Christian Donath, Managing Director of ECO Platform, on the latest EPD developments and what manufacturers should prepare for.

No management without measurement

ECO Platform, based in Brussels, acts as an umbrella organisation for EPD schemes. The aim is to standardise Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and to harmonise corresponding processes. The non-profit initiative is open to all those dealing with construction, the environment and life cycle assessments for products and buildings. ECO Platform informs, advises, helps with technical implementation and provides a data portal. In this interview, Christian Donath, Managing Director of ECO Platform, talks about the prospects for EPDs on a European level. He explains how important uniform systems and standards are and which risks and opportunities arise for manufacturers. The most important conclusion: nothing works without digitalisation and data collection.

The EU is preparing legislative initiatives for more sustainable economic processes. What is in store for the construction industry and manufacturers?
We are witnessing the simultaneous revision of laws of various kinds with the aim of complying with climate protection policy targets. For the buildings sector the most important of these are the EU Taxonomy, the EU Buildings Directive and certainly also the Construction Products Regulation (CPR). The new CPR is intended to ensure binding regulations for product information, which are urgently needed to make the environmental impacts measurable on the building level. In addition to topics such as circular economy and global warming potential, the legislative proposals also deal with the digitalisation of data.

What is ECO Platform’s role and how does it support the process?
ECO Platform has made proposals for the implementation of the new Construction Products Regulation. As a transition phase from the old to the new regulation, there is the CPR Acquis. Here, we are advising the European Commission on how the whole thing can be implemented as smoothly as possible. Or which adjustments are still necessary, how certain technical problems can be solved, what can be automated, etc.

How far has the EU progressed with the legislation on the Construction Products Regulation (CPR) and from what date will EPDs be mandatory?
The European Commission published the legislative proposal on 30 March 2022 and submitted it to the European Council. After that, the proposal goes to the EU Parliament and must be written into national law within 18 months after adoption. There might then be another deadline for the final, binding implementation of the requirements of the Construction Products Regulation. By then at the latest, manufacturers will be obliged to draw up their Environmental Product Declarations. For the rapid transition to the new Construction Products Regulation, however, obligations based on the current regulation will take effect much earlier, and these will be introduced via delegated acts. It is precisely this transition that is the task of the CPR Acquis in which ECO Platform has a significant involvement.

What exactly does the Construction Products Regulation regulate?
The CPR regulates the information on products and which requirements they must meet in order to be offered on the European market. This concerns various indicators such as structural or building physics properties, constituents, etc. In the future, indicators for the environmental impacts of construction products, based on the EN 15804 standard (EPDs), will also be introduced as mandatory. This will regulate – uniformly throughout Europe – which product data must be communicated in the Declaration of Performance (DoP).

Which role does data collection play in this and how does it succeed?
We have to take the complexity out of the processes. After all, project participants such as architects and planners should not have to become LCA experts or “alchemists”. For this purpose, easy-to-use tools are currently being developed which allow complex life cycle assessments to run in the background while the planner is informed in a comprehensible way about the environmental impacts of their actions. And these tools need reliable data that are freely available. This only works through uniform methodology, data formats and quality requirements. Manufacturers must adapt to this in the provision of product data.

Owing to new requirements, the data offered must be much more granular and provided in many different formats. This can only be done on demand in real time, and thus requires a new data structure at the manufacturer plus automated data generation via configurators. This is what is meant by dynamic data provision. It sounds complex, but makes it easier for all involved. And it’s the only way to react affordably and flexibly to the ever faster changing requirements.

Up to now, data collection has worked like this: The manufacturer draws up a list of constituents or an information sheet with product properties. The designer can load this into the BIM process. Why is that no longer sufficient?
Because products differ in many properties that were previously not queried. For example, whether a product was manufactured in factory A or factory B, where the primary products come from or which coating a product has can make big differences for the life cycle assessment, but also for the visualisation. This is what is meant by granularity: a product with many variants becomes many different products. This is a crucial difference. And, theoretically, the manufacturer can now choose whether, for example, they specify the environmental indicators for the worst case or whether they define the products in a more granular way.

How do you create the prerequisites for all project participants to be able to generate and use the data?
No one can do that alone. Nobody will come along and say: This is the ultimate tool now which everyone can use. There will always be various formats and tools, but the actual product data will always be the same. It is important that the manufacturers can react in time to requirements and new benchmarks. This can be achieved with a logical data structure. Companies will have to learn how to store data in a modular way so that the architect, for example, can compile their products accordingly. This is not a big investment for the manufacturer and can be implemented quickly. And they retain control over their data and can add to it at any time.

It sounds easy to generate and retrieve data. How does it work in practice?
To do this, the manufacturer needs a simple and modular data structure that allows automated data generation. We are not talking about elaborate longterm projects that cost millions of euros, but about an effective data structure that we call downstreamoriented. It is integrated into the manufacturer’s existing IT architecture. Data can be generated in all relevant target formats via so-called generators so that the data can be used in Autodesk Revit, ArchiCAD, AR, product platforms, tender text programs, declarations of performance, etc., for example. The user, maybe an architect, decides on the required data format, content and level of detail themselves – all with a few mouse clicks. This saves work and waiting times on all sides and is less prone to errors.

How does the process of EPD creation work?
Either the manufacturer has the competence inhouse or they seek external advice from a life cycle assessment expert. That expert will help the manufacturer to collect data correctly and to model data streams: Which resources – materials, water, energy – go into the product, what is produced in terms of exhaust gases, waste water and waste, what are the delivery routes, etc.? This is recorded in the life cycle assessment, and an environmental product declaration (EPD) is generated from this for data transfer. For EPDs, verification by independent third parties is mandatory. The verification of the EPD is carried out via an EPD scheme.

What is an EPD going to cost manufacturers?
At present, this can be between 10,000 and 30,000 euros for manually prepared and verified EPDs. The lion’s share is for data collection and the external life cycle assessment – at least if the EPD is produced in the old, manual, way. A smaller part has to be spent on verification. By using EPD tools, the work can be drastically reduced. Using pre-verified basic data and tools, EPDs can be generated in a few minutes.

How urgent is the EPD issue and will it be a competitive advantage for manufacturers?
Manufacturers should deal with EPDs as soon as possible. The legal obligation is coming. The necessary data collection, modelling of processes and data provision take time. I advise early action, also in order not to have to stand in line and pay absurdly high prices for service providers later on.

Those who take care of their data today, fill gaps and thus create transparency, have an advantage. The lever cannot simply be changed over just like that.

By the way: More and more voluntary requirements are already becoming the key criterion in projects. Building certification systems, lending criteria, grants, sustainability reporting and ESG criteria in the supply chain are just a few I could mention.

Interview: Ute Latzke


Christian Donath is Managing Director of ECO Platform and Managing Partner at BIM Sources. The goal of ECO Platform is to facilitate the provision of reliable product data for construction products. The initiative for standards recognised throughout Europe is very popular in the construction industry. BIM Sources is a software company that offers product manufacturers smart solutions for the automated generation of data and their digital communications.

EPDs will make the environmental impacts visible. The improved understanding of the impacts will be an essential basis for optimising products, production and purchasing. Thus, there is a lot in store for manufacturers. They should therefore deal with these issues now.

– Christian Donath