Europe Reports

Measuring Sustainability

August 15, 2011

Cepe is tasked with providing consistent data covering the economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainability.

Paint producers and their raw material suppliers in Europe are giving a new impetus to the drive to making sustainability a central objective of the whole coatings market across the region.

The sector is seeking to draw up common standards for the supply of data for life cycle analyses (LCAs) on coatings products and their ingredients.

The European coatings manufacturers trade association (CEPE) is over the next year finalizing details of a Sustainability Charter and harmonization of the data used to measure the sustainability of paints and their raw materials.

The move comes as sustainability is emerging as an increasingly competitive issue within the European market throughout the supply chain from the extraction and processing of raw materials, the manufacture of the coatings themselves, their use and disposal.

AkzoNobel, the region’s market leader in decorative paints, has been highlighting the sustainability of paint production by announcing plans for the building in the UK of its first megaplant for coatings in Europe.

The company is aiming to source a significant part of its energy needs for the plant from renewable resources, such as wind power. At the same time its objective will be to achieve a 60 percent reduction in energy consumption compared with a conventional production facility.

However at the moment paint companies and raw material suppliers are tending to apply different data when calculating sustainability measurements, particularly in areas like carbon footprints.
Cepe is attempting to deal with this lack of uniformity by setting up a task force to provide basic consistent data covering the economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainability.

The task force includes not only representatives from the leading coatings companies in Europe but also some major raw materials producers.

The main objective of the working group is to sort out the complexities of gathering data for life cycle analysis and the life cycle inventories (LCIs), which form the foundation for working out mathematical models for making LCAs.

“We want to ensure that apples are being compared with apples,” said Tony Mash, chief executive of the British Coatings Federation (BCF) and head of the working group.

“Some data is inconsistent because it comes from different sources,” he said. “Some data on raw materials is not appropriate for the coatings sector and needs to be made more specific. There are also many gaps in data in some parts of the coatings supply chain, which have been filled by people making different estimates.

“We will be working closely with raw material trade associations which have already been putting a lot of effort into collection of data,” Mash said. “We don’t want to duplicate what they’ve been doing but to make sure the data is consistent with the way the coatings industry does things.”

The Cepe task force’s first job, which it hopes to complete next year, is to create cradle-to-gave databases for LCIs. These will cover raw materials extraction and production through to the exit gate of the coatings manufacturing plants, so they include indicators of paint making processes, like energy consumption, water conservation and internal recycling loops.

There are uncertainties about how the task force will deal with the gate-to-grave part of the life cycle because of the huge variety of coatings uses and difference in application methods.

“In due course we will be doing some work on this area, possibly by drawing up some scenarios which will provide general examples of gate-to-grave activities,” said Mash.

With raw materials accounting for 60 to 80 percent of the energy content and ultimately the carbon footprint of paints, the working group will be relying a lot on the input of experts from companies making binders, pigments, solvents and other ingredients.

Some of these producers of raw materials, such as Dow Chemical, which is represented on the task force, have been developing LCIs and LCAs for over 15 years.

“We’ve been generating LCI data since the 1990s, some of which we’ve passed on to our customers,” said Houshang Kheradmand, European technology awareness and innovation manager at Dow Coatings Materials, which recently acquired the coatings ingredients business of Rohm and Haas.

“We believe that we’ve one of the biggest existing databases for LCIs on coatings materials,” he said. “Coatings LCIs in themselves are the big part of LCAs.”

The Cepe working group wants to avoid influencing the types of LCAs carried out by coatings companies and their raw material suppliers. Some life cycle analysis, for example, are used to forecast future medium-term and long-term demand for particular products while others concentrate on the historical data on the environmental and health impact of coatings and their raw materials.

“Our aim is to provide consistent data for the calculation of LCAs, whatever type of analysis companies might apply,” said Mash. “We want to be confident that the various software packages which will be available to coating producers for LCA work and will be based on a platform of solid and reliable data.”

Gaining agreement within the working group on standardized data in some areas may be difficult. With biomaterials, for example, compromises may have to be found between different approaches to questions like land use, biodiversity and conservation of natural resources.

When measuring carbon footprints of biomaterials one issue will be how much the ability of plants to absorb CO2 should be taken into account.

“We include CO2 absorption in our own calculations for the carbon footprints of biomaterials in our coatings products,” said Jan Besamusca, innovation director at DSM Resins. “We want our customers to be using the same CO2 data when making their own carbon footprint calculations so we are hoping that the Cepe working group will adopt our approach.”

Establishing data uniformity on sources of energy consumption and their links to CO2 emission levels will be one of the working group’s biggest challenges. Europe obtains its electricity from gas, coal, hydropower, nuclear power and from renewable resources such as wind turbines and solar energy. 

Does the working group opt for averages or specific figures from each power source?  Resolving issues like these will do a lot to raise the credibility of LCAs in the coatings sector in Europe.

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