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Sustainable Design Manufacturer’s Information (Q+A) G#20468

Sustainable Design Manufacturer’s Information Q+A

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Sustainable Design Manufacturer’s Information Q+A

Q&A Sustainable Design & Manufacturer’s Information

Matt Thompson Interview of Brian Murphy

I’m a freelance journalist/writer and would like to interview you for a 700-word piece exploring what architects/specifiers interested in producing sustainable design need from building product manufacturers.

It will be published in the RIBA Journal’s Marchitect publication.

The purpose of the piece is to investigate how concerns about sustainability are affecting architects’ decisions when it comes to specifying products. 

What is driving change in the field of sustainable design?

  • College Knowledge is not longer good enough especially 10, 20, 30, 40 year old knowledge
    • Reeducation to meet the needs of the sustainability revolution is essential
  • EU Directives have had a big role to play in last 20 years,
    • Last century there was very little legislation affecting sustainability
    • See: GBE CPD Green is the Colour, GBE Green Chronology,
  • Energy demand reduction and renewable energy generation tends to be the first and only issue considered when environmental or sustainable construction is discussed
    • Fabric First is on the agenda of most constructors/developers: insulating first and eco-bling last
    • Low Carbon materials are beginning to get a look in
    • Healthy materials and occupant wellbeing are getting a look in
    • Expectation of lower impacts is not always backed by additional money to buy good or best practice
  • Overheating is affecting 20% of housing stock and thermal discomfort affects many other building types
  • Incompetent Retrofit in Energy Company Obligation (ECO) caused by disjointed funding, inspection and payment mechanisms; keeping costs to a minimum, avoiding design, incompetent management, ignoring risks, focused on cutting time available for tradesmen to care and cutting costs of materials and ignoring potential future failures.
  • Building Information Modelling (BIM) is seen as some kind of savior for the industry
    • CAD BIModel Library’s high expectations/demands make high cost entry into the world of BIM
    • Low cost BInformationM gathering is not yet seen as more beneficial
      • Limited datasets dictated by BIM Product Data Templates and Sheets will limit intelligent use of Environmental data application
    • BIM will potentially see an improvement in use of artificial intelligence in software, avoiding errors on site leading to less waste due to errors
    • BIM is reliant upon intelligent application of parametric design and object properties and intelligent environmental application by designers whom remain reliant upon college knowledge.
  • Evidence Based Design is being expected more and more
    • The Performance Gap has shown we persistently fail to meet the performance of the Regulations that apply to projects
    • Data collection is becoming essential to prove designs are delivering
    • Data collection is becoming lower cost to install, but needs intelligence to analyse
    • Meaningful analysis of big open data becomes more important

How do we expect this to develop in the future?

  • Post-Brexit
    • Despite previous promises, Brexit will be an excuse to reduce the influence of EU Environmental Directives on UK Environmental Legislation
    • Initially we may write current EU requirements into UK regulation but as time progresses we are less likely to continue to mirror EU
    • Wanting to sell goods and services to EU countries means UK will continue to follow EU rules but no longer influence their development
    • We can expect the environmental gains over the past 20 years to be gradually eroded
  • CE Mark
    • A UK replacement for CE mark has already been announced in February 2019
    • increasing costs for those UK manufacturers who sell to UK and export to EU, they will need to maintain both sets of paperwork
  • Housing Crisis
    • Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and Innovative Methods of Construction (IMC) will be boosted by off-site prefabrication, to unblock the housing market,
    • Demanding more cheap and thin construction, leading to more overheating failures.
  • Post Grenfell
    • Extensive uncontrollable fires in plastic insulated industrial sheds/warehouses did not raise alarm bells for all applications; the regulations changed for sheds but not tall buildings
    • Grenfell should now make an immediate change to halt the use of plastic insulation in facades as well as combustible composite metal in the cladding
    • Incompetent intumescent cavity fire and smoke barriers will be outlawed
    • Better regulated testing and less table top assessments will help to avoid the by-passing of the rules
    • Installer competency schemes for passive and active fire installations will need to be implemented by Building Regulations or Approved Documents
    • Knee-jerk reactions will follow: Combustible materials may no longer allowed to be used to construct external walls or superstructures
    • All timber frame constructions are at risk of being banned (LTF, SIPS, ISPS, CLTP are all at risk)
    • One major house builder is avoiding CLTP until further guidance is available (March 2019)
    • Dense wood fibre and recycled cellulose flake and all bio-based materials may get lumped in and banned, so solving overheating will become an increasingly difficult problem with fewer solutions.
    • High rise may become a thing of the past?
  • Retrofit
    • 27 m properties to be insulated to reduce carbon demand by >80% by 2050 means the industry needs to learn more about retrofit and learn less about new-build
    • PAS 2030:2019 replacement for installation and PAS 2035:2019 (imminent publications) for design will ‘regulate the sector’
    • Risk based approach will require corresponding levels of competency
      • Retrofit Coordinators will bring competent design to retrofit
      • Conservation Architects will protect historic building fabric
    • Breathing construction and hygroscopicity will be essential properties to understand and work with historic buildings
    • Decrement delay and thermal mass will be essential properties to understand and work with lightweight construction, off-site, MMC and IMC
  • Life Cycle assessment (LCA) and Environmental Product Declaration (EPD)
    • BREEAM and EU increasingly dictates the use of LCA and EPD as the only route to greenness-claims
    • LCA and EPD are extremely expensive to carryout and preclude innovative Micro SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises) from the market
    • LCA and EDP increasingly provide more complex outputs tables with infinitively small impact results that they have become unusable for comparison of materials, products and their properties
    • When many we have a full complement of materials, products, systems and applications with their corresponding EPDs will we be able to engage robustly and fairly on a level playing field with EPD.
    • When whole building calculators are capable of robustly interrogating EPD we could finally say EPD have a legitimate role in the environmental agenda.
    • EPD (public declarations of LCA) may no longer be required to be in the public domain (if violets manufacturers in a quest not to be judged for greenness, get their way)
    • Product Environmental Profiling (PEF) and Organisation Environmental Profiling (OEF) potentially phase out LCA and EPD, but the stakeholders have ensured they are as ineffective as LCA and EPD
  • Circular Economy (CE):
    • CE will creep over the industry as more and more materials become scarce and expensive and cost of landfill disposal will become increasingly prohibitive.
    • Reclaiming, remanufacturing, reusing, and recycling will have an increasing role to play on all projects
    • In order to feed a circular economy design for better assembly and disassembly are essential and modular design to minimize offcut waste is essential in first and subsequent lives of building materials
    • Product Passports will become an essential part of the new build and construction reclaim sectors and BIM could have a beneficial role to play in retaining and delivering such information
  • Oceans of Plastics
    • Public perception of excessive use of plastics in packaging may begin to influence choice of plastics in building and services and their protection in their delivery to site and collection from site for a second life.
    • Just seen a video of plastic insulation board being sawn with a carpenter’s saw generating thousands of plastic particles with every sweep of the blade, the manufacturer had not considered it nor had a solution for it.  Another good reason to avoid plastic insulation in an uncoordinated design – that means most buildings. (FutureBuild 2019)
    • One of the videos shown was the hovering up of all stray plastic particles at every stage of the supply chain.(ASBP Healthy Building Expo 2019)

From your experience, what do manufacturers/suppliers of ‘green’ products get right and wrong?


  • Importing of well understood methods and materials with well-developed properties. E.g.
    • Hygroscopicity protecting plant-based thermal insulation subject to risk of interstitial condensation, and risk of diminished performance; by including in breathing construction allows moisture to be absorbed and to dry out when conditions permit
    • Decrement Delay to protect lightweight buildings from overheating due to radiant solar heat entering opaque fabric roofs and walls
    • Carbon sequestration converts carbon-dioxide, water and minerals absorbed from the ground into cellulose making timber and releases oxygen to the atmosphere.
    • Buildings become carbon stores and circular economy enables then to have second and subsequent lives without ever releasing the stored carbon


  • Fail to match the levels of information delivered by the conventional industry to the design professions
    • Companies with small market shares cannot afford to deliver this level of information
  • Fail to provide:
    • The whole evidence based dataset for Building Control Officers to be able to engage robustly.
    • Build ability Information, details of fixings and fastening solutions
    • Specifications
    • Method Statements
    • Product Data Sheets
  • Most specifiers will not spend more money on being green for green’s sake
  • Manufacturers/Suppliers must refrain from promoting the green properties without emphasizing the improved performance of these versatile materials and methods of construction
  • Decrement Delay was taught in the 1970’s but no products were available in the market that could exploit it and all knowledge was lost.
  • They must play a role in developing our professions understanding of these special properties through CPD; and provide the equations, datasets and calculators to enable robust engagement.

Is the distinction between ‘green’ and other products valid?

  • Green might mean (amongst many others)
    • Low Carbon (Including Bio-based)
    • Bio-based (plant and tree based or animal based) or
    • Primitive (See UKGBC Primitive materials webinar)
    • Healthy
    • Water Saving
    • Energy Saving
  • Green means different thinks to all designers, when describing their latest scheme to the architectural press, searching for green claims to make, usually few and far between and often philosophical rather than real.
  • Green is a bit too open to interpretation and in today’s BREEAM and EU regimes nothing is Green unless it has an LCA or EPD,
    • but these methods focus on negative impacts, ignoring positive characteristics of products in applications.
  • Sustainability is the ‘bandwagon jargon’ that is regularly not defined nor understood but used extensively at every opportunity in annual reposts.
  • The current doctrine of Profits before People before Planet is driven by Fiduciary rules (an obligation to make a profit for shareholders) often at the expense of social and environmental responsibility.
  • GBE uses HERACEY™ as its definition of Sustainability: Healthy, Environmental, Resourceful, Appropriate, Competent, Effective, Yardstick.
  • If products meet as many of these broad criteria or many of their sub issues as possible they will probably achieve ‘sustainable’ without resorting to proving greenness by LCA or EPD.
  • Screening products against many criteria helps to avoid the need for LCA and EPD.
  • GBE currently uses 400 criteria to screen products.

How could manufacturers/suppliers make architects’ professional lives easier?

  • Provide equivalency data to allow comparison with conventional construction
  • Provide the whole evidence based dataset for Building Control Officers to be able to engage robustly.
  • Provide Robust (not brief) Specifications explaining all properties, to defend against substitution and ensuring they can be installed competently from the specification without resorting to literature, recommendations, requirements or representative visits
  • Provide Product Data Sheets (BInformationM in preference to BIModels)
  • Provide Product Passports (Reusability Specification information)
  • Provide Build-ability Information, details of fixings and fastening solutions
  • Provide Method Statements
  • Promote their products to Green Databases and websites, not just to BIM libraries
    • SAP Appendix Q (or what has replaced it)
    • Micro-generation Certification Scheme (MCS),
    • Energy Technology List (ETL),
    • Water Technology List (WTL), etc.
  • Keep up to date with CE marking in the UK

Questions by: Matt Thompson Communications
Think. Aim. Write.
Client feedback for architects.

Answers by: Brian Murphy ONC, HNC Construction, BSc Dip Arch Hons + Distinction

© GBE NGS ASWS BrianMurphy aka BrianSpecMan
18th February 2019 – 27th March 2019

Sustainable Design Manufacturer’s Information Q+A
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