EPD Australasia

Profile: Stephen Hicks

Stephen Hicks, General Manager Structural Systems at HERA and board member at EPD Australasia

The most recent addition to the EPD Australasia board, Stephen Hicks brings over 20 years of research and development experience in the steel construction industry. Currently General Manager Structural Systems at HERA, the New Zealand industry body that delivers technical advice to the metals industry, Stephen has a particular expertise in the development of national and international standards for structural steel design.

Stephen chaired the Sustainable Steel Council (SSC) between 2009 and 2015. It was during his tenure that the SSC, along with BRANZ, provided the seed funding for the establishment of EPD Australasia in 2014. While Stephen was at the helm, the SSC also worked closely with NZGBC to revise the Greenstar credit for steel, and recognised EPDs in the Innovation Challenge Greenstar Credit.

We spoke to Stephen about EPDs and LCA, both now and his vision for the future.

As General Manager of Structural Systems at HERA, how do you currently use EPDs?

Do you expect that to change in the future? In my previous role as Chair of the Sustainable Steel Council (SSC), we worked closely with NZGBC between 2011 and 2015 to revise their greenstar credit for steel (MAT-8) to place less emphasis on recycled content. Moreover, we strongly encouraged NZGBC to recognize EPDs, which was subsequently included within Innovation challenge greenstar credit.

The three major domestic steelmakers that formed part of the SSC membership were strongly committed to develop EPDs (Liberty Steel, Pacific Steel and New Zealand Steel), which were seen as providing international acknowledgement and compatibility in order to level the playing field and facilitate access to export markets more effectively. It is therefore particularly satisfying that, following the publication of the New Zealand Steel EPD last year, all three domestic steelmakers have now made good on their earlier commitment.

Given that a number of manufacturers subsequently process, form and fabricate products from these materials, it is expected that EPDs will also be developed for these downstream products in the future.

You have worked in both Europe and the Asia Pacific.  What differences have you observed when it comes to sustainability, LCA and EPDs?

In Europe, the Construction Products Regulation (CPR) harmonizes performance information on construction products across the EU. The CPR provides Basic Works Requirements (BWR), which list the characteristics that must be addressed by the construction product. For BWR1, BWR2 and BWR4 which relates to mechanical resistance, fire safety and safety in use, the European design standards (known as ‘Eurocodes’) address these requirements. In my previous role at the Steel Construction Institute I was the UK representative on TC250 Sub-committee 4, which is responsible for the European composite steel and concrete design standard for buildings and bridges, Eurocode 4.

The CPR also considers hygiene, health and the environment together with sustainable use of natural resources, which covered by BWR3 and BWR7. Although the CPR does not specify how to prove the compliance with these BWRs, the EU has encouraged the use of EPDs through its statement “For the assessment of the sustainable use of resources and of the impact of construction works on the environment Environmental Product Declarations should be used when available”. As far back as 2011 the major European steelmakers produced an industry average EPD covering both Blast Furnace with Basic Oxygen Furnace (BF + BOF) together with Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) production. However, many European steelmakers have moved away from this and now have their own EPDs that are specific to their processes, which are seen to provide an advantage over their competitors.

What role do you see the EPD Australasia playing in enhancing sustainability in the Australasian region?

In 2016, the World Economic Forum (WEF) emphasised the importance of life cycle analysis in its Industry Transformation Agenda “Shaping the future of construction”. Two out of the total 30 actions within the framework proposed life-cycle analysis as being important.

The Australian EPD Programme is well placed to provide robust third-party verified EPDs that provide transparent and comparable data about the life-cycle environmental impact of products. Given that it is part of the broader International EPD System, this provides export opportunities to manufacturers within the region.

What do you predict will be the future of LCA and EPDs in this region?

The recent publication of the 50th Australasian EPD shows strong demand in the region. Whilst rating tools have encouraged the development of EPDs to date, it is hoped that the regulators will have a bigger part to play in their uptake in the future.

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