Funded under the framework of the Global Environment Facility (GEF)
Project Partners
United Nations Environment Programme, National Cleaner Production Centre Sri Lanka

The challenge: tackling hazardous chemicals in the buildings and construction sector

Building materials and construction are responsible for around 11% of global carbon emissions and the construction sector is the largest end market for chemicals such as plastics, paints, and petrochemicals. And the sector is only growing.

There is currently no global policy framework for chemicals so harmful substances like phthalates, polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and formaldehyde regularly fly under the radar.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) established a methodology and process called Eco-innovation (Eco-i), including a series of templates designed for SMEs to integrate sustainability into their business practices and shift towards more circular business models. With funding from the Global Environment Facility, it was looking for a partner to develop a building materials supplement based on the eco-innovation methodology, working in partnership with Sri Lanka’s leading sustainability solutions provider, the National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC-SL).

This supplement was intended to help SMEs manage chemicals of concern, phase out hazardous substances, while also reducing embodied carbon and increasing the circularity of their building materials.

How we helped: developing a building materials supplement to accompany UNEP’s Eco-innovation manual

NCPC-SL carried out a desk study on the most prominent chemicals of concern in Sri Lanka. Then we produced a supplement on building materials to accompany the UNEP Eco-i manual, before running training sessions on the Eco-i process with partners and industry in Sri Lanka, while NCPC-SL piloted the methodology with 12 companies in the building materials sector. Learnings from the pilot were then incorporated into the final supplement.

The impact: producing a supplement that helps governments and value chain actors in the building sector better track and manage chemicals of concern in their products

Following the pilot of the Eco-i methodology, JAT Holdings changed the formulation of its paint and achieved an Eco-label certification, which has contributed to a market transformation in Sri Lanka’s paint industry. Sierra Readymix addressed the unsustainable sourcing of its raw materials and lack of circularity by increasing the use of processed waste materials to substitute fine aggregate, researching new options to substitute river sand, such as coal fly ash and ceramic waste, as well as repurposing demolition waste for producing its concrete, whilst ensuring materials are free of chemicals of concern.

SMEs often don’t have the resources to pay for an in-house sustainability team or to fund research and development. The guidance that we developed makes it easier for SMEs to manage chemicals of concern, phase out hazardous substances, while also reducing embodied carbon and increasing the circularity of their building materials. The Eco-innovation process allows these organisations to access new and expanding markets, stay ahead of standards and regulations, and engage with the whole value chain to embed sustainability at every stage.

What is Eco-innovation?

Eco-innovation is UNEP’s process to help SMEs develop and diversify sustainable business models that reduce social and environmental impacts, as well as impacts along the value chain to make companies more resilient and competitive.

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Stewart Muir
Senior Technical Consultant

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