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Can the environmental impacts of different construction products be compared by using FDES sheets?

FDES sheets detail the environmental impacts of construction products, calculated using a single benchmark (standard NF P 01-010), the only unbiased means of comparison.

However, some precautions must be taken for relevant comparisons to be made: Construction products are components whose purpose is to contribute to building a structure. Their individual environmental performances are integrated into the structure as well as their technical, aesthetic, economic, etc., performances.

For this reason, comparing building products out of context is not always appropriate. However, it is still possible, provided that:

  • a functional unit (including a lifetime and at least one key performance indicator) is defined.
  • the FDES sheets are checked to ensure that the products being compared have the same parameters (do they include packaging and complementary products?).
  • the comparison is not limited to the environmental profile, and that technical performance criteria not included in the functional unit are taken into account if they differ greatly.

Comparing construction products should be kept to a minimum for construction components with the same function.

As with product comparisons, it is appropriate to define a relevant unit of comparison (functional unit), specifying the performances being compared and the lifetime used for this comparison.

The example in the table below shows that the lifetime used for the comparison should not be chosen at random, as it influences the results of the comparison. It is advisable to choose a lifetime for each product included in the comparison (equal or not to the lifetime indicated in the FDES), as well as the period over which the comparison will be carried out.

Comparison table

(For a better reading of the comparison table, you can also consult the FAQ in PDF format)

Defining a relevant functional unit often requires combining several products to form a complete solution (for example, comparing insulation + plasterboard + metal frame versus complex insulation/plasterboard bonded to masonry).

Even in this case, sometimes comparisons can be biased for highly multifunctional solutions (mechanical strength, heat resistance, thermal inertia, acoustic protection, fire behaviour, etc.) when this multifunctionality results in differences in performance on the scale of the overall project. For example, a functional unit based solely on heat resistance is not enough to compare conventional insulation solutions with applied insulation solutions in view of their vastly different thermal inertia and acoustic protection properties.

Often the most appropriate course of action is to evaluate the building in its entirety.

Why have a multi-criteria assessment of environmental performance?

The FDES and PEP feature several environmental indicators needed for a multi-criteria assessment of a building’s environmental performance. The multi-criteria nature of the environmental assessment is essential and must be preserved in order to make it possible :

  • to correctly distinguish construction choices (materials, equipment, architectural design elements, etc.)
  • to give decision makers freedom (public authorities, contracting authorities, designers, advisers, etc.) with regard to their environmental policy and their choice of environmental priorities.

For example, to choose a type of energy (gas, coal, heating oil, wood, electricity, geothermal, etc.), one must examine environmental criteria such as consumption of energy resources, greenhouse gas emissions, acid gas emissions, particulate emissions, and production of radioactive waste.

No other form of energy is better than the rest for all these criteria. It is therefore up to the decision maker to make a choice based on their environmental priorities.

Are the construction products in INIES good for the environment?

All construction products have impacts on the environment. These impacts are evaluated based on many criteria (energy consumption, water consumption, waste production, air and water pollution, etc.). However, there is currently no recognised consensual benchmark* with set thresholds for these various environmental impacts that could determine if a product is good for the environment (the situation is identical for the other qualifiers such as ‘eco-product’, ‘eco-material’, ‘environmentally-friendly material’, etc.).

Furthermore, a construction product is an “intermediate product”. It is meant to be incorporated into a building and associated with other products to contribute to the overall performance of the construction work. Consequently, the scale of the work is the only relevant indicator to comprehensively assess the environmental performance of construction products. A building’s overall design, including careful choices of construction processes and products (or an intelligent combination thereof) is what enables said building to achieve the environmental performance that is expected of it. That is why it is impossible to separate products’ environmental characteristics from their technical (or economic) characteristics. The most environmentally-friendly construction products possible are therefore those that, thanks to their technical performance and controlled intrinsic environmental impact, help the construction work achieve the technical performance necessary to help control its environmental impact.

The INIES database is therefore not a database of products that have been selected because they are good for the environment; any product can be in the database, as long as its manufacturer meets the admission requirements. * With the exception of the NF Environment benchmark on paints.

Do HQE® products exist?

HQE® is a registered trademark. In form, no construction product or building equipment can claim this brand. In substance, the response given by the Alliance HQE-GBC, which holds the total and exclusive operating licenses of the HQE® brand, is as follows: “…There are no ‘HQE’ products/materials.”

Indeed, all products and materials have different environmental, health, technical, and economic characteristics.

It is up to professionals in the field to choose the products/materials with the technical, economic, environmental, and health characteristics that make it possible, by following standard implementation practices and the manufacturer’s instructions, to achieve the level of technical, environmental, and health quality specified for the construction work, within a given budget. This would entail construction product/material manufacturers providing environmental and health characteristics for their products, as they have always done for technical characteristics.

For environmental and health criteria to be taken into account in an unbiased manner when choosing products/materials, it is essential that this environmental and health information meets the same benchmarks to gauge their relevance, reliability and sincerity. This consensual benchmark is standard NF EN 15804 and its national supplement for construction product and NF XP C08-100-1 and PCR edition3 for equipment.