Promoting sustainability in Mexico’s building sector via environmental product declarations

Abstract

Purpose

The growing phase of emerging economy countries requires the implementation of environmental assessment tools in the building sector. The use of environmental product declarations (EPDs) has risen in developed countries as one of the main tools for environmental assessment. However, at what point should developing countries follow the EPD implementation strategies used by developed countries? What are the strengths and weaknesses of EPD in the emerging economy context, and what threats and opportunities does it face within the building sector? This work aims to answer these questions by taking Mexico as a case study.

Methods

A bibliographical review was conducted to determine the key elements for EPD development in the building sector in other countries, especially those in Europe, where EPDs originated. The review also examined the experience and perspective of other countries that are starting to contemplate this type of ecolabel as an option for environmental assessment within their own building sectors, as well as industry perspectives on EPDs, especially those of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Then, Mexico’s situation in regard to these key elements was examined, with a special focus on the main stakeholders detected: government and industry. Finally, after a contrast analysis was conducted between the developed countries and Mexico, the strengths and weaknesses of EPDs in the emerging economy context and the threats and opportunities within the building sector were determined.

Results and discussion

The use of EPDs in Europe has largely followed a normative and legislative pattern. Moreover, it has been the main data source for building environmental assessment schemes, and there is a strong life cycle assessment (LCA) platform that contributes to EPD development. Furthermore, there is a European tendency toward making the use of EPDs mandatory. However, there is a very different reality in emergent economy countries. In these countries, social housing represents a major part of the vision of the building sector, so it is taken as an initial approach to EPD development. In Mexico, there is a solid legislative framework in which EPDs could be implemented, and there is a variety of environmental assessment housing programs into which EPDs could be integrated. Nevertheless, there is an institutional void that has prevented the incorporation of the life cycle approach into the national strategy of sustainability in the building sector. Moreover, SMEs might not have the technical and financial capacity to develop EPD.

Conclusions

This analysis has proved that EPD implementation in emerging countries mainly depends on two aspects: Firstly, it must be a shared vision of sustainability between government and industry, in which there is a correspondence between the sustainability objectives of the two parties and SMEs have the ability to contribute toward their achievement. Secondly, a solid platform of knowledge that supports LCA in the building sector is necessary, and it must involve a strong relationship between government, academia, and stakeholders.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Term used by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America to refer to Mexico, the USA, and Canada, under the Agreement on Environmental Cooperation of North America, which is part of the North America Free Trade Agreement.

  2. 2.

    NDP is the Objectives, Strategies and Action Lines that each new government establishes to guide their administration.

  3. 3.

    According to Ochoa et al. (2013), some of the studies used to feed the databases were those developed by Chargoy Amador et al. (2009), Chan Juárez (2009), and Valdez Medina (2010). All of them were financed by the National Commission for Housing (CONAVI).

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Correspondence to Víctor Alberto Arvizu-Piña.

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Arvizu-Piña, V.A., Cuchí Burgos, A. Promoting sustainability in Mexico’s building sector via environmental product declarations. Int J Life Cycle Assess 22, 1744–1759 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-017-1269-z

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Keywords

  • Building sector
  • Emerging economy countries
  • Environmental policies
  • EPD
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Mexico