Assessing Environmental Performance of
Building Materials


What is Eco-Labeling?

Environmental performance evaluation is conducted by adopting a life cycle analysis approach. Eco-labeling is a voluntary scheme for certification of environmental performance of products. Eco labels, as per International standard, ISO 14021:1999 are classified under three types:
• Type-I: A multi-criteria based programme which authorises use of eco-labels on various product categories based on life cycle assessment of its environmental impacts. The certification is done by an Independent agency.
• Type-II: Self environmental declarations made by companies in association with their own products or services.
• Type-III: Labels are awarded based on quantified environmental data of a product under pre-defined parameters set by a qualified third party based on life cycle assessment. Verification of eco-label is done by another qualified third party.

Why Eco-Label Building Materials?

Construction forms the back-bone of India’s economic development. However, the environmental and resource footprint of this sector is very high. Building materials made using industrial waste as one of the raw materials such as fly ash cement, slag cement etc. have gained popularity amongst producers and consumers in India as they have a quality code developed by BIS and are also recognised and certified by popular green building rating systems such as GRIHA and LEED. Apart from fly ash and slag, there are numerous possibilities of using waste materials from urban areas, industries and mines in building materials without compromising on the quality of the building product. Urban waste such as C&D waste has also gained attention. But due to lack of eco-labels, the recyclers face problems in selling C&D waste based products. Similarly, cement made with waste china clay has shown reduction of 30% savings as compared to conventional cement without compromising the quality. However due to lack of standards, commercial production cannot be done by cement companies. Marble sludge from marble cutting industry also has the potential to be reused in building materials but faces similar issues of eco-labeling and standards.

The consumption of building materials is largely driven by quality and certification. Hence for any eco-friendly building material to be consumed by the industry, it should have either of the two labels - Quality code or Eco-label by a qualified agency. It’s needless to mention that government support is integral for widespread use of eco-building products.

World Scenario of Eco-Labeling Building Materials

In 1977, eco-labeling was first introduced in Germany through the Blue Angel scheme. Canada’s Environmental Choice Programme, introduced in 1988 followed this and since then 26 countries/regions including India have adopted the eco-labeling scheme under different names.

Eco-labeling Scheme in India

In 1991, India launched its own eco-labeling scheme called ‘Ecomark’. Although the Ecomark is similar in many ways to ecolabels of other countries, it differs from most in one important aspect. Whereas eco-labels in most countries are awarded solely on the basis of environmental considerations, in India, it is also linked with the quality of products. In other words, in order to be eligible, products must meet both environmental and quality criteria. However, the list of 17 products mentioned in the eco-marking scheme do not include cement, concrete, bricks, tiles, pavers etc., which have shown the potential to utilise waste materials and yet have maintained the desired quality as per Indian quality standards. The only recognition for building materials as ‘eco-friendly’ is given by GRIHA, under its product catalog. It is the most popular product catalog accessed by builders, architects and contractors to search for green building products.

Challenges in Eco-Labeling of Building Materials

The Eco-Mark scheme has not picked up momentum and has not achieved the desired results. This has been due to the following reasons:

1. Complex certification process

To certify the product as ‘green’, a manufacturer has to comply with the criteria specified by CPCB and BIS. The grant of certification has taken as long as 6 months in the past. The process constituted many obligations such as consent from SPCBs, detailed list of manufacturing equipment’s availablity, process flow chart of the product, layout plan of the unit etc. making the eco-mark scheme unattractive to the manufacturers.

2. Lack of labs for testing desired quality of eco building products

The eco-building products are required to go under testing for various criteria of quality and environment as mentioned by GRIHA. Accredited labs equipped to carry out the testing are not sufficient in number and sometimes are not accessible to manufacturers in remote locations. There is no single lab in the country, which carries out all the tests required for Eco-labeling of products hence making the testing process tiresome and costly for the manufacturers.

3. Limited product list

The 17 product categories defined initially under the eco mark scheme have not been reviewed till date. Construction products, which have shown potential to utilise waste are not included in the list. These products have been well researched, tested against BIS standards and manufactured commercially. Some of the examples are blended cements made using fly ash, slag and china clay (mine waste), products made from reuse of construction and demolition waste, fly ash bricks etc.

4. Cost of green products

Eco mark scheme misses one important criteria of product profitability. Unless there is no minimum profit to the manufacturer, the manufacturing of green products will not see large-scale production. The charges for eco-mark paid by manufacturers include:
• Application fee along with cost of visit by BIS official
• Cost of product testing
• Marking fee

Way Forward

Eco-Mark is a fairly old scheme and therefore needs revamping.

The first step towards revamping the scheme should be to make the certification process simple. It would be prudent to establish a separate independent organisation to manage and oversee the Eco-mark scheme. The composition of the organisation should include representatives from the Industry, NGOs and think tank organisations (with experts on LCA), BIS, CPCB and MoEF. The life cycle approach seems to be a good way to assess a product’s environmental impact. However, guidelines should be laid out on how to carry out the Life Cycle Assessment of products and capacity building of manufacturers should be built for these guidelines.

The product categories should also be graduated to other products and sectors, which have a good potential to consume waste and recycled materials. A good example to start will be C&D waste based products. There are C&D waste management rules issued by MoEF & CC for reuse of C&D waste. Production facilities exist in the country, which use C&D waste as an aggregate to make pavers, bricks, precast walls, park benches, drains, rain water-harvesting structures etc. In spite of the quality being at par with similar finished products made with virgin materials, they suffer market upscale due to lack of eco labeling. However, before setting the environmental parameters for such products for eco marking, institutional capacities to test these parameters should be thoroughly surveyed.

In India there are more consumers who are guided by the price criterion than elite consumers who are willing to pay extra for green products. If the use of the Eco-mark on a product would mean an increase in price, then it would adversely affect demand, as consumers are price sensitive in India. This, in turn, would dampen the implementation of the scheme. In a developing country like India unless the price of environmentally benign products are at par or less than their environmentally unfriendly alternatives, an average consumer is unlikely to override his/her environmental concerns over economic considerations. In light of this the government could overcome this problem by either taxing environmentally unfriendly products or providing tax-incentives and subsidies to Eco-marked products.

The marketing strategy of eco-mark scheme has been driven more by voluntary awareness creating rather than enforcement. The scheme should work hand in hand with local municipalities to ensure use of eco products in public construction. This can be done by making mandatory obligations for using Eco mark products in tendering processes and preferential procurement policies mandated by the state governments. The scheme can also be integrated with green building certification systems such as GRIHA and LEED so as to enhance the use of eco-labelled products in large and small constructions.

Vaibhav Rathi

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