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Sustainability in the construction industry: the role of certification schemes


In the evolving landscape of the construction industry, sustainability and resilience are becoming paramount. Achieving a truly sustainable built environment requires the collective effort of all stakeholders in the construction value chain. Our vision at ACRS is to embed sustainable practices as the industry standard. However, this transition is an ongoing journey with some way still to go. 

One of the current challenges is the diverse landscape of sustainability schemes that certify building materials. Some schemes are making big claims on their necessity, even implying the need for registration of firms or the provision of environmental credentials to enable imports into Australia. However, at this stage, for construction steels being imported into Australia and New Zealand, there are no specific general or sectorial requirements for manufacturers to demonstrate compliance with any particular sustainability scheme.

Nevertheless, a shift is underway. The industry is moving towards mandating that all products, including steel, have Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and be produced by manufacturers approved under a recognised sustainability scheme. Without these credentials, products may face downgrading in environmental assessments or outright rejection. EPDs quantify the environmental impact of a product through data obtained from Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). An LCA is performed using a peer-reviewed Product Category Rules document (PCR) in line with the European standard EN 15804, ISO 14025, and other related international standards. The EPDs are publicly available on platforms such as GreenBook Live or EcoPlatform

While there is presently no mandatory requirement for registration or compliance to any other sustainability schemes, we are seeing increasing numbers of projects now requesting environmental credentials. The demand for sustainability schemes is being driven by green building and infrastructure rating systems. The ACRS/CARES Sustainable Construction Steels (SCS) Scheme provides a means by which approved firms in the constructional steel supply chain can declare product and organisational level sustainability performance and achieve credits in those green building rating systems.

The ACRS/CARES Sustainable Construction Steels (SCS) Scheme provides steel product manufactures with an internationally recognised Sustainability Certificate. Based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it focuses on core measures of sustainability while recognising the current status and intricacies of the steel industry. It uses defined measurable metrics to determine current sustainability and provides incentives that support steel manufacturers as they work toward being Carbon Neutral by 2050. The Scheme is recognised by numerous bodies around the world including BREEAM and Green Star building rating systems. Currently, there are a number of mills supplying into the Australian/New Zealand market who hold CARES certification. 

Whilst approval to a recognised sustainability scheme is not currently mandatory to supply constructional steel products into the Australian and New Zealand Market, we would suggest that mills wanting to supply into the region should seriously consider having at least an EPD and to investigate seeking approval to a recognised sustainability scheme. The ACRS-CARES partnership can offer third-party verified EPDs using industry experts that are familiar with the steel manufacturing processes and requirements for EPDs. We can also provide independent and internationally recognised Sustainability Credentials that is recognised by the Green Building Council of Australia under the Green Star Responsible Products Program and has achieved the highest rating for constructional steels.

The sustainability agenda is constantly progressing, and sustainability data collection, auditing and reporting is moving towards independent, accredited, third-party certification bodies such as ACRS. This aims to meet the demands of designers for more transparent and reliable data and comparable environmental information about competing construction materials.

Before using a sustainability scheme to inform a procurement decision, it is important that purchasers check they know what criteria the sustainability scheme requires, the rigour of the assessment against those criteria and the independence and impartiality of the particular scheme. Buyers should also check that the product meets other sustainability requirements.

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