Life cycle assessment of a climbing wall: the Titan by EP Climbing
What is the environmental impact of a bouldering wall produced in 2023? This is the question that EP Climbing, a manufacturer of climbing holds and structures, asked about the Titan. By considering the wooden panels, the framework, macro volumes, holds, and mats, and questioning the contribution at each stage of its life cycle (raw materials, production, transport, distribution, use, end of life). Life cycle assessment of the Titan by EP climbing.
The French manufacturer EP Climbing, a global leader in the Artificial Climbing Structures industry, was chosen by the IFSC and the IOC to provide the official bouldering wall for Paris 2024. Named Titan, this 20m wide and 4.5m high structure will be located at the Bourget site. It is on this installation, intended to facilitate climbing for a lifespan of 20 years, that EP conducted its inquiry. The life cycle assessment, carried out by a consulting firm, allowed for an estimation of likely emissions and consumed resources.
What is Life Cycle Assessment?
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a method used to quantify the environmental impacts of a product or service. It assesses the contribution of each stage in the life cycle (production, distribution, use, end of life). Life Cycle Assessment considers various indicators to evaluate different impacts such as contributions to climate change, water consumption, or participation in resource depletion.
At the end of the study, the amount of carbon emitted per kilogram of material produced is determined. This standardized evaluation method enables the creation of an environmental assessment. It is also an effective way to identify opportunities for eco-design or improvements in the environmental performance of the system. Ultimately, it lays the groundwork for a virtuous approach within a company, aiming to sustainably reduce the environmental impact of its products.
Life Cycle Assessment of the Titan
To measure the environmental impact and analyze the life cycle of the Titan, EP Climbing enlisted the services of an external consultant, “Oui/ACT,” a French company established in 2020 specializing in climate strategy for businesses and local authorities. The idea was to fully integrate environmental challenges into EP Climbing’s roadmap and build a low-carbon strategy for the Titan project for Paris 2024.
In order to provide EP Climbing with a comprehensive understanding of the impact of its product, “Oui/ACT” conducted a Comparative Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of different configurations of bouldering walls to compare their environmental impact and identify areas for action. The analysis conducted by “Oui/ACT” is multi-criteria. Encompassing carbon footprint as well as the depletion of mineral resources and freshwater consumption.
In total, four scenarios were considered, with different types of framework (wood or steel) and different types of panels. The reference is the CP21 wooden panel (21 mm thickness). It includes two alternatives, a thinner panel, CP18 (18 mm thickness). For this study, “Oui/ACT” considered the presence of 10 polyester macro volumes and 20 wooden macro volumes on the bouldering wall. Additionally, 240 polyester holds and 260 polyurethane holds, with an estimated lifespan of 2 years, were included. Finally, “Oui/ACT” also integrated into the study low-density polyurethane foam mats placed under the blocks for safety, covering a floor area of 114 m2.
In the end, EP Climbing’s Titan bouldering wall emits the equivalent of 80 500 kg of CO2 over its entire life cycle. I.e 20 years. To provide a more concrete image, this is equivalent to 94 flights from Paris to New York. Or the life cycle of 2,654 smartphones. In fact, the carbon footprint of this bouldering wall primarily comes from the mats (56%) and raw materials.
Indeed, the polyurethane foam used in the mats has a significant impact and poses challenges in terms of recycling. In the scenario considered by “Oui/ACT” over a 20-year period, the mats will need to be replaced three times. That’s why EP Climbing is already working on producing recycled and recyclable foam mats in France (currently in testing at Arkose) to reduce the environmental impact of mats in the life cycle assessment of the Titan.
The Impact of Holds
After the mats, the next significant contributors are the polyurethane (PU) holds (23%) and the polyester (PE) holds (6%). PU holds are primarily derived from petrochemistry. In fact, they emit about three times more in terms of the emissions compared to PE. Polyester holds are manufactured by adding a significant amount of filler (sand) to their composition. Which significantly reduces their environmental impact. Once again, to decrease the environmental impact of the Titan, EP Climbing has started collaborating with different manufacturers for recycled and recyclable holds. In particular, with Greenholds and more recently with Ghold. And with Volx for PE, 100% made in France.
Impact on Mineral Resources and Freshwater Use
Furthermore, as the study is multifactorial, “Oui/ACT” also examined the impact of the Titan project on mineral resources and freshwater use. Again, it is evident that mats and PU holds weigh heavily in the balance. For example, in the life cycle analysis of the Titan, the overall impact in terms of resource use is 15,202 m3 of freshwater. I.e equivalent to 22 Olympic-sized pools or the annual consumption of 1,057 French individuals. And guess what? Mats are responsible for 58% of this impact ! And PU holds contribute to 27%…
This study conducted by “Oui/ACT” at the request of EP Climbing is a groundbreaking initiative. At a time when ecological concerns are more relevant than ever, it highlights the levers on which a company can act to move towards a more virtuous production approach. This life cycle analysis of the Titan, based on four scenarios in a comparative perspective, has provided EP Climbing with quantified environmental impacts to guide its design choices. It’s great !
Certainly, analyses had been conducted in the climbing industry before. But they typically focused solely on the structure and not the entire system (wall + mats + holds). Therefore, with this study, more concrete conclusions are now possible. Since a wall does not exist without these additional elements. Through this life cycle analysis of the Titan, EP Climbing aimed to establish an initial assessment to make informed decisions for the long term.
Currently, the Isère-based manufacturer is already making various small efforts. For example, reducing plastic in hold packaging. Or collaborating with Ghold and Greenholds. There is also a partnership in place with a foam recycling chain. “We go to the climbing gyms. We remove the foam. Then we send it to a specialized recycling plant (in France). We also have ISO 14001 certified factories.”