Environmental and health reference data for building

Frequently asked questions

Looking for information? The most frequently asked questions are in our FAQ.

1 What is the INIES database?

INIES is the French national reference database for environmental and health data on construction products and equipment. INIES offers Environmental and Health Declaration Sheets (FDES) for construction products and Product Environmental Profiles (PEP) for building equipment, provided by manufacturers and trade associations in the format set out in European standard NF EN 15804 and its national supplement NF EN 15804/CN for construction products and standard NF XP C08-100-1 and PCR version 3 for equipment. The INIES database is run by the supervisory board and the technical committee. The supervisory board, chaired by the Alliance HQE-GBC, ensures that the database operates ethically and professionally. The technical committee oversees the collection and processing of data as well as database content updates.

2 What is a FDES?

A FDES is an Environmental and Health Declaration Sheet. This declaration is drawn up under the responsibility of the product's manufacturers (or trade association). Standard NF EN 15804 and its national supplement  defines the production method and the format for declaring environmental and health information.

Creating a FDES entails having a product's life cycle analysis (LCA, a very detailed environmental performance assessment) and health information, often the results of specific tests.

3 What is a PEP ecopassport®?

A PEP or Product Environmental Profile is an environmental declaration for electrical, electronic, and HVAC equipment that is based on the results of a life cycle analysis. Standard NF XP C08-100-1 and PCR (Product Category Rules) edition 3 define the rules for creating a PEP ecopassport®.

4 What is a Life Cycle Analysis?

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is an environmental evaluation method that makes it possible to quantify the impacts of a product, service, or process over the span of its life cycle, from extracting raw materials to end of life processing, not forgetting the inclusion of implementation and working life. A standardised, recognised tool (standards in the ISO 14040 series), the LCA is the most complete method in terms of overall multi-criteria evaluation, a result of interpreting the quantified balance sheet of material flows and incoming and outgoing energy flows at each stage of the product's life cycle. To convey the results of the analysis, and to compare the same product or service, a functional unit is defined. This is a means of measurement that quantifies the function performed by the product being studied.

The results of an LCA are expressed as a series of environmental indicators, which include both potential impacts (e.g., x kg of CO2 equivalents for the greenhouse effect) and physical flows (e.g., y kg of hazardous waste).

Standards NF EN 15804, and NF XP C08-100-1, NF EN 15978 are industrial variations of standard ISO 14040 respectively for construction products,  equiquements and buildings.

5 What are the reference standards for building products and equipment?

For construction products, the standard used to carry out a FDES has been European standard NF EN 15804 and its national supplement NF EN 15804/CN.

For building equipment, the standards used are NF XP C08-100-1 and PCR (Product Category Rules) edition 3.

6 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.

7 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.

8 Are the construction products in INIES safe?

If we exclude the special case of materials that come into contact with drinking water, there are no benchmarks in place to confirm that a product is safe, that is, one product does not have an impact on health but another product does. For the materials that come into contact with drinking water, based on benchmarks (list of authorised materials, migration test, etc.), it is up to health authorities relying on detailed regulations and approved laboratories to grant a product authorisation to come into contact with drinking water (in France: ACS or Certificate of Sanitary Conformity). More generally, the Construction Products Directive (DPC 89/106), transposed into French law, specifies in essential requirement No. 3 that the hygiene and health of occupants and neighbours must be ensured by measures including:

  • the design of the project, its implementation, and its maintenance,
  • properties,
  • performance and use of construction products.

This directive also establishes that the health performance of construction products is assessed through a multi-criteria approach using known technical characteristics (ability to seal out water and gases, thermal shock resistance, permeability to water vapour, etc.) and other more specific health criteria that require specific tests and methods, currently being drafted and/or harmonised at the European level (emissions of hazardous substances including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde, natural radioactive emissions, emissions of fibres and particles, etc.).

FDES sheets that meet the requirements of standards NF EN 15804 and its national supplement and have been accepted into the INIES contain information that reflects the current French consensus on conveying the health and comfort characteristics of construction products.

The INIES database is therefore not a database of products that have been selected because they are safe. Any product can be in the database, as long as its manufacturer meets the requirements for admission.

9 What do the FDES and PEP energy indicators mean?

For construction products and equipment, the "total primary energy consumption" indicator represents the primary energy "used up" by the product over the course of its life cycle. This represents the amount of energy from nature (gas, oil, uranium ore, biomass, wind, geothermal, etc.) needed to produce, transport, and implement the product, plus the energy used during its lifetime and at the end of its life. This primary energy is one part renewable and one part non-renewable. It also includes a "material" part and a "process" part. The "material" part corresponds to the amount of energy that could theoretically be recovered by burning the product (in the case of products containing polymers or biomass). The "process" energy part corresponds to all of the primary energy invested in processing procedures, operating processes and transporting the material over the entire product life cycle.

The FDES and PEP therefore contain the values of five energy indicators that correspond to the product concerned. Reference standards provide the method for calculating these indicators. However, only the indicators of total primary energy, renewable and non-renewable energy are set according to the standard in the table of environmental indicators. For construction products, these indicators make it possible to explain the concept of embodied (or "grey") energy. Indeed, there is currently no standardised definition of this concept, and different interpretations coexist. Embodied energy values found in the literature differ greatly depending on the definition chosen and its interpretation.

Therefore, it is advisable to use the various energy indicators given by the reference standards to describe and quantify the different energy resources consumed over the course of a product's life cycle.

10 What is the FDES and PEP climate change indicator for?

The climate change indicator is used to assess a construction product or equipment's contribution to the increased content of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is generally accepted that the increasing greenhouse effect causes changes to the Earth's climate, notably an increase to its average temperature. It is expressed in kg CO2 equivalent (carbon dioxide or carbonic gas) and includes all of the greenhouse gases that the product emits over the course of its life cycle. Not all gases have the same effect.

For example, a kilogram of methane (CH4) contributes 21 times more to the greenhouse effect than a kilogram of CO2, and one kilogram of nitrous oxide (N2O) is 310 times more harmful. Per kilogram emitted, some gases contribute several thousand times more to the greenhouse effect than CO2. Thus, the climate change indicator provides information on greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on global warming. The standard requires that at least the three main gases relevant to construction products (CO2, CH4, N2O) be taken into account. While many tools exist for evaluating a territory or activity's greenhouse gas emissions (carbon footprint or carbon accounting, etc.), life cycle analysis (used in the FDES and PEP) is the only tool adapted to both products and buildings.

As for energy, it is important to think on the scale of the building rather than the products because some products benefit the building by reducing its consumption and greenhouse gases emissions. To avoid counting this effect twice, avoidances are not attributed to products but are included in the environmental and energy performances of buildings.

11 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.

12 Who checks the content of FDES/PEP sheets?

Since July 1st 2017, declaration must be verified by independent third party (a certified verifier body) to the reference standards. Declarants need to register their declaration in a program operator: INIES for Construction Products and PEP Ecopassport for equipment.

13 Are the FDES sheets that are online up to date?

All FDES sheets are dated. The decision to update a FDES is the responsibility of the issuer. Just like creating FDES sheets, updating them is also a voluntary process. The main reasons to update a FDES are:
  • modification of the framework for establishing the FDES (revision of the standard),
  • addition of a production site or manufacturer to the FDES,
  • a significant change to one of the stages of the life cycle (supply of raw materials, manufacturing process, maintenance rules, modified end of life, etc.)
  • an update of the generic databases used to produce the FDES.

A FDES sheet therefore does not have an "expiry date". When manufacturers update their FDES, they send the updated version to the secretariat of the technical committee, which posts them online with the new date.

14 Are there tools for using the FDES and PEP?

There are tools for using the FDES and PEP. In 2007, the Association HQE launched a competition to find the best tools for calculating the environmental quality of buildings using FDES sheets. In April 2008, the association chose two tools. The goal is for there to be many tools for using the FDES and PEP, as well as all useful data (building services such as energy, water, waste, construction, etc.) to calculate the environmental impacts of buildings.

15 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.

    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.

    16 REACH, Construction Products and the FDES

    The REACH Regulation (Regulation No. 1907/2006 of 18 December 2006) is the regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (CHemicals).

    Entered into force on 1 June 2007, its aim is to ensure a high level of protection for both human health and the environment with regard to chemicals, on their own ("substances"), as "mixtures" or contained in finished or semi-finished products ("articles"). In short, to be produced or imported into the European Economic Area, chemical substances must be registered by their manufacturers or importers according to a timetable based on tonnage placed on the market and dangerousness.

    In concrete terms, REACH makes the chemical industry responsible for providing information about the dangers of their substances (intrinsic characteristics) and possible risks posed by their use. Adequate information on substances and mixtures is then communicated to their users, predominantly article manufacturers, via Safety Data Sheets (SDS, not to be confused with the FDES), whose content is regulated. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), centralises all the information and validates the files ("chemical safety assessment").

    Later in the value chain, a similar obligation requires article manufacturers/suppliers to distribute information as follows:
    • In a manufacturer-manufacturer relationship (B2B), they must inform their customers if the article sold contains more than 0.1% by weight of a substance on the "candidate" list, provide the name of this substance, and provide rules for how to use the article safely (article 33, paragraph 1),
    • In a manufacturer-consumer relationship (B2C), they must provide the same information mentioned above for any article sold containing more than 0.1% by weight of a substance on the "candidate" list (article 33, paragraph 2), free of charge, to any consumer who requests it, within a maximum of 45 days of receiving the request.

    The "candidate" list, which features the "very high concern" substances that may be subject to usage restrictions (see below), is updated every six months by the ECHA. The ECHA will gradually select substances from this list that are destined to either be taken off the European market or that will only be authorised for a clearly identified limited number of uses during a set time.

    These substances are added to "Annex XIV", the first version of which was published on 18 February 2011. According to REACH, construction materials, products and equipment are:
    • Mostly "articles":
      • that can only be manufactured from substances that are duly registered for said manufacture,
      • that are subject to the obligations set out in Article 33 regarding information about the content of substances on the candidate list. Specific information provided in the FDES sheets
    • A minority of "mixtures" (cement, glue, etc.) for which Safety Data Sheets must be provided.

    17 What is the inventory method?

    The inventory method is used in the NF P01-010 standard for open-loop waste recovery processing (from one product to another). The inventory creates a real or fictitious border between the product that generates the waste and the product that uses it. Everything that is upstream of the inventory is therefore part of the life cycle of the product that generates the waste. Everything that is downstream of the inventory is part of the life cycle of the product that uses the waste. The position of the inventory is defined based on technical, legal and economic criteria.

    For example, for concrete waste, the inventory can be positioned after the first crushing. The concrete product then takes on the impacts of being transported to a recycling centre and crushed. The steps after crushing, which transform the crushed concrete into a road product for example, belong to the road product's life cycle.

    18 Does the FDES take into account wood carbon storage?

    Wood, and more generally all plant biomass, captures carbon (in the form of CO2, sometimes called biomass CO2) through photosynthesis. By capturing CO2, plant biomass contributes to mitigating the effects of global warming. When wood is used to generate energy (wood energy, energy recovery from wood waste) or when wood is put in landfills, it releases all or part of this CO2.

    The FDES taking carbon storage into consideration therefore serves to define rules that account for upstream capture and the various greenhouse gases that are released throughout the life cycle. Standard NF P01-010 makes it possible to take this storage into account.

    However, it does not provide a method of calculation. FDES sheets are therefore generally considered to have a zero net biomass carbon balance. In recent months, the FCBA, in partnership with the CSTB and the Public Authorities, has been testing different methods of accounting for carbon storage. A method should soon be made public for approval by the standardisation committee in charge of the NF P01-010 standard. Pending this approval, the FDES sheets that are in the database do not follow a unified rule.

    19 How have evolving standards impacted the creation of environmental declarations for construction and decoration products? Timeline

    European standard EN 15804, "Sustainability of construction works — Environmental product declarations — Core rules for the construction products category", was published in the French collection in April 2014 under the reference NF EN 15804.

    In France, until that date, these declarations (Environmental and Health Declaration Sheets (FDES)) were carried out in accordance with standard NF P01-010 "Environmental quality of construction products — Environmental and health declaration for construction products".

    Once published, standard NF EN 15804 partially annulled standard NF P01-010 (only the parts that they had in common).

    A French national supplement (NF EN 15804/CN) was written and published by the French standardisation committee, P01E. The purpose of this normative supplement is to maintain the requirement levels set by standard NF P01-010 regarding the creation of environmental declarations, and to include health information. The INIES Database has therefore adapted its publication acceptance procedures to the European standard and the French national normative supplement.

    20 How have evolving regulations impacted the creation of environmental declarations for construction and decoration products and equipment? Timeline

    The public authorities have published regulatory texts on environmental declarations for construction and decoration products as well as for electrical, electronic, and HVAC equipment intended for use in building projects. These regulations consist of a decree and three by-laws.

    The first targets construction and decoration products. The second targets electrical, electronic, and HVAC equipment, and the third is about independent third party auditing. The decree and the first by-law were published on 23 December 2013 in the Official Journal. Application of the provisions in the decree and the first by-law took effect on 1 January 2014. The by-law on electrical, electronic, and HVAC equipment and the by-law mandating independent third party auditing are scheduled to enter into force in July 2017.

    The regulatory texts stipulate that no environmental declaration is required to market a product in France. But, when a manufacturer gives information about one or more environmental aspects related to a product's life cycle, it is then obligated to:

    • fill out an environmental declaration in accordance with the calculation method defined by the regulation,
    • send the declaration and supporting data for the calculations to the public authorities by submitting them to a Regulatory Database,
    • provide, on the Regulatory Database, the address of the website where the environmental declaration can be viewed by anyone, free of charge,
    • mention the Regulatory Database's web address on the product involved with this environmental statement,
    • period of validity for the declaration: 5 years without significant change to the product.

    21 Why are FDES sheets configured? How are FDES sheets configured?

    Why are FDES sheets configured?

    The FDES sheets in INIES correspond to a well-defined product. In the case of products with particular specifications based on the construction work to be carried out, it is impossible for all possible configurations to be in the INIES database. Occupations that offer this type of product have created tools for producing FDES sheets that allow the user to choose a few parameters specific to the building project or construction work.

    How are FDES sheets configured?

    FDES sheets are set up using "configurators", software with input masks for identified configurable data. These "configurators" contain LCI (Life Cycle Indicator) databases for a family of products. The resulting calculations are used to create a specific FDES for the work in question. For concrete structures the user specifies:
    • The type of concrete used- Transport distances (from the concrete plant to the construction site)
    • The dimensions of the structure A similar configurator exists for steel products.

    Others are under development. To be listed in the INIES database, tools must produce FDES sheets in accordance with standard NF P01-010 and, ultimately, standard NF EN15804 and supplemental French standard. Furthermore, the most commonly used products on the market must have a FDES in INIES so that information about them is directly accessible via the Web Service INIES offers companies that create software for calculating the environmental performance of buildings.