Buying construction products with eco virtue

European Union directive 2004/18/EC states that public bodies are required to buy products with the lowest whole life costs that are fit for purpose, ensuring that public bodies across the EU are getting the best value from expenditure of public money. In the UK, directive 2004/18/EC has been transposed into UK law as the Public Contracts Regulations (2006).
Fitness for purpose
Fitness for purpose should take into account the performance and environmental credentials of the products chosen. In the case of building and construction products, there are several measures of environmental performance that can be applied. In the UK, the Building Research Establishment (BRE) has published The Green Guide to Specification, which rates products in terms of their ‘ecoprofile’.

As well as environmental credentials, the performance of the product during the use phase should not be ignored as, for some products, energy efficiency can be a more significant factor than the product’s ‘ecoprofile’. In the case of window systems for example, the energy rating of the window, measured by the British Fenestration Rating Council (BFRC), has a significant influence on the total energy efficiency of the building in which the windows are installed. Opting for a better energy rated window has a number of benefits, including saving significant amounts of energy (and associated CO2 emissions) whilst adding to potential long-term cost savings through reduced energy bills.
Once a product has completed its useful life, waste management is also an important consideration in fitness for purpose. In this instance, products that can be or are being recycled have an advantage.

PVC products
PVC building and construction products are a cost effective choice offering a long product life with minimal maintenance requirements. A fact supported by many whole life cost studies such as the European study carried out by Professor Alessandro Marangoni of Althesys Strategic Consultants which compared the total cost of ownership of PVC windows, pipes and flooring with the most commonly used alternatives.
In recent years, the European PVC Industry has transformed its environmental performance via the VinylPlus ( sustainable development programme. VinylPlus is a ten‑year Voluntary Commitment by the European PVC Industry building upon the achievements of its predecessor Vinyl2010 and taking the next important steps in establishing a long-term framework for the ongoing sustainable development of the PVC value chain. VinylPlus is registered as a partner with the UN Commission for Sustainable Development and was recognised in the keynote speech of UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in 2012.

Grade A Ratings
In the latest edition of the BRE Green Guide, PVC window frames, PVC flooring and PVC roofing products have all achieved the highest A+ and A ratings. In addition, the vast majority of window systems now achieving A energy efficiency ratings have PVC frames.

There has also been a massive surge in the recycling of PVC products following the introduction of the Recovinyl scheme 
( Audited data included in the 2013 VinylPlus Progress Report demonstrates that post-consumer PVC recycling across the EU28 stands at over 360,000 tonnes per annum (with a VinylPlus commitment to increase this to 800,000 tonnes per annum by 2020). The UK has demonstrated leading progress, recycling over 75,000 tonnes of PVC windows, cables, flooring and pipes per year.

Local Authorities favour PVC
Many UK public procurement bodies now appear to be selecting PVC products in favour of alternatives due to their superior technical and economic performance whilst demonstrating compliance with the fit for purpose and best value requirements of the Public Contracts Regulations.
Recent examples include Stockton-on-Tees Council whose whole life cost study found it was possible to install and maintain twice as many PVC windows as alternatives for the same price; A fact replicated by Brighton & Hove City Council who calculated that by installing PVC windows, guttering, floors and cables (instead of alternative products), they could make a saving of over £30 million in their housing and works programme in addition to a £1.2 million reduction in their annual maintenance budget.
A report for the Scottish Government also found that “replacing old windows with modern PVC-u double glazing can reduce heat losses through windows by half, saving around £110 per year on fuel bills, and around 720 kg CO2.”
Similarly, the benefits brought about by using PVC products are gaining recognition within local housing associations such as, the Watford Community Housing trust who installed 25,000 ‘A’ energy rated PVC-U windows concluding that, “…the programme could help the trust cut CO2 emissions by up to 76,500 tonnes over a ten year period.”

Fife Council Case Study
As part of Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan (launched June 2010), and in order to meet Scottish Housing Quality Standards, Fife Council decided to review their specification for domestic windows to be installed as well as the methods of disposal of removed windows. The aim was to create an ‘A’ energy-rated window with a 35 year expected lifespan which would not only bring about cost benefits (through reduced landfil tax liabilities) but also provide environmental savings.
Over a two year period, Fife were able to create a ground breaking specification offering major fuel savings and reduced CO2 emissions; PVC products enabled them to procure windows which complied with their sustainability and energy efficiency objectives whilst providing the best value for money.
By using a zero carbon manufacturer and by recycling  the removed windows and doors, this new approach of joined up purchasing from cradle to grave enabled Fife Council to position themselves as a market leader in sustainability and good practice.
By using ‘A’ energy-rated PVC windows, Fife Council calculate, using information and data from the UK Energy Savings Trust, that this brings 25 per cent efficiency savings. The new windows installations will bring estimated fuel savings for a three bedroomed house with central heating to £286 per year. This equates to £10,010 over the 35 year lifespan of the new window, with a 2.29 tonne reduction in CO2 emissions per annum per property. By installing these windows in all 32,000 Fife Council houses, there is a potential emission savings of a staggering 200,375 tonnes by the end of their lifespan.

London 2012 Olympics Case Study
Sustainanbility was a core component of the London 2012 Olympic project to create venues, facilities and infrastructure for the Games that would leave a lasting social, economic and environmental legacy.
Positioning PVC as a significant player in the Games’ sustainability efforts, London2012 published a policy on the use of PVC in 2009. The policy set out parameters for using PVC on the London2012 project including requirements in relation to manufacturing as well as a take-back and re-use or recycle clause. The objective of the policy was to stimulate the PVC supply chain to find innovative ways to provide environmental and sustainability benefits – a challenge the PVC supply chain embraced and exceeded upon. Following the games, London2012 concluded that “the functional properties of PVC make it the most appropriate material in certain circumstances.”
In all, over 142,000 sq.m of PVC tensile fabric were used in the construction of Olympic Venues and more than 63,000sq.m of PVC flooring was laid throughout the Olympic Park, a testament to the benefits, both technical and environmental, that can be achieved by specifying PVC.
Procurement decisions in favour of PVC products are being made at the highest level. At a time of economic austerity, using PVC products can not only save money but can also help to meet targets for developing better housing with improved comfort and insulation whilst complying with the highest sustainability and environmental requirements.

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