing field in terms of competition.


Challenge of recycling wood

There are also concerns regarding the recyclability of wood. Buildings generate more than a third of Europe’s waste and most Member States are making it increasingly difficult to landfill. At the end of life the fate of wood is inevitably landfill or burning, neither of which are positive outcomes.

As this LCA considers a shorter timetable, it omits emissions that may happen at the end of life of a product. Consequently, for wood products, methane emissions associated with landfilling are not accounted for; thereby leaving up to future generations the threats of dealing with GHG emissions.

“France has been an extraordinary European pioneer when it comes to the decarbonisation of buildings — particularly social homes — and as this conference will undoubtedly demonstrate there have been extraordinary national successes,” says David.

“But we believe all EU countries will benefit from a harmonised approach when it comes to the understanding of the lifecycle of buildings and their environmental impact wherever they are based in Europe.”