The Future of Copper Tube Regulation in the European Union: Navigating EPDs and LCAs

The European Union (EU) is at the vanguard of global environmental regulation, charting the course towards a sustainable future. This ambition profoundly impacts various industries, including the copper tube sector, which is critical for plumbing, HVAC systems, and beyond. The integration of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) into the regulatory framework marks a significant shift towards transparency and sustainability, particularly in how products are regulated, manufactured, and marketed.

Understanding EPDs and LCAs

EPDs and LCAs emerge as foundational elements in assessing and communicating the environmental impact of products.

An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) narrates a product’s journey towards sustainability, centering around its Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) divided into distinct stages:
A1-A3 detail the product stage, covering material procurement and production;
A4-A5 focus on the product’s transportation and installation;
B1-B5 encompass the operational life of the product, including maintenance and repairs;
C1-C4 address the end-of-life phase, outlining disposal processes.
D considers the product’s reuse, recovery and/or recycling potential.

  • Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) serve as a passport for products, offering detailed insights into their environmental footprint, essential for regulatory compliance and market positioning. For copper tubes, which are essential in various applications from plumbing to HVAC systems, EPDs offer a way to communicate the environmental credentials of a product to customers, regulators, and the market at large.
  • Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) on the other hand, are comprehensive studies that evaluate the environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life from cradle to grave. For the copper tube industry, LCAs are instrumental in identifying areas where environmental performance can be improved, from the extraction and processing of raw materials to the manufacturing process, use phase, and end-of-life recycling.

An LCA study for the Copper Alliance, conducted by thinkstep AG, unveils the nuanced environmental implications of copper tube production. This study underscores the significance of copper cathode input, energy consumption, and the indispensable role of recycling in determining the overall environmental footprint.

EU Regulatory Evolution: Embracing Sustainable Practices

The EU’s sharpened focus on sustainability is reshaping the regulatory landscape for materials like copper. Key regulatory frameworks mandate more rigorous environmental documentation and performance benchmarks:

Construction Product Regulation (CPR) standardizes testing and conformity assessment methods for construction products, ensuring they meet high safety and environmental standards, facilitating their free movement within the EU market.

Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) focuses on improving buildings’ energy efficiency, mandating energy performance certificates, and contributing to the EU’s goals for sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation aims to improve the circularity and energy performance of products, reinforcing the EU’s commitment to a sustainable economic future.

These regulations are setting the stage for:

  • Enhanced Transparency: Future regulations are likely to require more detailed environmental reporting, making EPDs more critical. The introduction of a Digital Product Passport will provide detailed product sustainability information, enhancing transparency and facilitating easier recycling and repairs.
  • Innovation in Product Design: The insights gained from LCAs can drive innovation in product design, leading to products and equipment that are not only more efficient but also have a reduced environmental footprint, due to the advantages of using copper tubes. There are additional requirements for product durability, reusability, upgradability, and reparability.
  • Competitive Advantage: Adopters of EPDs and LCAs can gain a competitive edge, appealing to environmentally conscious consumers, and complying more easily with future regulations.

Market Access: As the EU moves towards a circular economy, regulations may increasingly favor products with documented environmental credentials. EPDs and LCAs will become key to accessing markets, participating in green procurement processes, and complying with eco-design requirements.

A Leap Towards Sustainability: Case Cupori

Cupori is a Finnish copper tube manufacturer and innovator. Cupori’s initiative to assess the carbon footprint of its copper tubes marks a significant step towards understanding and minimizing the environmental impact of its products. The assessment, documented in the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland report, reveals that Cupori’s copper tubes, produced from upcycled copper, boast a carbon footprint of just 0.65 CO2e kg/kg Cu-tube. This assessment, aligned with global standards and integrated into the Finnish national carbon emissions database, showcases Cupori’s commitment to minimizing environmental impact and adhering to EU regulations. This figure is pivotal for several reasons:

  • Benchmarking Sustainability: The calculation, based on 2019 production data and adhering to the EN 15804 + A21 standard, sets a benchmark for sustainability within the industry. It aligns with the IPCC 2013 proposal for carbon emissions characterization, ensuring global relevance and comparability.
  • Incorporation into National Databases: The results have been integrated into the Finnish national carbon emissions database for construction, a tool developed by the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE as well as the Swedish Climate Database by Boverket – the Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning. This inclusion not only enhances the visibility of Cupori’s commitment to sustainability but also serves as a valuable reference for the construction industry, aiding in the selection of environmentally friendly materials.
  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Insight: The scope of the calculation covers life cycle stages A1-A3, providing a cradle-to-gate analysis of the copper tubes. This includes the treatment of recycled raw materials, transportation, and manufacturing processes, offering a comprehensive view of the product’s environmental footprint.

Regulatory Implications and Industry Leadership

The detailed analysis provided by Cupori’s carbon footprint calculation exemplifies the kind of transparency and accountability that future EU regulations are likely to mandate across the board. By proactively assessing and disclosing the environmental impact of their products, Cupori positions itself not just as a compliant manufacturer but as an industry leader in a continent moving towards a circular economy model, where the value of products, materials, and resources is maintained for as long as possible. Cupori’s focus on upcycling and its efforts to minimize carbon emissions embody the principles of this model, showcasing a path forward for the copper tube industry and beyond.

Teemu Pihl
Quality Manager
+358 40 868 5179