July 15. 2024. 8:07

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The Hidden Key to Sustainable Buildings

Rebuilding the EU for citizens was headline news this month, as European Parliament elections took place ahead of the appointment of new European commissioners. But a quietly overlooked proposal, known as the Construction Products Regulation (CPR), is set to bring home the benefits of the EU and its single market, for businesses and for voters.

The draft CPR is a difficult read, perhaps one of the most technical files recently discussed in the European Parliament. It will however be a key piece of legislation to “modernise the single market,” as former Italian Prime minister Enrico Letta showed in a report last year.

Once implemented, the CPR will increase the accountability of manufacturers, simplifying compliance, ensuring that businesses comply with safety standards while reducing administrative costs.

The CPR matters. For the economy, for sustainability, for competitiveness and for the single market.

The construction industry contributes 10.09 % to EU GDP and employs about 25 million people across 27 countries. But companies across the sector struggle to benefit from Europe’s single market, with no level-playing field for sustainable construction products.

The CPR marks a promising shift towards transparency for building materials. It will contribute to safer, healthier and more sustainable homes, offices, and schools – the places where we spend 90% of our time.

Legislation in force today still too much allows the development of a highly fragmented market for construction products, with different rules, test methods and declarations in place across Europe. The development of new harmonised technical standards for construction products was put on hold for several years linked to the James-Elliot decision on European standards.

James-Elliot was a 2016 ruling, in which the European Court of Justice found that harmonised standards had the same binding effect as law. This meant that standards could be legally challenged, making private companies wary of accepting new harmonised standards under the old legal basis.

The revised CPR breaks this gridlock and harmonises rules for the marketing of construction products in the EU. It will restart the standardisation process for harmonised construction products.

As representatives of the EU insulation industry, Eurima’s showed that over the crucial years 2024 to 2029 the EU needs to focus on establishing these sound, harmonised methodologies for construction products.

National governments and local authorities will retain authority over which specific performances construction products have to comply with for building applications, for instance fire safety performance. But the CPR will establish a much needed “common technical language” for transparency in the European construction products market.

A Clean Future

The new CPR will bring Europe closer to the objectives of the Green Deal. It sets the EU on a road to a competitive, net-zero “GreenDustrial” Deal, for industry and for citizens.

Buildings are responsible for more than a third of total greenhouse gas emissions across the EU, as well as using about 40% of energy. At the same time, efficient building technologies such as thermal insulation bring huge emissions savings across a building’s lifetime.

Altogether, about half of all materials consumed across the bloc are used to manufacture construction products. Insulation product manufacturers can be proud of their history of transparency around environmental performance. For years, the insulation industry has voluntarily used Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs): third party verified declarations based on product life cycle assessments.

The CPR will make a big difference here. The methodology and indicators currently used voluntarily for EPDs will become mandatory for all construction products.

They will feed into performance declarations covered by the CE mark, showing that products sold in Europe have been assessed to meet high safety, health, and environmental protection requirements. Companies will be liable for the accuracy of the information they provide.

Under the CPR, harmonised rules for declaring product performances will also lead to cost savings. This, in turn, will boost the competitiveness of European industry, again showing the benefits of the single market. Such harmonisation will create a level playing field as consumers will have an objective way of comparing performances and environmental characteristics between products.

In addition, a Digital Transition for construction can be driven by the digital product passport introduced by the CPR. This would provide all important product information as well as technical documentation for regulators via a QR code, making it easier for the entire construction chain to access the data needed for better buildings.

Underpinning CPR implementation will be several delegated and implementing acts as well as a standardisation request developed under the so called CPR acquis process. Industry is already proactively contributing to this process.

Eurima’s decarbonisation roadmap showed how to drive the construction sector and the EU building stock towards net zero. Political agreement on the CPR dossier was reached in December last year, followed by formal approval from the European Parliament on 10 April 2024.

This means that one of the first tasks facing EU governments after the summer recess will be to give their own final support to the CPR. This rubberstamping of an already ratified compromise is expected to take place in autumn. Now legislation needs to be adopted and Member States need to support implementation of the CPR.

The revised CPR will bring tangible improvements to the building sector, promoting green practices within the industry.

Far away from the election headlines, there is good news for Europeans hoping to build a sustainable future.

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