On 28 January, the Institut Bauen und Umwelt e.V. (IBU) held its third communications workshop for members. The focus of the event, which this year took place in Cologne in cooperation with the Angela Neumann PR Agency, was the topic of communications regarding EPDs. Among other events, the IBU Communications Manual was presented for the first time.
Around 30 representatives of various IBU member companies participated in the workshop, entitled ‘Successfully Communicating EPDs in Marketing, PR and Sales’. Along with reports on national and international IBU activities, along with the association’s public relations work, the workshop revolved around the question of how members can better publicise the advantages and importance of their EPDs for sustainable building. ‘Every member company and every member association should use EPDs to raise awareness of their activities’, according to communications expert Angela Neumann. ‘You are taking a stand for sustainability in the company and promoting sustainable building. This applies to both internal and external communications’. To illustrate, two practical examples were shared. Raban Siebers, expert for sustainability and building operations at the bauforumstahl e.V. reported on possible uses, experience with, and advantages of association EPDs. During the creation of one of these, data from 19 European steel plants was compiled into one EPD. The EPD therefore contained representative values for all of the steel manufacturers represented by bauforumstahl. ‘Often, steel traders are simply unable to keep track of which manufacturing facility the steel comes from. Therefore, we decided to create an EPD that would be valid for all factories in our association’, explained Siebers. It also became apparent that the values that were determined were clearly under the average values used in the life cycle assessments. According to Siebers, if the purpose of their use is clear, EPDs are suitable for a fair and objective comparison of products, and even alternative building methods: ‘For instance, a product may be less expensive to buy overseas. But through transport alone, you ultimately also pay the price with a poorer life cycle assessment’.
Laura Cremer, Sustainability Manager at the floor covering manufacturer, Interface, reported on the use of EPDs in company communication: ‘Sustainability is not a beauty contest, where you dress up with as many labels as possible. EPDs help customers to not only look at the price, but also to pay attention to the ecological aspects of their decisions. The verification, or the renunciation, of an evaluation represents a special strength of EPDs. ‘In this way, EPDs offer comparability and the possibility of making statements about the environmental effects of a product, using quantitative data. Substantiated information about a product can support the credibility of the communication, because, especially within the Business-to-Business sector, rational decisions are still primarily based on the numbers. ‘Therefore, we have also compiled environmental data sheets that summarise the most relevant information for our products – among other things, data from the EPDs as well. We want to embed the sustainability mentality throughout the entire company, which is why every employee is trained in the topic’, explained Cremer.
At the end of the workshop, the new communications manual was introduced, which contains a variety of background information and expert statements, and which members are expected to support with their own communications work. ‘Sustainable building and the use of EPDs are complex topics. Instructing and communicating about them is a real challenge. I gathered a lot of suggestions at this workshop as to how we can use EPDs in our communications, and the IBU communications manual will be a big help to me’, said Heleen Blindenbah, QHSE Manager at Novoferm, summarising her impressions. Anita Kietzmann, Coordinator of Public Relations at the IBU, was also very satisfied with the event: ‘The intense dialogue with our members is exactly what brings us forward’.
With approximately 180 member companies and associations from 17 countries, and over 1,000 published declarations, the IBU is Europe’s foremost EPD program operator. EPDs (environmental product declarations, German: Umwelt-Produktdeklarationen) are based on the international standards ISO 14025 and EN 15804, and are suitable for all building-related products and services. They describe potential environmental effects neutrally and transparently, without evaluating them. The information they contain is based on a life cycle assessment and must be verified by independent third parties. EPDs therefore form an important basis for the evaluation of the sustainability of buildings on an environmental level.
Caption: Contributor Laura Cremer reports on her experience with environmental product declarations at the Business Communications division at Interface.