Steel is a vital material not only for the built environment but also for vehicles, art, medicine and information technology. The steel industry contributes $11 billion to Australia’s GDP and employs over 100,000 people. The unique physical properties of steel allow it to be reused or recycled without loss of quality.
However, like all materials, steel can pose a significant environmental, health and social burden during its manufacture, use and disposal. So, GECA has developed the Steel and Steel Products standard (SSPv1.0-2019) to define sustainable performance benchmarks for steel and steel products throughout their entire life cycle.
Is it GOOD for the planet?
The extraction of raw materials can result in a wide range of environmental issues, threatening of biodiversity and ecosystems in adjacent areas, erosion in coastal and riverbanks, or pollution of waterways. Local impacts may include noise and dust pollution and landscape damage.
GECA standard: Under GECA’ standard, raw materials must come from operations with environmental and social management plans, which must be implemented. Manufacturers using post‐consumer scrap must implement procedures to exclude feedstocks containing undesirable materials, including radioactive materials and PCBs.
Emissions to Air
Steel manufacturing is a major contributor to worldwide carbon emissions. On average for 2018, 1.85 tonnes of CO2 were emitted for every tonne of steel produced. The steel industry generates between 7 and 9% of direct emissions from the global use of fossil fuel.
GECA standard: Our standard places clear restrictions on carbon emissions, helping the industry to reduce its impact. The steelmaker supplying the steel must also be a member of the World Steel Association’s Climate Action Programme. Our standard also recognises certification under the current version of the Responsible Steel standard.
Steel manufacturing processes can result in the emission of significant amounts of pollutants, including dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx) and particulate matter. High levels of nitrogen dioxide, for example, are harmful to vegetation – damaging foliage, decreasing growth or reducing crop yields.
Nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide can also react with substances in the atmosphere to form acid rain. PCBs are a group of harmful persistent organic pollutants that are toxic, persist in the environment and animals and bioaccumulate through the food chain.
GECA standard: Off-gases must be captured to the maximum extent practicable and directed to a treatment system to control particulate matter. Emissions of dioxins, PCBs, NOx and SOx must be measured and reported at least annually. The steel manufacturer must also implement a dust management plan covering all areas of the mill operation.
Overconsumption of resources and generation of waste can have a significant impact on the environment. Discharge of wastewater and damaging substances can threaten the health of aquatic ecosystems.
Product packaging should be as efficient and recyclable as possible across the product’s life cycle. Inefficient use of packaging can result in greater transportation needs, natural resource depletion and increased burden on landfills. It is also important that the coating used on the steel does not make the product unsuitable for recycling in steel mills.
GECA standard: Manufacturers must calculate and report the overall material efficiency of the steelmaking site and implement systems to maximise the recovery of dedusting dust and sludges. The GECA standard also requires manufacturers to implement systems to recover process wastewater sludges and sediments and have systems in place to recycle and reuse water (including stormwater).
We require that any packaging must contain recycled material or be derived from plant-based materials. The manufacturer must also supply evidence that a steel mill can take back and recycle their steel product.
Is it GOOD for people?
Certain substances or compound classes, including carcinogens, have been identified as particularly harmful to human health. Toxic heavy metals and their compounds such as mercury, arsenic, selenium, cobalt, tin and antimony are also detrimental to the health of manufacturing staff and users of the finished product. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are also present in the coatings of many products. They can trigger allergic reactions, headaches, eye irritation, and asthma problems.
GECA standard: No known endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, mutagens or teratogens are allowed. All substances of Very High Concern listed on the REACH Candidate List are banned. Minimum VOC content in coatings.
Nothing is truly sustainable if it only looks at the impacts on the environment and ignores the treatment of people. Exploitation can occur in many ways, such as unsafe work conditions or little to no pay. Modern slavery is a term used to cover a range of exploitative practices, including slavery, human trafficking, child labour and forced labour. The construction, manufacturing and mining sectors appear to be modern slavery hotspots.
GECA standard: To be certified, manufacturers must publish an annual Modern Slavery Statement in alignment with the Australian Modern Slavery Act (2018). This includes manufacturers of any size and is not restricted to any annual revenue threshold. If risks are identified in the report, they will have to be addressed in the next annual report and improvements will have to be documented. GECA also requires evidence of workplace safety, fair pay and equal opportunity. The manufacturer must also show compliance to all lawful conduct.
Manufacturers can make false or misleading claims about their environmental performance which can create consumer confusion or ‘greenwash’ in markets.
GECA standard: GECA needs to see evidence that all environmental claims about a product undergoing certification are true and substantiated.
Fit for Purpose
On top of all these essential environmental, health and social criteria, the product must also be fit for purpose. That is, it must do what the manufacturer claims it does. There’s no use having a product if it doesn’t deliver on its promise!
GECA standard: To become certified, the product must meet or exceed the requirements of the relevant Australian Standards or equivalent international standard.
Choose GECA for people and planet
Once a steel product has been GECA certified, your company can use GECA’s ecolabel on the certified product to show your leadership in sustainability. Sustainability is becoming increasingly important, particularly for the public sector, and GECA’s ecolabel makes it easier for procurement teams to identify this leadership.
Procurement teams have a significant part to play in shifting the steel market toward sustainable practices. When creating requests for tenders and in developing contracts, specifying GECA certification for steel is an easy way to prompt the steel market to reassess its manufacturing and work towards best practice.
If you’re interested in learning more, we’d love to hear from you! Drop us an email or call 02 9699 2850.