With so many aspects to bear in mind, ensuring you specify products from the most eco-friendly manufacturers is a complicated business. Which is where Arup’s audit tool can help …

Companies may say they are sustainable and environmentally aware, but how can prospective customers check out these claims? Four years ago multidisciplinary consultant Arup recognised the need for a means of demonstrating a company’s commitment to sustainability and developed a tool called Sustainable Project Appraisal Routine, or SPeAR for short. This was initially intended to demonstrate the sustainability of projects, but was then developed to cover firms too, with Arup carrying out each audit independently for the company. Furthermore, the audit can also now demonstrate the sustainability of a manufacturing process – with Kingspan Insulation being the first company to undergo the SPeAR audit at its polymer-based insulant plant at Pembridge, Herefordshire.

At the heart of SPeAR is a diagram that graphically displays 22 different criteria for measuring sustainability, ranging from the impact a product has on natural resources to the economic sustainability of the business. Each criterion is further divided into subindicators. For example, air quality is measured by checking direct and indirect emissions, dust and air-quality management systems.

On the diagram that resulted from the audit at Kingspan (right), yellow represents current best practice, red indicates worse than current practice and green shows better than current best practice. It is almost impossible to score a perfect all-green rating, as the costs of improving a company’s environmental performance will always have a short-term adverse effect on some economic ratings.

The tool has several benefits. Specifiers can use the diagram to quickly compare a range of sustainability criteria and evaluate products from different manufacturers. “It gives specifiers the opportunity to see us warts and all and see how we perform against a whole series of indicators,” explains John Garbutt, marketing manager at Kingspan Insulations.

SPeAR also helps to clarify potential confusion in the increasingly complicated world of sustainable products. For example, an apparently sustainable product such as timber may be less sustainable than a metal alternative once the energy use and pollution involved in making and transporting the product is considered.

The scheme should help to keep companies on their toes because the criteria are constantly updated to account for best-practice improvements. If a company sits still and does nothing and has a second audit carried out some years later, it will come out with a lower sustainability rating than the original audit.

Companies have to want to improve to succeed in the scheme, and Kingspan agrees that this was its motivation in joining. The insulation company found that it did badly on transport because it is located in rural Herefordshire and has to use lorries to transport its product.

However, SPeAR showed the company was in good financial state and it also scored highly on its natural resource utilisation. The exception was energy use.

The SPeAR audit noted that waste heat was not being utilised and no renewable energy technologies were being used.

Garbutt says the results of the audit will be carefully considered by the company. “Every recommendation has been accepted and will be championed by a board member. We will evaluate the options and decide what needs to be done. For example, if the evaluation proves that installing a combined heat and power plant improves our performance, we will install it in the next 12 months.”

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