Getting to the environmental truth

Construction is one of the biggest contributors to climate change: around 10 per cent of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions are directly associated with construction according to the UK Green Building Council. Most architects are fully aware of this fact and committed to reducing the impact that their buildings have on the environment. However they are unable to do so unless clear, transparent, honest and easy to understand information is readily available from suppliers, something that can be difficult to come by depending on the manufacturer.

There are various voluntary schemes that allow architects to assess the ecological impact of the products that they specify. The Environmental Product Declaration is the most established programme. This standard which is governed by ISO 14025 looks at the Life Cycle Assessment data of a product from obtaining the raw materials that go into it, to the end of its life; taking into account sustainability and GHG emissions through production, transport and disposal and/or recycling.

The Environmental Footprint Assessment Programme shows the carbon footprint (CFP) of a product, measuring its greenhouse gas emissions across the whole of its lifecycle. Assessments for this programme adhere to the standards set out in ISO/TS 14067 and ISO 14040-44.

ISO 14021 certification deals with the use of recycled materials, the reduced use of resources and the recyclability of the finished product at the end of its lifecycle and shows compliance with the Minimum Environmental Criteria (CAM) for the design and construction of public works in Italy, a scheme which equates to LEED in the US and BREEAM in the UK.

As membership of these schemes is voluntary and self-certification is the norm, it is sometimes difficult to ascertain whether a particular manufacturer’s products actually adhere to the standards unless the data has been independently certified.

The Kerakoll Group’s GreenBuilding philosophy is based on continuous research, upgrading and developing products so that they cause as little harm as possible to the environment and human health. The company works with the Italian government and the European Union in the development of standards and legislation for the protection of the environment. In 2015 & 2017, its R&D facility, the GreenLab was chosen as the headquarters of the ISO/TC 207/SC 7 committee which sets the standards for greenhouse gas management and related activities.

Kerakoll actively participates in the EPD, EFPAP and CAM schemes, and has a programme to test the CFP of all of its products. Once testing is complete, the product is accompanied by a sheet which shows the exact environmental footprint per kg or m². All of the company’s certification is independently verified by SGS Italia.

In addition to the schemes mentioned above, Kerakoll has also developed the GreenBuilding Rating: this tool was created in 2010 and is independently certified by SGS Italia. It evaluates the characteristics of a product in relation to its environmental sustainability, making it easy for specifiers to quickly assess how eco-friendly a particular product is.

The acid test of how green a company really is, is whether it puts its money where its mouth is when developing the buildings which it uses for its own purposes. Kerakoll has manifestly followed its principles when building its research and development facility: the GreenLab is the perfect combination of cutting-edge technology and sustainable materials. It was designed and built for a cost of €15 million using the very best natural materials. These were selected from those that have the least impact on the environment, the lowest VOC and CO2 emissions and the highest energy efficiency rating, to make the finished building an example of GreenBuilding par excellence in Europe. Care was also taken to reduce the end of life impact of the materials used. The building generates its own energy and uses natural climate control to regulate the internal temperature.

The nine specialist laboratories within, house over 100 researchers who work on technological development in the field of green building materials. 5.4% of the total turnover of the global firm is spent on R&D in the GreenLab, exclusively in fields which benefit the environment and human health, much of it in collaboration with renowned universities and institutions.

Each of the labs specialises in a different field looking at the following strategic areas:

  • Low environmental impact products aimed at reducing CO2 (LCA)
  • Study of indoor air pollutants and calculation of breathability index
  • Development of natural alternatives to cement
  • Research on VOC emissions
  • Solutions for seismic safety
  • Developing technologies for thermal insulation and energy efficiency
  • Acoustic laboratory for the analysis of state-of-the-art solutions
  • Study and research into recovery and re-cycling of new materials
  • Development of bioactive principles for indoor wellbeing

This research has led to developments in tiling technology to achieve high performance products that are more environmentally friendly than those traditionally available. Notably the Biogel adhesives range uses gel technology to create a new sort of geo-binder containing natural polymers with a low environmental impact combined with a mineral that is extracted without the use of chemicals, solvents or synthetic post-treatment agents.

Fugabella Color, the recently launched resin-cement hybrid grout range uses similar technology and is produced without the addition of chemical and synthetic additives and biocides which are present in many of its competitors’ products. These are only two examples of the ongoing improvement and regeneration of the product range that the research teams in the GreenLab are working on.

All of Kerakoll’s products are clearly marked with the GreenBuilding Rating and accompanied by information on the CFP and LCA. For more information on specific product types, and specification advice please contact Kerakoll UK. The technical team regularly works with architects at the specification stage of projects helping them to choose the most suitable products for their project, and to reduce the environmental footprint of the building.