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Companies must not be given the pen to write their own environmental rules in standards for construction products – NGOs warn EU Commission

The new Construction Products Regulation must include strict environmental requirements for products by law, both on environmental information disclosure and on performance, say Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS) and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

Sustainability obligations must not rely on standards, a process largely driven by the construction industry, warn NGOs. 

On Wednesday 30 March, the European Commission will adopt its proposal for a revised Construction Products Regulation (CPR), which is set to simplify rules for construction products on the EU market.

The Commission is expected to propose new rules to strengthen market surveillance, coupled with new obligations for manufacturers to make their products more circular, notably through mandatory information requirements on environmental performance.

However, preparatory work seen by NGOs suggests that the CPR will not fully align with the horizontal Sustainable Products Initiative (SPI), also planned for publication tomorrow. The SPI will extend ecodesign principles and obligations to a wide variety of products, by setting a clear work plan for developing product-specific requirements. NGOs fear this will not be the case in the CPR, which is likely to set a much lower bar for construction products, an industry with sizable environmental footprints [1].  

If the CPR revision does not significantly improve on climate ambitions, it will fail to address the enormous environmental impact of construction products.

Representing some of the most prominent environmental organisations across Europe, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and the Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS) call on policy-makers to ensure that the new CPR truly tackles the environmental impact of construction products.

Gonzalo Sanchez, Policy Officer for Circular Economy and Carbon Neutrality in the Building Sector at EEB said:

“Setting minimum environmental requirements on construction products in this CPR revision is necessary if we hope to decarbonise the built environment by 2050. Having the requirements in place can boost the competitiveness of reused and low-carbon materials and ensure that the Renovation Wave facilitates the transition to sustainability in the construction sector. Postponing these measures would require massive effort in the next decade to decarbonise the building stock, due to the delay in implementing circular measures and rewarding manufacturers who invest in low-emission materials.”

Federica Pozzi, Programme Manager at ECOS said:

“This proposal allows the construction industry to avoid transitioning towards a sustainable economy, let alone towards climate neutrality. There is no excuse for this: the CPR must set limits to the impacts of construction products – and must not allow industry players to set their own requirements through standards. On the same day, the Commission is adopting a proposal for a Sustainable Products Initiative with much more teeth. The CPR should enforce the same robust sustainability principles for construction products or, at the very least deliver low-carbon, circular and non-toxic construction products”.

In more details, NGO demands entail:

  • End the heavy reliance of this Regulation on standards, which makes regulating construction products opaque and allows for little participation of actors representing the public interest.

  • Need for minimum limits on environmental hotspots (for example, on carbon footprint, resource and water use, chemical content), effectively promoting the competitiveness of low-carbon, circular and non-toxic products. Limit setting must not be outsourced to the standardisation system, where dominant industry manufacturers can establish their own requirements and align on a minimum common denominator, stifling competition, innovation, and market access for SMEs.

  • Need for more transparency in product information, supported by digital product passports. This would ensure that data is effectively communicated all along products’ value chain and used to support public institutions in developing mandatory requirements.

  • Encourage market access for used construction products, ensuring that there is a level playing field with primary products. The decarbonisation and resource efficiency potential of reused materials must be exploited to its fullest.

ECOS and the EEB are not the only NGOs calling for decisive action. On 14 March, 7 environmental organisations urged the European Commission to introduce mandatory environmental performance requirements and information obligations for construction products. [2]

ENDS

Note to editor:

[1] Background information on the impact of construction products: Together with buildings, construction products – including energy-intensive intermediaries such as cement and steel- account for approximately 50% of all extracted materials, 33% of water consumption and 35% of EU waste. These translate to 36% of EU carbon emissions, an amount expected to increase with the upcoming Renovation Wave.

https://ec.europa.eu/environment/levels_en

[2] https://eeb.org/library/ngos-letter-on-the-construction-products-regulation-revision/