By Barbara Sorgato, secretary general, European Consortium of Anchor Producers (ECAP)
On 30th March 2022 the European Commission adopted two proposals: A proposal for a revised Construction Products Regulation (CPR)1 and a proposal for Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation.
As soon as both proposals were published on the website of the European Commission, it was clear that the wind of the CPR has changed direction. Not only because the proposals are linked, but because the CPR is part of the bigger context of the European Green Deal.
The European Green Deal is a set of proposals adopted by the European Commission to make the EU's climate, energy, transport and taxation policies fit for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
Further details of the European Commission’s European Green Deal include:
Once the new CPR proposal was announced 25 technicians inside ECAP’s Working Group started to analyse the text and to transpose it into possible scenarios for manufacturers of post-installed fasteners. The output of the first discussions was presented during the ECAP General Assembly in Naples, Italy, on 15th -16th June.
Sat around a U-shaped table were CEOs from construction companies across Europe, all trying to put into place a transition towards Industry 4.0. However, with the new CPR proposal, it is no longer ‘just’ about industrial smart working, digital innovation, resilient supply chains, virtualisation, etc. It is now about resources actually being finite and that we now need to abandon the ‘take-make-use-dispose’ model – even though our private life and society is still based on the use of infinite resources – and focus on a circular economy model.
To understand how a traditional industrial model like the construction sector one is supposed to change to a circular economy model, let’s have a closer look to the text of the new CPR proposal, bearing in mind that it is a first proposal, which is intended to be discussed and refined and that the final text will need almost a decade to be in place.
Looking at the scope of the proposal, we notice that it has been surprisingly enlarged. It now includes among other things:
The definitions of a construction product has changed too: A ‘construction product’ means any formed or formless physical item, including its packaging and instructions for use, (…)”; in the definitions I could also find “life-cycle”, “state of the art” and “permalink”.
The basic concept of this new CPR proposal is that much of a product's environmental impacts is determined at the design stage. So, the proposed regulation asks the manufacturers to deliver environmental information about the life-cycle of their products, which starts by designing them.
Moreover, the manufacturer will have to comply with several obligations, including:
The EU requirements on sustainability and circular economy will be put in a Declaration of Conformity, which will have to be delivered on top of a Declaration of Performance, in order to affix the CE Marking.
However, the challenge is not the duplication of documents - both documents, the Declaration of Performance and Declaration of Conformity can be joint in a single document, nor the duplication of information. It is that the Declaration of Conformity will have to prove that a product meets the EU requirements. In addition to this, the manufacturer shall draw up a technical documentation describing the intended use and all the elements necessary to demonstrate performance and conformity. This technical documentation shall include the mandatory or facultative calculation of environmental sustainability assessed in accordance with harmonised technical specifications, except in case of used, remanufactured or surplus products.
The new CPR proposal mentions the establishment of specific environmental sustainability labelling requirements including “traffic-light-labelling” and stricter controls from Notified Bodies.
Here is a succession of some environmental products requirements mentioned in the Annexes of the Regulation, which I suggest to read twice to absorb the fact that the overall approach has changed: ‘…maximising durability, minimising whole-life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, maximising recycled content, selection of safe, environmentally benign substances, energy use and energy efficiency, resource efficience, upgradability, reusability, upgradability, recyclability, capability of different materials or substances to be separated and recovered during dismantling or recycling procedures…’
Once European citizens and manufacturers have proven that the human race can adapt urgently and rapidly from the current industrial economy to a new circular economy, the second key question is: ‘How can we manage this magmatic and interconnected flow of information?’
Digitalisation should be the answer. In order to share data with crossing directives, regulations and initiatives related to the circular economy, all information and documentation may, in the future, be processed in a digital form (e.g. Digital Product Passport) and stored, shared and accessed in an information system. This shall allow data linked to the Construction Products Regulation to be stored in Building Logbooks and used for calculations required under other legislation (e.g. the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, EPBD). Digitalisation is also intended to help the industry to reduce administrative burdens and to facilitate market surveillance. The storage and management of digital data is of course another strong subject of discussion, in the European fora, which pose questions about feasibility, accessibility and confidentiality.
Finally, how is new revised CPR intending to improve the standardisation of construction products? The answer of the European Commission is that the new CPR proposal foresees the possibility for the Commission to intervene in case the standards are lacking quality or are not provided in time for the market – which is what scares not only Member States, which love to stick to their sovereignty, but also the industry, because the concept of ’quality’ and generally any intervention of the European Commission in technical matters is perceived as non-appropriate, because of lack of technical knowledge from the Commission.
And what about the actual CPR and the standardisation activities for construction products, which are currently facing a standstill as a result of legal and technical aspects linked to the mandatory character and exhaustiveness of the standards, including outdated standardisation requests? Also, what about the fact that we have to live for decades with a CPR that is not fit at all for the green deal and has very little technical content related to sustainable use of natural resources?
To deblock the system, the Commission is working with Member States, industry and other relevant parties to revise the outdated standardisation requests and the ‘acquis’. The so-called ‘Construction Products Regulation Acquis Process’2, launched mid-2020, is the forum where the harmonised standards, the European assessment documents and the legal acts of the Commission are being discussed and shaped. It is a long process, and it is done in parallel with the shaping of the new CPR. The two are intended to coexist for several years, in a long transition path, before we can see the light of the final text. In the meanwhile, our industry shall rapidly adapt its DNA, in order to survive on an earth with limited resources.
The new CPR proposal can be downloaded here: https://ec.europa.eu/docsroom/documents/49315
The EU process on the CPR review and acquis can be followed here: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/sectors/construction/construction-products-regulation-cpr/review_en
Barbara Sorgato is secretary general of ECAP - European Consortium of Anchor Producers. ECAP is a unique case in Europe of a transnational sector group of SMEs that joint their efforts in standardsation, sharing the costs of its European activity and of related high tech services.