Architectural Record BE - Building Enclosure

Innovation and Industry: Ceramic’s Sustainable Story

Innovations in the ceramic tile industry have developed a product truly sustainable in every sense of the word: cost effective, durable, and healthy for buildings and occupants
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Sponsored by Tile of Spain
By Celeste Allen Novak

The Path to EPDS

PCRs for ceramics provide guidance on the three-legged stool attributes of ceramic tile: environmental, social, and economic. PCRs are registered by sector, and there are numerous designations by country or region of the world.

As an example, the preparation of the LCA for ceramic tiles made it possible for the Spanish ceramic tile sector to be a pioneer in obtaining the first EPDs. An EPD is an international ecolabeling system for products or services enabling the certification of the environmental impact throughout the life cycle of the products and their economic-efficient manufacturing process. The LCA for ceramic tiles at the sectorial level allowed for the comparison of individual attributes and parameters by each manufacturer. A computer tool developed by members of the ceramic tile industry that included a research group from UNESCO Lifecycle and Climate Change resulted in the ability of this sector to identify the trends in the main environmental indicators and facilitate greater environmental sensitivity internationally.

In order to register a formal EPD for a product with an ecolabel, a manufacturer completes an LCA assessment using the PCR. Then the manufacturer creates a verifiable EPD using the PCRs. This EPD is registered with The International EPD, a global program for type III environmental declarations in accordance with ISO 14025 and EN 15804 (“EN” or “ENs” refer to “European Standard.” These are documents that have been ratified by one of the three European organizations recognized as competent for technical standards.).

There are two types of EPDs: multi-attribute and single attribute. An example of a single-issue EPD is a climate declaration. These describe the emissions of greenhouse gases or carbon footprint for a product’s life cycle. A multi-attribute EPD compares the product against industry standards and demonstrates impact reduction below industry averages in multiple environmental aspects.

LEEDv4 and Other Rating Systems

The requirements for the LEEDv4 credit Building product disclosure and optimization – environmental product declarations, Option 2. Multi-attribute optimization has stringent requirements.9 This LEEDv4 credit requires third-party certification for product declarations. Products must demonstrate impact reduction below industry average in at least three of the following categories and only then are valued at 100 percent of their cost for credit achievement calculations.

  • Global warming potential (greenhouse gases), in CO2e;
  • Depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, in kg CFC-11;
  • Acidification of land and water sources, in moles H+ or kg SO2;
  • Eutrophication, in kg nitrogen or kg phosphate;
  • Formation of tropospheric ozone, in kg NOx, kg O3 eq, or kg ethene; and
  • Depletion of nonrenewable energy resources, in MJ.

Other green building rating systems or certifications that include credits for LCA or allow points for sustainable initiatives include the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), Passive Haus buildings, The Living Building Challenge and BREEAM.

Photo of the Gandia Kid University in Gandia, Valencia.

Photo courtesy of Tile of Spain

The Gandia Kid University in Gandia, Valencia, was designed by architects Ángela García de Paredes. Ignacio G. Pedrosa was awarded the 2012 Gold Medal International Prize for Sustainable Architecture.

Photo of the shade trees reflected in the white ceramic facade.

Photo courtesy of Tile of Spain

Shade trees are reflected in the white ceramic facade. Ceramic tiles and ceramic facade cladding contributed to the environmental story of this sustainable project.

Value Comparisons

The value engineering that takes place during the construction document phase is a subtle frustration for design professionals. The amortization of a product’s cost over time can often be thought of as a different calculation than that of environmental sustainability. The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) commissioned an independent construction cost consulting firm, Scharf-Godfrey (a division of Phoenix Engineering Inc.), to conduct a life-cycle cost study of building surfaces in 2006. This study compared the economics and life-cycle values of various types of ceramic tile. Porcelain, mosaic, and quarry tile were compared to 12 other floor finishes, such as hardwood, laminate, concrete, stone, carpet, terrazzo, vinyl, and poured epoxy.

Adjusted for present values over a future payback period, the study reviewed a limited life-cycle cost analysis that included labor, materials, normal contractor’s overhead and profit, plus periodic maintenance costs to preserve and maintain the appearance of the product. It also considered the final costs to remove the floor covering at the end of its useful life, assuming that the material would be landfilled.

The study showed that ceramic tile costs less per year than all other floor finishes over the life of a building. Carpet and vinyl are shown to be significantly more expensive due to their shorter expected life.10 In addition, the cost per square foot per year is less for all tile products than that of other materials. The resulting data shown in Table 1 demonstrates the economic value of selecting ceramic tile over other surfaces.

Table 1: Floor Coverings Comparisons.

Image courtesy of The Tile Council of North America (TCNA)

Table 1: Floor Coverings Comparisons


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Originally published in Architectural Record