Steel and iron are found practically everywhere in our society. Swedish steel, combined with the application knowledge possessed by the companies, creates advanced steels which are for example, stronger, lighter in weight, extremely sustainable, super clean and highly heat and pressure resistant. These enhanced characteristics create possibilities for more sustainable products and solutions with reduced environmental impact, especially during the utilisation phase of the products concerned. It is crucial to pay attention to the environmental footprint from the entire life cycle of the steel products and not only look at the impact from the actual production process.
Assess the environmental effects from the entire life cycle
Environmental impact occurs at each stage of the steel’s eco-cycle, including the transportation in between.
Total environmental effect = summing up the environmental impact value of:
- Mining and production of raw materials
- Transportation of raw materials to steel plant
- Steel production and further processing
- Transportation of steel to producer of structural elements for construction or final product
- Production of the structural element or final product
- Transportation of structural element or final product to place of use
- Transportation of end-of-life structure or final product for recycling
- Sorting, shearing and fragmentation of steel scrap
Example of environmental benefits from using high strength, structural steel
An advanced, high strength structural steel enables the trailer manufacturer to reduce the trailer’s own (tare) weight while retaining full carrying capacity. The weight decrease means an overall increase in loading capacity and fewer transport journeys as well as a more lightweight trailer with lower fuel consumption in the case of empty or half-full transportation.
Many examples are ready to hand where trailer and extension manufacturers use SSAB’s high strength steels and thereby reduce the vehicle’s tare weight. This saving then goes to increase the payload capacity; delivering a lighter and more sustainable vehicle that consumes less raw materials during production, acquires a significantly longer life and cuts down the number of transport journeys.
Find out more: Steel creates environmental benefit, fact sheets
Read more about SSAB Eco Upgraded (ssab.com)
Examples of the environmental benefits of stainless steel
The company SSY has developed a construction method for boats which to a full extent takes advantage of the so called super- and hyper-duplex steels' characteristics. The strength of the steel combined with the patented construction reduce the use of material to a third compared to traditional shipbuilding. This makes the boat comparatively light-weight and thus less fuel consuming.
The steel grades used in the boat (eg SAF 2507 and SAF 3207) are not affected by the marine environment, which makes the hull and the superstructure maintenance-free. The steel beneath the waterline is mirror polished. This means that the microorganisms can't attach to the treated surface. As a consequence the hull does not require hazardous anti-fouling paint.
Read more about stainless steel boats: SSY.se
New EU method for measuring environmental footprint
The European Commission has published a methodology to measure the environmental footprint of different products, “Product Environmental Footprint” (2013/179/EU).
Since 2015, about 20 pilot studies have been carried out to evaluate the method for measuring the environmental footprint arising from products, ranging from articles of clothing to steel and other metal plate. The method includes 14 different environmental impact categories. A special modular form, circular footprint formula, which covers the qualitative recyclability of different products from a life cycle perspective, is agreed upon. There are some challenges concerning metallic materials since the methods for the environmental aspects toxicity and abiotic resource depletion lack reliability in a life cycle context. In future, the method may be tied to specific legislation covering products.
Find out more: Product Environmental Footprint (ec.europa.eu)
National and international regulations
Besides the demand for more effective and efficient products, the steel industry must also pay attention to demands that are mainly controlled by the European product legislation, which in its turn includes requirements concerning content of chemical substances in different products, e.g. the trace elements or alloys in different steel grades. The steel industry closely follows the development of regulations that affect products, whether these are national or international in scope. Issues that are of interest are raised in collaboration with Eurofer, the World Steel Association or other industrial sectors.
Legislation, standards and instruments affecting steel products
REACH Regulation: Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation of Chemicals (1907/2006) regulates all substances that are produced in, or imported into, the EU in amounts that exceed one tonne per year. Companies are obliged to register these substances i.e. analyse (risk assess) and report the risk and indicate which safety measures are required. The REACH measures for companies are co-ordinated with other industry trade groups and consortia, where the registration of different forms of iron (Fe2O3, iron ore sinter, iron ore pellets, pig iron and metallic iron) is concerned.
WEEE, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (2012/19/EU) covers waste that consists of or contains electrical or electronic equipment. Its purpose is to ensure that waste, as far as possible, is reused or recycled.
RoHS, Restriction of use of Hazardous Substances (2011/65/EU) regulates the utilisation of certain metals such as mercury, cadmium, lead, and hexavalent chromium in new electrical and electronic products. Exemptions for these metals are made for certain product groups. These exemptions are reviewed every fourth year by the EU Commission and the member states. The steel industry participates in the process.
ELV, End of Life Vehicles (directive 2000/53/EC) regulates the overall handling of end-of-life vehicles. This entails, for example, a prohibition on the sale of motor cars containing lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium. A number of exceptions from the prohibition apply e.g. for lead in batteries and lead in solder joints for electronics, steel with lead added as well as hexavalent chromium in corrosion protection coatings.
The Ecodesign Directive stipulates minimum requirements for energy efficiency of products which implicates prohibition of the most energy- and resource intensive products on the EU market. In 2005 the Ecodesign Directive came into force for energy-using products. Since 2009 the Directive includes all energy-related products, referring to products which, directly or indirectly, affect the total energy consumption, such as the windows of a building. Means of transport for persons or goods are not covered by the Directive, though.
The Ecodesign Directive aims to cut the use of energy and greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that the directive states certain energy efficiency levels for energy-using products reduces the environmental impact. Life cycle analyses, minimum requirements and CE marking of the products are demanded. The requirements establish the limit above which the least energy effective products from an energy perspective may be prohibited and removed. The energy consumption of the product in the use phase has to make up the largest proportion if the Ecodesign directive is to be applied.
Currently, CEN (European Committee for Standardization) and CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization) develop several horizontal (general) standards to facilitate the introduction of the Ecodesign Directive 2009/125/EC. Theses "harmonized standards" will regulate material efficiency to prolong the products’ life span, the reusability of components or recyclability of the material from worn-out products and how the reused components and recycled material should be used in new products. Coming product specific standards concerning material efficiency may then be based upon the harmonized standards.
Within the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), a standard has been set for environmental declarations for construction products (EN 15804:2012 Sustainability of construction works – Environmental product declarations – Core rules for the product category of construction products). The standard provides product specific requirements and guidance for how to produce a verified environmental declaration for a construction product or service, thus allowing comparisons between different products with the same functions from an environmental point of view.
The environmental product declaration should cover the life cycle stages supply of raw material, transport and manufacturing, processes included, that is "from cradle to gate" as described in module A. The following life cycle stages use phase and end-of-life phase may be included, then described as modules B and C of the standard. Such an expanded environmental product declaration with modules A-C may include information about recycling of constructions (buildings and plants) in a module D. In many European countries environmental product declarations according to this standard are requested for construction products and material.
The assessments of public contracts are often based on these criteria. As a rule only standard modules A-C are required, why the excellent recycling potential of steel is not taken into account. However, at the request of the European Commission, CEN will revise the standard to make it more compatible with PEF, the Product Environmental Footprint method. As in PEF, more environmental impact categories and the recyclability at the product’s end-of life stage should be considered.
Green Public Procurement, GPP, means environmentally sensitive public procurement and the criteria for this are developed by the EU Commission. For the European member countries the GPP is a voluntary instrument, but is nevertheless regarded as a key element for increasing the resource efficiency of the EU economy. Criteria are set to facilitate the introduction of green purchasing requirements during public procurement. The criteria aim to achieve a good balance between environmental performance, costs and availability on the market as well as verification. The public authorities in a member state may choose which of the criteria that should be included in their tenders, based on the national needs and ambitions.
Certain of these criteria are determined on the substances’ inherent properties only. The properties and functions of substances as part of mixtures and alloys are not taken into account. As a consequence, certain approved steel grades which are mixtures according to the REACH regulation can be excluded from public procurement. This is because the total risk of exposure from the steel of hazardous properties of a substance in an alloy is not considered, but only the separate hazardous property of the substance.
• Product regulations should be based on assessments of potential exposure and bio availability. The risk of health and environmental effects from human and environmental exposure of metals and substances from a product must be taken into account.
• Criteria for steel products containing certain hazardous substances should not solely be based on the substances inherent properties. The assessment should be based on the properties of steel.
• Methods for assessment of different environmental impacts must be well founded and reliable. Only when such methods are properly developed can a certain aspect be included in an assessment of the environmental footprint of a product.
• When different products are compared from an environmental and lifecycle perspective it is important that functional units are compared and not only different kinds of material. The qualitative recyclability during the end-of-life phase of the product should be taken into account.