Case Study: PE International and life cycle assessment (LCA) methods with Tata Steel.
Life cycle assessment (LCA) is often referred to as being an expensive and slow process for evaluating the various environmental, social and financial impacts of products. Times have changed. In this case study Allan Griffin from Tata Steel tells us how they have integrated LCA into their activities to prepare environmental product declarations at scale, support sustainable product development and compare complete building designs.
“There is a historical perception that the steel industry is a polluting, energy-intensive industry but that’s changed a lot. Of course, producing steel requires a lot of energy, but the benefits you get from modern steels over the full life-cycle more than outweigh this initial investment in energy. Not only does the use of steel bring advantages during its service life, steel as a material is fully recyclable at end-of-life as well. Through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) we are able to fully understand the impacts and benefits across the life cycle. The results from our LCA studies are then used to support the technical case for steel as part of our supply chain communications” says Griffin.
Using GaBi Software and life cycle assessment methodology, Tata Steel’s sustainability team can build product models covering environmental impacts such as energy use, carbon emissions, water consumption and material usage.
- LCA studies help Tata Steel understand how steel performs compared to other materials such as aluminium, concrete, timber and carbon fibre by demonstrating its environmental attributes.
- Tata Steel uses LCA studies as a marketing tool to support its supply chains. Tata Steel’s sustainability team provides technical support and information to the sales and marketing teams within Tata Steel to support customers with data regarding the sustainability of steel.
- LCA studies support the decision making in product development. The information derived from LCA modeling using GaBi drives both Tata Steel’s own new product development, as well as supporting that of its customers.
- LCA helps in identifying hot spots in the value chain so that efforts to reduce a product’s carbon footprint, water footprint and energy use can be directed to where they will have most effect.
Business Case: Product differentiation and EPDs
Triggered by the dramatic increase in the demand for environmental information about its products, the sustainability team at Tata Steel employed a simplified LCA tool for nonspecialists from GaBi to build an interactive template (i-report). The tool produces results in a pre-set Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) format for the construction sector.
Griffin explains: “We provide the i-report to our business unit colleagues who are not LCA practitioners. Then, they use it to generate EPDs for their customers. Our cladding i-report model for example, has been used to generate over 200 EPDs and this has cemented good relations with our supply chain partners. Our value chain partners get an EPD issued to them for their systems and they then use it when they are selling to their clients,” said Griffin. “So, it is a win/win situation and we have an excellent marketing tool because we are differentiating our product in a competitive market.”
Business Case: Sustainable product development
Tata Steel also uses LCA to assist in developing new products. For example, in the construction sector, steel cladding is painted under highly controlled conditions, which eliminate the risk from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the paint. However, analysing the LCA results Tata Steel found that VOCs can be released into the atmosphere during the use phase, if the cladding needs to be repainted once it is in place. The LCA study supported Tata Steel’s development of Colorcoat® pre-finished steel products which are maintenance free for up to 40 years, significantly reducing environmental impacts in the use phase. The LCA study also helped support the development of water based paints for maintenance repainting additionally reducing VOC emissions.
Business Case: Comparing green building designs
The British Constructional Steelwork Association, with the support of Tata Steel, has set up a free online resource to help people in the construction sector learn how to meet the government targets; such as reducing operational carbon emissions in new buildings to zero through the use of real world examples.
The project, called Target Zero, chose five major building types – schools, warehouses, offices, supermarkets and mixed use – and produced reliable, fully-costed solutions demonstrating how to achieve steel intensive, low and zero carbon buildings with the three highest BREEAM ratings.
The LCA experts at Tata Steel have developed the Construction Life Cycle Environmental Assessment Resource (CLEAR) model using GaBi. Simply put, CLEAR allows a standard bill of materials for different building designs to be entered into the model and calculates the full life cycle environmental impacts of the different designs on a complete building, material type or component basis. The model reflects the complex reality and relies heavily on the quality of data behind the GaBi software. The project has won plaudits within Tata Steel and made it to the final of Innovista, the wider Tata Group’s annual innovation awards.
“We have built models to look at multi-material impacts of buildings and used it in marketing and communications in the Target Zero project totell people where steel’s strengths lie. We are also demonstrating that buildings of the future can be built using steel. It also helps to get the message across about the benefits of steel recycling: one of the key benefits that is often overlooked in construction LCA studies,” comments Griffin.