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What an LCA Tool for outdoor sports surfaces could look like

ByGuy Oldenkotte

Jul 5, 2023

Environmental cost indicators are commonly used in many engineering sectors, yet they are fairly new to the market for outdoor sports surfaces. Various companies, industry bodies and organisations are currently busy developing their own tool. One developed by the Dutch industry is already taking shape.

The importance of sustainability and a healthy environment have now become undeniable, and they are becoming increasingly important in the planning of projects. Owners and investors in particular want to know upfront what the relevant environmental effects of their investment will be. The use of a life cycle analysis (LCA) helps them weigh all environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of their investment and to calculate a single score. This score creates a shadow price or environmental cost indicator (ECI) which can also help to better communicate the environmental impact.

The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) is now guiding an LCA Tool for the Dutch sports surfaces market in particular. Rik van Kraaij of the RVO points out that this project continues building on an LCA Tool that the industry has been developing collectively over the past eight years. “The knowledge and expertise from that process have provided the basis for the current further development towards an independent and unambiguous LCA Tool for sports surfaces,” he says.

National Environmental Database

The new tool expects every single component that is used to compile a (outdoor) sports surface to be listed in the National Environmental Database (NED). This includes the carpet, performance infill or shockpad, amongst others. “Each country has specific requirements. However, the latitude offered by the European standard for performing an LCA is greater than the legal method prescribed in the Netherlands,” René Kraaijenbrink of consultancy and engineering firm LBP|Sight says. This is also why the Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) foreign suppliers usually submit are not always usable. “These also do not always comply with the additional calculation rules prescribed by the Dutch National Environmental Database.” Nevertheless, the Netherlands is also looking at what is happening elsewhere in Europe, in an attempt to be uniform. If the rules fit within the determination method of the NED and if specific information from the manufacturer itself is unavailable, then the scenarios from the EU Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEF-CR) project are to be followed as much as possible. The PEF-CR is a project initiated by the European Commission that is currently drafting the rules for (for the time being) a limited number of product groups. This includes synthetic turf. If they succeed, these rules will soon also apply to all kinds of other product groups. The synthetic turf industry is represented in this process by the EMEA Synthetic Turf Council (ESTC), who recently announced that they will update the market on the progress of the project in December.

Value per component

To be captured on the Dutch National Environmental Database, components will first have to be vetted. This process will take several weeks, will cost approximately EUR 8,000 and will require substantial supporting documentation. Once added to the database, the component will receive a category 1 status. Products that have not been vetted (yet), as well as set general products, will have a category 3 status when calculating the ECI. The shadow price for category 3 components will automatically be 30% higher than those that have a category 1 status. “This is because of the greater uncertainties regarding the component,” Gert-Jan Vroege of Eco-Intelligence explains. Like Kraaijenbrink, he provides his expertise in the field of LCA and ECI to this project.

Calculating the ECI

Tools like DuboCalc can assist in calculating the ECI. Such a calculation will weigh the environmental effects of the extraction of the raw materials, their transport, the manufacturing of the component and the transport of that component to the construction site. The effects during use, demolition and recycling as well as the costs or benefits of the material after recycling of this surface component are also taken into account. “All of this is calculated based on a fixed list of 11 environmental effects, each with a fixed weighting factor. That weighting factor has been fixed for years,” Vroege continues. This makes the weighting factor for consequences that can lead to climate change, acidification or toxicological effects on humans visible. “The use of less disruptive products is thus emphatically encouraged.”

Using ECI

Tender specifiers will establish the upper limit for the project fee by making a calculation based on only category 3 components. They can set purchasing conditions for only the top layer, foundation or subbase, or a combination of two or all three elements. “Tendering parties will be required to remain below that fee,” Vroege adds. Suppliers tendering for the Best Price Quality Ratio tender will be required to do their own ECI calculation. They do so with both category 3 components, and, preferably, the category 1 components they propose to use. As category 1 components have already been captured on the National Environmental Database, they’ll enjoy a fictitious 30% discount in the ECI calculation. The ECI is submitted together with the tender documents and tendering price. The supplier who has the lowest ECI value for the project will receive the most points or a notional deduction from the contract price. In doing so, the project will therefore be awarded on the basis of a combination of price and ECI value. It is important to note that any quality standard like FIFA Quality or FIFA Quality Pro for synthetic turf football fields will remain key in determining the quality or performance criteria of, in this case, the synthetic turf football surface.

Contractual obligation

The ECI submitted by the tenderer automatically becomes a contract requirement for the work once the tenderer accepts the projects. Should it be established (upon delivery) that the ECI submitted is not achieved, then that fictitious discount will become a real fine, pro rata. On top of that comes a fine of 50% of the fictitious discount. This is to discourage lack of robust thinking when calculating the ECI. However, it has not yet been determined who will be responsible for determining compliance, and the rules for this have not yet been drawn up. “The rules for purchasing with ECI are still changing. For example, the requesting parties should think carefully about how compliance with the awarded contracts will be implemented,” says van Kraaij.

Not to replace quality criteria

Pessimists fear that the ECI concept will lead to contactors focusing more on the total ECI of a product than on the performance. “The ECI calculation will be an addition,” van Kraaij emphasises. “Although the environmental profiles of the various products are calculated separately, it is not the idea that you are going to compare the individual components separately,” Kraaijenbrink adds. “Comparison of the environmental performance between the different surfaces or systems must also take place at system level.” He points out that one doesn’t need to exclude the other. “Multiple product/component combinations could achieve the same level of functionality. In theory, it is then perfectly possible to compare the environmental performance of these different system variants, and, just like the economic differences, to take them into account in the award process.” This all depends on how the contracting party will validate those tendering.

Incorporating the product environmental footprint in outdoor sports surfaces tender specifications is a complicated process. Various companies, industry bodies and organisations at national and international levels are currently busy developing their own tool. The one developed by the Dutch industry is just an example and is currently being further crafted.


Picture credit: TenCate Grass

Guy Oldenkotte

Guy Oldenkotte is senior editor of sportsfields.info and has been covering the outdoor sportssurfaces market and industry since 2003

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