LCA-tool to establish sustainability of synthetic turf products

The synthetic turf industry will launch an LCA-tool that will help companies to calculate their environmental performance and manufacture more environmentally friendly products. The tool is to become the official tool for the market in Europe but can also be used by stakeholders elsewhere in the world.

Industry sectors worldwide are increasingly required to adopt an eco-design and sustainable manufacturing philosophy to address environmental concerns, conserve resources and enhance economic competitiveness. However, with a range of choices of methods and initiatives available to substantiate such a claim, the European Commission (EC) adopted in 2013 the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method. This method was updated in 2021. PEF is a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)-based harmonized method to measure and communicate the life cycle environmental performance of products and services. The draft rules that will provide guidance for the calculation and reporting of environmental impacts of the entire product life cycle of synthetic turf surfaces have been published for public review. These rules have been drafted in close collaboration with the industry, LCA specialists, and international sports federations including FIFA, UEFA and FIH. The process considers every step from raw material extraction to production, use and end-of-life for the synthetic turf carpet, performance and stabilising infills and any shockpad.

The rules will apply to synthetic turf surfaces used for sports, landscaping and recreational applications. They do not, however, include the base construction, drainage or supporting infrastructure on which a synthetic turf system is installed. This is due to the very diverse methods of construction used throughout Europe, reflecting the differing climatic and geotechnical conditions that need to be considered.

The rules will focus on the most important parameters when determining the environmental performance of different products and allow for comparability between PEF calculations. Different sets of rules have been drafted for landscaping turf and synthetic turf for sports.

Covering 16 environmental impacts

The PEF covers 16 environmental impacts, including climate change, resource depletion, water pollution, and air pollution. Product specific calculation rules, like those published for synthetic turf late 2023, enable comparison of environmental performances between similar products and components. The added value of Environmental Footprint calculation to companies is that it reduces costs related to similar existing methods, while it supports the management of life cycle impacts along supply chains and the provision of information that is clear, simple and comparable as well as more traceable and trustable by consumers, authorities and investors. Alastair Cox, the Technical Director of the EMEA Synthetic Turf Council (ESTC), is both pleased with the introduction of a tool for the synthetic turf sector and proud of the fact that it is amongst the most recently developed within the PEF context. The result can now serve as a blueprint for use in other industry sectors. “Synthetic turf is part of the plastics industry, and the world is recognising the need to use plastics in a sustainable way,” he says.

Industry-broad

Confident that the rules, and, as such, the method, will be adopted, the ESTC has already moved forward. Together with their consultant PRé Sustainability, they are developing a software tool that calculates environmental impact results aligned with the PEFCR. “We have built a prototype in the software SimaPro which allows for calculations and benchmarks of synthetic turf products against Representative Products,” Marina Dumont of PRé Sustainability states. These Representative Products were developed with the help of the project’s Technical Secretariat, which was made up of industry players, who, collectively, represented 80% of the synthetic turf industry (see side-bar). “The input values for the calculations are to be submitted through a simplified survey-style interface which will require a relatively minimal number of entries for maximum flexibility in the underlying LCA model. The values submitted are linked to parameters in the model. The calculations will be done in the background. Users can only change certain pre-defined inputs, to make the tool suitable to non-LCA experts.” Dumont’s colleague, Marisa Vieira, uses the analogy of a cooking process when explaining that the footprint calculation tool is the kitchenware one needs when establishing the sustainability metrics of a product. “You can consider the PEF rules or methodology as a recipe; generic or default data that covers activities out of a company’s control are the regular ingredients used by many, whilst the company-specific data are the unique ingredients for what is being made.” The generic or default data includes environmental information about different activities or materials that have already been determined in other data-capturing exercises; electricity and transportation by trucks are just two examples. “The company-specific data differs product to product, company to company and it is up to an individual company to provide this. This data will have to be collected for every single product.” Vieira says that collecting the data is fairly simple and straight forward but time consuming.

Importance of substantiation increasing

The PEF is increasingly becoming part and parcel of the process of drafting EU policies. Good examples are the Taxonomy Regulation, where it is used for defining carbon footprint thresholds for sustainable companies; the Regulation on Eco-design for Sustainable Product, where the PEF is amongst the reference methods when setting the eco-design requirements for products; and the proposal for a Green Claims Directive, expected to be finalized in 2024, where the PEF is one of the prominent methods to be used for the substantiation of claims. Substantiation is a very important aspect of this directive. Claims will be expected to demonstrate that they will address significant environmental issues from a life-cycle perspective and should address trade-offs that are associated with the impact.

A benefit to the industry worldwide

Paul Fraser, Marketing Director at Tarkett Sports and Vice-Chair of the ESTC, believes that the PEFCR-aligned tool will be of benefit to the entire industry, including those outside the European Union. “Many times in the past, organizations have tried to take advantage of or used schemes to make claims regarding turf wear or fibre durability. However, a set of data for marketing purposes will only be useful when you have a comparative set of data.” Fraser foresees that municipalities across the EU will be forced to include the minimum required PEF values in their tenders and that non-compliance will mean an inability to bid on projects. Colin Young, Global Director Research and Development at TenCate Grass and Chair of the ESTC, points to the complex supply chain that can be found within the industry, including companies that deliver all kinds of different products and services. “We have a lot of SMEs that don’t have the in-house teams or time or budgets to validate and follow good-quality LCA process,” he says, highlighting a major benefit PEFCR will bring to the industry. “We can add current and future legislative impacts into the PEFCR and use it as an early warning system to allow us time to update and change for a more suitable future.” Young foresees that it will level the playing field in the industry.

The Category Rules the industry helped draft are currently being reviewed by the European Commission. It is anticipated that the PEFCR methodology will become the standard for the synthetic industry as of the second half of 2024. By that time, the ESTC will also have a tool online that will help anybody to make comparisons of the environmental footprint of different synthetic turf or products.

Industry-broad echnical Secretariat

The drafting of the Category Rules for the Product Environmental Footprint (PEFCR) is the biggest project the ESTC has ever embarked on, and it received additional funding through the LIFE Fund of the European Commission. The rules were drafted with the input of FieldTurf/Tarkett, Sport Group (owners of brands like Polytan, Astroturf and Melos), Sport & Leisure Group (Domo Sports Grass, Limonta Sport, Nam Grass and Fungrass, amongst others), TenCate Grass Group (including TenCate Grass, Greenfields, TigerTurf, Challenger Turf), complemented by SME companies like Re-Match and Juta Grass as well as the European football authority UEFA. The results the Technical Secretariat produced were double-checked in shadow studies conducted by a group of companies that included Beaulieu International Group, EuroFields, Schmitz Foam and Trocellen, and were reviewed by an external panel that included FIFA.

Sportsfields.Magazine

This article first appeared in the synthetic turf edition of Sportsfields.Magazine.

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