Good influence - European brick and tile industry regulation

Clay Technology magazine
11 Apr 2011
stylised photo of architects looking at plan

The European brick and tile industry is regulated by a raft of apparently complex rules. Christophe Sykes, Secretary General of Tiles & Bricks Europe, in Brussels, Belgium, explains how industry can exert influence.

When consumers complain about new legislation, local politicians blame ‘Brussels’. This is common practice across the EU, but few take the time to explain how the system really works, identifying those who endorse legislative changes and, more importantly, how one might try to influence the drafting process.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, the European Commission (EC) is the institution that holds the right of initiative – only the EC can make formal proposals for European legislation. Once a policy proposal is published, two other EU institutions debate, amend and ultimately decide whether to pass proposed laws. These bodies are the Council of the EU, made up of ministers from national governments, and the European Parliament (EP), whose members are elected at local or national level. Additionally, European Commissioners (the EC’s senior management) are proposed by national governments but are bound to act independently.

Therefore, the Brussels law-making process starts with an EC proposal, then seeks common ground between the EP and the council. At every step along the way, the process is influenced by national political pressure.

Effects of regulation

If we consider the effects of EU regulation on the various steps in our production, we may first turn to extraction and access to raw materials. As industrial sectors whose supplies come from outside the EU lobby on international trade rules, the construction industry suffers from extremely long delays in gaining permits and from the NIMBY (‘not in my backyard’) factor.

On 9-10 March, the EU Competitiveness Council addressed the issue of raw materials. The business lobby group BusinessEurope is stressing the need for better conditions for raw material extraction in Europe on top of its request for international trade agreements. This is a long-term project, but the more we communicate at high level, the greater the chances of success at local level.

Turning from extraction to production, the focus is now on resource efficiency (RE). The European Environment Agency (EEA) explains that RE is the relationship between resource input and economic output. It is worth pointing out that, according to the EEA, RE will not guarantee sustainability, as we might become more efficient but still exceed the earth’s capacity.

In recent EC workshops and consultations, we have explained that RE can mean many different things and that it is important to recognise that RE may be achieved at different lifecycle stages depending on the product. For example, the manufacture of refractory products requires the import of raw materials and an energy input, but Europe leads the world in know-how, and net energy savings are made in the production phase of glass, steel and ceramics, among others. The EU ceramic umbrella organisation, Cerame-Unie, is developing a communication campaign focused on the EC Green Week conference (24-27 May) and the theme of this year’s conference is RE.

Carbon trading

The European CO2 Emission Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) has involved successful cooperation between industry and the EC.

Tiles & Bricks Europe supports the finalisation of carbon benchmarks for bricks and roof tiles, where for the latter the average best 10% would be 144kg CO2/t of fired product and for facing bricks 139kg CO2/t. A fall-back approach (based on a fuel benchmark and historical method of allocating emissions) has been obtained for clay blocks and special products.

There remains one item to resolve under the ETS – ‘carbon leakage’, or the risk of industry moving out of the EU. A list of areas at risk drafted in 2010 does not include the brick and roof tile sector. However, lobbying has resulted in the sector being mentioned as one that should be reassessed by the EC. In 2010, an external study provided the EC with the proof of this carbon leakage risk. The EC has yet to take a formal decision and, once taken, it would still have to be approved by the council and EP.

Full marks

The CE marking rules for the industry are given by the Construction Products Directive (CPD, 89/106/EEC) but a political agreement was reached in December 2010 on the Construction Products Regulation (CPR), which will simplify procedures for obtaining CE markings. The CPR has been approved by the EU Council and was published in April, coming into force 20 days later – it will have to be included in national legislation. The new CE marking rules will apply from July 2013.

This will have an impact on harmonised EU standards. These CE rules are already under revision because they need to include new requirements on the release of regulated dangerous substances to air, soil and groundwater, so new items will soon have to be included in the Declaration of Performance (DoP).

Tiles & Bricks Europe has been directly involved in the CPR reform for more than five years. One of the items on which the organisation lobbied successfully has been publication of the DoP online. The specific conditions are yet to be established by the EC, but industry will make itself heard in the coming months as the delegated acts are drafted.

Taking responsibility

For most manufacturers, product responsibility ends at the factory gate. When a product is incorporated into construction works, responsibility lies with the designer and contractor. However, in May 2010, the EP approved the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD, 2010/31/EU). Over the coming months, the text is to be incorporated into national law and will promote the move towards ‘near zero-energy’ buildings.

As regional and national financial support mechanisms for this are drawn up, the industry must ensure that the intrinsic energy performance of products is recognised so that clients might benefit from these energy-saving subsidies. An EC document on the sustainable competitiveness of the EU construction sector is being prepared, with publication expected before the end of 2011. Additionally, an open consultation on energy performance will be launched soon.

The EC has also begun work on the water performance of buildings. Consultants have been selected and Tiles & Bricks Europe has already exchanged information with the EC and consultants, and a dedicated website will be launched soon. The objective is to promote the pitched clay roof as the best solution for rainwater collection.

End of life

To come full circle, the end of life of products and the building’s demolition phase must be addressed. A landfill ban for construction and demolition waste could be one of the tools used to achieve the agreed reduction in national construction and demolition waste streams by a minimum of 70% (by weight) by 2020.

In May 2010, former EC Internal Market Commissioner Mario Monti stated that the EU should create a single market for green products by developing EU standards for measuring and auditing their carbon footprints. The case of clay masonry and roof tiles was presented by Tiles & Bricks Europe at an EC workshop in June 2010 and explained that extended product lifetime, re-use and recycling options are more important than single indicator analysis and labelling. The debate is ongoing and will probably be tied in with the RE situation.

Though the Brussels decision-making process is transparent, to influence policymakers positively, communication at EU level of our know-how and concerns is essential to promotion of the RE offered by ceramic clay products. 

Further information

Christophe Sykes, Secretary General, Tiles & Bricks Europe (TBE aisbl), Rue de la Montagne, 17. B-1000 Brussels. Tel: (+32) 2 808 38 80. Email: Website: