Built Environment Summit Open Call – ASBP Evidence

ASBP has submitted evidence to RIBA and Architects Declare for their open call for evidence and research around six key themes on climate action. Submissions will be selected for a report, culminating in its discussion at a Built Environment Summit, which will be held virtually and in London the week before COP26.

Find out more about the call and six themes here – https://www.architecture.com/knowledge-and-resources/knowledge-landing-page/built-environment-summit-open-call.

ASBP Submission

Submission title: Sustainable building products for a healthy low carbon built environment

Authors/credits: ASBP Team and Board

Summary of submission: This submission reflects ASBP’s holistic approach to sustainability, albeit predominantly focussed at the building product level, and highlights important research and knowledge sharing by ASBP, plus best-practice solutions from within our cross-sector membership alliance, which we believe addresses many of the call’s six key themes on climate action.

Summary of how your submission provides evidence to support your primary theme: The submission primarily speaks to the theme of ‘The Built Environment Industry’s Capabilities’, majoring on the important role construction materials have in creating healthier, resource efficient and low carbon buildings, and particularly concerning topics such as whole life carbon, material reuse and nature-based solutions.

Description of your submission and how it supports your primary and secondary themes: The Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP) is a non-profit organisation formed in 2011 with a mission ‘to lead the transformation to a healthy low carbon built environment by championing the understanding and use of demonstrably sustainable building products’. Since 2011, we have grown to nearly 100 members of forward-thinking companies and institutions from across the built environment sector.

We take a holistic approach to sustainability through our ‘Six Pillars of Sustainable Construction’ that includes a commitment to whole life carbon minimisation, resource efficiency, health & wellbeing, ethics & transparency, technical performance and social value. These pillars provide a foundation to our work, but we recognise that they must not be addressed in isolation, with our work and activities regularly crossing over multiple themes.

Our activities include research, awareness raising, and developing guidance and training to improve understanding and aid implementation. We have in-house expertise and also work closely with our board members, who are some of the leading lights from across the sector with knowledge of life cycle analysis, whole life carbon, circular economy, timber, natural materials, and more.

We welcome the open call for evidence and research from RIBA and Architects Declare and have prepared a submission which reflects the holistic approach of ASBP and in turn addresses many of the suggested key themes on climate action, in particular themes 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6.

We have provided evidence of our related activities/outputs such as research projects, stakeholder working groups and new guidance, and would be pleased to present on these further at the Built Environment Summit. As a built environment focused membership alliance, we would also be pleased to endorse the initiative on behalf of our members.

Theme 1: The significance of the built environment

Health & wellbeing

One of the fundamental ‘pillars’ of ASBP’s approach to sustainability focusses on health and wellbeing in buildings, particularly advocating products and approaches that are healthy for both people and the planet. Indoor air quality is a key area of work, particularly at the building product-level, exploring issues such as source control, off-gassing, formaldehyde, VOCs and material toxicity.

Healthy Buildings Conference

The Healthy Buildings Conference and Expo is ASBP’s keynote event of the year, regularly attracting 200+ built environment professionals from across industry, and exploring issues such as health & wellbeing, whole life carbon and resource efficiency.

The 5th annual Healthy Buildings Conference took place in February 2021 (online due to Covid-19 restrictions) and we were delighted to be joined by Professor Cath Noakes (UoLeeds, SAGE) who discussed the complex relationship between external and internal air quality and transmission. The event also featured impassioned talks from air quality campaigner Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, and Clean Air Bill advocate Geraint Davies MP.

Previous conferences speakers of note include Sir Stephen Holgate, who led the working parties behind the vital Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution (February 2016) and The inside story: Health effects of indoor air quality on children and young people (January 2020) reports; and Anna Stec, Professor in Fire Chemistry and Toxicity at UCLan, an expert witness of the Grenfell Inquiry.


ASBP is the UK representative of the European association natureplus, whose ecolabel has been awarded to over 600 building products in Europe. Stringent certification requirements are set by an independent ‘criteria commission’ who assess the product’s life cycle, embodied carbon, pollution control, resource efficiency, and stipulate rigorous laboratory testing for VOCs and other harmful substances.

Source control test results for all natureplus certified products can be accessed on the free-to-view Baubookdatabase. There is currently no such trusted resource for source control data for construction products in the UK, and ASBP is exploring options to create a UK focussed database.

ASBP takes part in regular events with natureplus and its European partners, including the Healthy Buildings, Healthy People series in 2020. This October we will be exploring life cycle analysis and carbon sequestration during a week-long series of events.


ASBP is a partner of the UKRI funded Future Urban Ventilation Network (led by Prof. Noakes) which seeks to explore external/internal air transmission further and develop a new “Breathing City” methodology to manage exposure to air pollution.

We are also a partner of the UK Indoor Environments Group (UKIEG), a multidisciplinary network of professionals seeking to coordinate activity for indoor environment research. UKIEG secretary Dr. Marcella Ucci (Associate Professor in Environmental and Healthy Buildings, UCL IEDE) sits on the ASBP Board.

Briefing papers

The ASBP has in-house expertise on source control and air quality issues and has authored a number of technical briefing papers on topics such as formaldehyde and its effects on human health, the health & wellbeing benefits of natural fibre insulation, and airtightness, vapour control and breathability.

Members’ activity

Health and wellbeing is a key interest to our members, many who are leading the way in best practice healthy building design. Examples include renowned architect’s practice Architype who adopt a healthy product specification for all their projects, many of which are award-winning and exemplars of sustainable design. We also work with Allergy UK, who have a helpline that receives regular calls from people stating problems due to off-gassing of new paints and finishes.

There are numerous supply-chain/product manufacturer members within our alliance who provide healthy product solutions (i.e. paints, finishes, insulation) that are free of harmful chemicals and have low-VOC content. Our Patron member Healthy Property Group specialise in the development of healthy homes in the south of England.

Our membership also includes IAQ monitoring equipment suppliers such as Waverton Analytics and PPM Technology, who regularly present at our Healthy Buildings Conference and events.

Key outputs for this theme (with links)

Theme 2: The Environmental Footprint of the Built Environment

As highlighted above, ASBP explores topics well beyond carbon and energy. In recent years, awareness of the negative impacts of plastic waste and pollution on our environment has heightened. At our 3rd annual Healthy Buildings Conference and Expo in 2019 we sought to explore the issues and impacts of plastic waste and pollution on our planet, and identify possible solutions and alternatives to help tackle the over-use of plastics within the construction industry.

We were delighted to be joined by Emily Penn, an oceans advocate, skipper and Cambridge University Architecture graduate, who splits her time between running eXXpedition – a series of all female voyages which focus on the relationship between plastics, toxic chemicals and female health – and working on solving the ocean plastics issue with Parley for the Oceans.

Continuing the momentum from the group, in April 2019 we launched the ASBP Reducing Plastics in Construction Group, a cross-sector membership group bringing together stakeholders from across the construction value chain to learn collaboratively and address plastics in construction issues, both in products and packaging.

The group does not seek to advocate a completely ‘plastic-free’ built environment. We recognise that plastics have useful applications within the construction industry but have become over-used. We support a reduction in the unnecessary use of plastics and encourage the development and adoption of suitable alternative materials.

Key outputs from the group include a stakeholder and activities map, an Innovation Pitch Series and an introductory guide to plastics in construction, exploring the issues, challenges, initiatives and solutions.

We have recently completed a survey of our members and wider contacts on reducing plastics in the built environment. The survey aims to gain a better understanding of plastic-based products in construction, including their sustainability, use, the reduction potential, and what activities are needed to support their reduction. The results (to be published in July 2021) will allow ASBP to focus its activities and create targeted resources to help facilitate a reduction in the over-use of plastics and stimulate uptake of lower-carbon alternatives. The survey is focused on the construction products themselves, rather than their packaging.

Examples of work in this area from within our membership include Accord Housing’s virtually plastic-free housing development as part of the CHARM Interreg project. Group members Mace have been running a successful ‘Time to Act’ campaign for a number of years, largely focussed on eliminating single-use plastics; copper tube manufacturers Lawton Tubes and Mueller Europe have launched the Copper Sustainability Partnership (CuSP) website to promote the environmental benefits of copper; and Bereco are seeking to develop a plastic-free timber window.

Environmental Product Declarations

The ASBP also actively supports the uptake of Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) which help to address the material footprint of products in a in a standardised format using a consistent methodology. We host training events and create industry guidance to generate a greater understanding of sustainable construction products and the methods of assessing sustainability.

There are now over 10,000 EPD available worldwide for construction products, including over 350 UK manufactured products which are listed on as an online briefing paper on the ASBP website. We have also created a series of briefing papers on EPD – ‘An introduction’, ‘Where to find’ and ‘How to use’, with a further paper planned on ‘How to read an EPD’.

Key outputs for this theme (with links)

PRIMARY THEME – Theme 4: The Built Environment Industry’s Capabilities

The ASBP believes that construction materials have a key part to play in enabling a successful transition to a low carbon and healthy built environment. Principally:

  1. Materials that have lower embodied carbon, or which can be used efficiently together to provide low embodied carbon solutions.
  2. Materials that sequester carbon over the building’s life and beyond.
  3. Materials that reduce operational carbon in terms of heating and cooling.
  4. Materials that can be used within a circular economy minimising the use of virgin materials and maximising the durability of both materials and products.

Embodied/whole life carbon

Good, resource efficient building design is key to the successful employment of any material. The intrinsic benefits of any material mean little without good building design, workmanship, installation or maintenance. The greatest opportunity for reducing embodied carbon is at the very start of a project, with the setting of a target/benchmark as part of project brief development and support during concept and developed design. This includes measuring embodied carbon within a whole life carbon framework throughout each stage.

A truly sustainable building can only be created by considering the building as a whole for its lifetime rather than focusing purely on individual components. Initial impacts occurring before the building’s practical completion can never be reduced after construction. Carbon released now acts in the atmosphere for the next 100 years so the sooner the carbon is reduced the greater the benefit. A focus on upfront carbon reduction (most of which is embedded in materials) is key.

ASBP board member Jane Anderson and technical associate Dr. Katherine Adams authored comprehensive embodied carbon guidance for our partner Woodknowledge Wales. The guidance is primarily written for providers of new build social housing, their consultants and contractors, but it is relevant to everyone operating in the built environment sector, including retrofit.

Natural materials

Nature-based materials can play a significant role. They often require less energy to process and lock up more than their own mass of sequestered CO2. The CCC has indicated that increasing timber frame construction in new homes from around 27,000-50,000 to 270,000 annually could triple the amount of carbon stored in UK homes to 3 Mt every year, a significant contribution to the UK’s net zero carbon target and our annual accounts if the timber arises from UK forests.

Natural materials can be extremely durable and lend themselves to re-use and recycling, ensuring their sequestered carbon remains locked up for many decades within a circular system.

The CCC believes that we cannot achieve net zero without changing the way we manage our land, including a programme of afforestation and agroforestry with the planting of 30,000 hectare of broadleaf and conifer woodland. The fertility of our land means we can grow a huge variety of crops, many products/by-products of which can be used in construction. For example, sheep’s wool, straw, wood fibre and hemp fibres are being used in insulation and composite applications in buildings and have great potential beyond their current levels of utilisation.

There are also other benefits such as the quick growth cycle of hemp, which in building block form has excellent airtightness and thermal performance. Pittau et al (2019) shows that straw used in construction could remove 3% of the CO2 emitted by the entire construction sector in Europe. There are other nature-based materials such as cork, bioplastics, cob, etc. which may also be advantageous to use.

For nearly 5 years ASBP has convened the Natural Fibre Insulation Group, a collective of ASBP members who are the leading manufacturers and suppliers of natural fibre insulation in the UK. The purpose of the group is to work collaboratively to better communicate the many benefits of natural insulation products and systems. Activities hosting CPDs/events, publishing peer-reviewed briefing papers and authoring journal/magazine articles.

One of the main campaigns of the group has been on highlighting ‘the multiple roles of insulation’, taking the emphasis away from just U-values and showcasing the multi-functionality of insulation, which can have a profound influence on the performance of our buildings, such as health & comfort, buildability and environmental impact.

Timber Accelerator Hub

Despite its many well-known advantages; in terms of carbon, waste, speed and quality of construction; mass timber faces multiple challenges that are preventing it being adopted as the primary structural material for most medium and high-rise commercial and residential developments. Unfavourable changes to regulation have combined with high costs or lack of availability of insurance. With widely held doubts and misconceptions around fire performance persisting amongst insurers, many developers are reluctantly reverting back to concrete or steel.

The Timber Accelerator Hub (TAH) was launched earlier this year by the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products, in partnership with the Laudes Foundation, to help develop solutions to the complex challenges alongside timber industry partners including Swedish Wood & Timber Development UK.

The Hub’s steering group brings together expertise from insurance, fire engineering, cost consultancy and sustainability, and couples this with timber industry knowledge. This collaborative approach is the starting point to developing initiatives to not only increase the uptake of mass timber but do this in a way that helps improve building safety and durability.

Since April 2021 we have  been building connections and developing a number of working groups in order to scope out the issue from different perspectives. We’ve been speaking to developers, brokers, insurers and architects amongst others to understand exactly what the problems are and to begin to address them.

Amongst property insurers there is clearly a need for an increase in understanding regarding the performance of mass timber structures when exposed to fire and water during their lifetimes, as well as a need to pool any existing claims data on the UK’s existing mass timber buildings. Together with Dominic Lion, a broker at AJG, we are  convening a forum to communicate the latest in fire engineering, testing and best practice to a large group of the UK’s leading property insurers, to assuage doubts, provide reassurance, and address concerns. We have a number of sessions planned which we hope will begin to turn the tide in property insurance for mass timber buildings.

Ideas abound for longer term systemic solutions; from the achievable aim of mass timber specific regulation to more imaginative solutions such as a structural timber ‘captive’ insurer (an association of large developers providing coverage for themselves to allow for greater flexibility) and even a Government backed reinsurer. We’ll be looking to other countries such as France, Austria & Canada to understand how policy instruments can support the adoption of mass timber, and we’re closely watching the development of innovative concepts such as Waugh Thistleton’s New Model Home.

Material reuse/resource efficiency

As well as natural materials, other materials can have a lower embodied carbon, such as those with high re-use capacity or levels of recycled content.

The re-use and refurbishment of buildings saves resources and provides large embodied carbon savings compared to new build. For example, at 100 Liverpool Street, British Land have more than halved upfront carbon against industry benchmarks, with the main reduction coming from retaining 50% of the existing structure.

Buildings become obsolete for many factors. Many buildings are built with commercial lifetimes of around 30-40 years (even though the structures can last over a hundred years). Other reasons could include a changing demographic and needs, the building being in the wrong location for its function or poor maintenance resulting in technical failure. When making a decision to re-use/refurbish a building or, demolish and build new, building owners should be obliged to understand what materials are in their buildings, the equivalent embodied carbon impact of them and their financial value. This information should be mandated for buildings, as part of the Golden Thread and material passports.

We also need to think about how we build our buildings for low maintenance. Studies in Denmark have shown that a house with long life components needing few or no replacements over the building lifetime, can save 30% embodied carbon; and a house which is easy to adapt and extend, and designed for disassembly, can have a 17% saving in embodied carbon .

Resource efficiency is a key focus for ASBP and we have been involved with a number of activities exploring material reuse and the circular economy. We have regularly convened a Reusable Building & Products Network and most recently a Reuse Summit in December 2020.

Cleveland Steel and Tubes Ltd have been a vital supporter of our reuse workstream for a number of years. Cleveland Steel source surplus steel tubes from the oil and gas industry and supply them for reuse in major building and infrastructure projects, including the Olympic stadium in London, the roof of Wimbledon Court No. 1, Canary Wharf and the London Eye.

On the research side in 2018 we were a partner in a Climate-KIC Pathfinder project into Re-usable Buildings, which followed the TSB/Innovate UK RE-FAB projects into design for deconstruction and developing a framework for flexible life buildings. We also were part of two Innovate UK funded projects which explored the potential for steel reuse, identifying barriers and potential solutions.

We are currently working with partners from both sides of the Channel on an exciting ERDF-funded research project called BIO-CIRC, where we have been investigating the potential reuse of a problematic waste source – polyester duvets. This project was a follow-up to SB&WRC which also explored the polyester duvets plus the reuse of construction site waste and oyster shells to create tiles.

Key outputs for this theme (with links)

Theme 5: The Industry is Committed to Change

ASBP Awards

The ASBP Awards are an ever-growing and popular awards programme that is highly regarded across the built environment sector. Our 4th annual ASBP Awards return for 2021-22 and are set to be our biggest yet, with recognition given to exemplary sustainable building projects, innovative products and forward-thinking initiatives.

Last year’s ASBP Awards took place in the heart of the Covid pandemic, as we all adapted to the ‘new normal’. This meant that we had to re-think our approach, with a focus on recognising people’s lockdown epiphanies, innovative ideas, and radical climate action, rather than building projects. Many of the ideas shortlisted were formulated during the pandemic and provided much-needed respite and inspiration during what was, and continues to be, a difficult period for many.

The 2021-22 ASBP Awards will see a return to our usual sustainable building projects and products focus, whilst once again recognising inspirational initiatives. Submissions will again be judged by members of the ASBP Board, who have expertise from across the construction industry, and assessed against the ASBP’s “Six Pillars of Sustainable Construction”.

Collaboration with academia

ASBP is well connected with academia and has worked on research projects (see primary theme 4 for more information) with a number of leading research institutions including:

  • Timber Accelerator Hub with University of Cambridge
  • SBWRC with University of Bath (Pete Walker/Dan Maskell) and University of Brighton (Duncan Baker-Brown) and is continuing this research on the BIOCIRC project.
  • Steel reuse research with University of Cambridge
  • Reducing Plastics in Construction Group with input from Imperial College London (Stephanie Wright) and University of Cambridge (Michal Drewniok)
  • Supporting and guest lecturing (Simon Corbey) at UCL’s environmental design MSc courses; in-house PhD expertise on circular economy and construction (Katherine Adams, Loughborough University) and building life cycle analysis/embodied carbon (Jane Anderson, Open University).

Key outputs for this theme (with links)

Theme 6: The industry needs governments’ support to change

Lack of UK policy

There is no national policy to encourage the use of low embodied carbon materials within the context of whole life carbon. The policy focus is on operational carbon despite embodied carbon representing more than 50-70%[1] of a new building’s lifetime emissions. As operational carbon reduces, the importance and impact of embodied carbon increases which is why a greater focus on embodied carbon is needed.

In 2019, a report to the CCC[2] showed how embodied and sequestered carbon could be considered in the new build standards framework, providing three options – 1) Government could monitor embodied carbon and lead with mandatory reporting and reduction through its own procurement, 2) that “whole life carbon intensity limits” be set in Building Regulations for relevant elements, product types and materials, or 3) a “scheduled introduction of whole building lifecycle carbon intensity targets in building regulations could be considered. The Low Carbon Route Map produced by the Green Construction Board in 2013 suggested that declarations of embodied carbon for construction products and reporting of embodied carbon for public buildings should become mandatory. However, no action towards this has been taken.

The recently published Construction Playbook recommends whole life carbon assessments that include embodied carbon are undertaken as part of government procurement, but these lack benchmarks or targets. This is also a requirement within the London Plan.

ASBP supports the work of ACAN and their Regulate Embodied Carbon campaign, which makes a number of recommendations to Government and local authorities for embodied carbon regulation, including introducing carbon limits on specific materials, a freely accessible whole life carbon buildings database, embodied carbon requirements in the Building Regulations, and a requirement for Whole Life Carbon assessments within the National Planning Policy Framework.

Consultation responses

ASBP regularly submits evidence to industry consultations. Recent examples include:

Example: EU standards for EPD

Since 2011, European standards have been provided to ensure a level of consistency in the assessment of environmental impacts for construction products and buildings. BS EN 15804:2012 covers the assessment of embodied impact at product level, incorporating a number of impacts, as well as embodied carbon used as the basis of EPD. BS EN 15804:2012+A2:2020 has recently been updated with new indicators and some additional, more transparent, reporting requirements.

There are various tools available to undertake embodied carbon assessments and life cycle assessments at both product and building level but there is no standard industry tool for the UK. In countries where there is regulation at building level (e.g. the Netherlands, France, Finland, Sweden), a national methodology is provided in line with EN 15978. In the UK, there can be variation between outputs depending on which tool is used, largely due to the different data sources and approaches that are used to underpin the tools.

Examples: Best practice international policy

As outlined in the ACAN The Carbon Footprint of Construction report, there are a number of examples of best practice international policy for embodied carbon.

  • Netherlands – Since 2013, to obtain a building permit for buildings over 100m2, a whole life-cycle carbon assessment must be submitted. Assessment is made possible by the Dutch National Environmental database.[3]
  • Finland – By 2025, whole life-cycle carbon assessments will be required with strict limits on embodied carbon emissions set by building type. The Government will establish a national database of environmental product declarations (EPD). The limits will be lowered every couple of years.[4]
  • France – In 2021, France will introduce ‘RE2020’; a regulation requiring assessment & reporting of embodied carbon emissions for all new buildings. In 2024, strict limits will be brought in and gradually reduced. By 2030, a reduction of 30-40% will be required. The regulation will reward the use of timber and other bio-based materials.[5] This new regulation follows a four-year policy trial period that started in 2016.

Key outputs for this theme (with links)

[1] See Figure 1 in RICS (2017) Whole life carbon assessment for the built environment; https://www.rics.org/globalassets/rics-website/media/news/whole-life-carbon-assessment-for-the–built-environment-november-2017.pdf

[2] https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/options-for-incorporating-embodied-and-sequestered-carbon-into-the-building-standards-framework-aecom/

[3] Bionova Ltd, (2018) “The Embodied Carbon Review. Embodied Carbon Reduction in 100+ Regulations & Rating Systems Globally”

[4] Bionova Ltd,(2017) “Roadmap for building life cycle to take into account the carbon footprint of construction

control” (Finland)

[5] Ministere de la Transition Ecologique (2021) “Reglementation Environmental RE2020; Éco-construire pour le confort de tous”

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