10 Essential Facts about Building Life Cycle Assessment
10 facts you need to know about Building Life Cycle Assessment
Building Life Cycle Assessment is a scientific methodology
Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment ≠ Building Carbon Footprint
Global Warming Potential (or GWP), for example, is one of the impact categories measured in a Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment according to European standards and measures the impact of all greenhouses gases emissions, including but not limited to carbon.
Impact categories help us evaluate the potential environmental impact of different processes and substances. Ozone depletion potential, for example, measures the potential of specific substances to erode the ozone layer. Acidification potential measures the potential of pollutants to cause the acidification of soil and water.
Building LCA helps fight climate change
Why is building LCA important? A global perspective
- Buildings cause 39% of global carbon emissions. Construction professionals and investors need to take responsibility for the environmental impact of their projects and portfolios.
- Healthy and affordable living is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.”
UN SDG Target 11.1: Safe and affordable housing
The construction sector faces the challenge of enabling people around the world to access better housing, whilst reducing the environmental impact of the necessary new construction.
- Life-cycle assessment is a scientific methodology that can support the efforts of green building professionals to build more sustainable buildings.
The impact of building materials is critical
Building materials already contain embodied impacts when they are purchased and brought to the building site. Their production has caused certain gases to be released into the atmosphere, the transportation of the materials to the manufacturing facilities has caused other impacts, and so on. If an EPD of that material is available, it means that the lifetime impacts of the material have already been calculated and declared, and that makes it easier to calculate the environmental impacts of the building. This is why many countries are pushing towards creating EPD databases of materials produced by local manufacturers.
It’s not just about ecodesign: there are strong business benefits to an LCA
Moreover, many certification schemes around the world include Building LCA credits.
- LEED has the MRc1 Building life-cycle impact reduction Option 4: Whole-Building Life-Cycle Assessment credit (learn how to calculate it).
- BREEAM has included Building Life Cycle Analysis in all their schemes, with Mat 01 Life cycle impacts credits, and the new edition of BREEAM UK NC 2018 has boosted LCA credits to 10.
- DGNB and DGNB DK both include Life Cycle Assessment credits, and LCA is also an important part of Energie Carbone.
Combine with Building Life Cycle Costing to save cost and carbon
Similarly to building LCA, the earlier in the design process you calculate a building LCC, the more savings you can achieve. In both cases, you can compare design alternatives to find out which is better over the whole life cycle of the building. For example, if you perform LCC calculations you might find out that a product that has a cheaper initial cost might end up being much more expensive in the long run because it will need to be replaced more times during the building use phase, which is usually around 60 years.
LCC provides reliable metrics on costs and savings over the whole lifetime of the building and there is a strong business case for building LCC. When paired with LCA, it can help design buildings that are more sustainable both from an environmental and financial perspective.
You can automate building LCA
One Click LCA integrates with Building Information Modeling (BIM) Revit, Excel, IFC, IESVE, energy models (gbXML), and other tools, making it easy to import your design.
Using a Building Life Cycle Assessment tool, like One Click LCA, automates the complex LCA calculations. This makes conducting an LCA easier and faster, and more economically feasible to integrate into the early design phase.
When choosing a Building Life Cycle Assessment tool, it is important to identify your needs, evaluate productivity and find out how much you can achieve with that specific tool. Read more on how to do this here.
You need to use an LCA database
There are two types of Life Cycle Inventory Databases: LCA databases of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), or generic materials, or both. An EPD database enables you to choose a specific material produced by a specific manufacturer and access all the LCA data of that material. While a generic database is based on industry averages, which means that highly performing materials are put in the same basket as materials that emit a lot of CO2. For more transparent and reliable results, an EPD database is advised.
Building Life Cycle Assessment is growing, but not fast enough
1. LCA used to be costly and time-consuming, requiring weeks and even months to be completed. This has been solved by the development of tools, such as One Click LCA, which can automate the calculations and cut down the time required for an LCA by 85%.
2. The lack of a database can be an obstacle for green building professionals working in countries without their own EPD database. To solve this, a solution can be adjusting results according to local conditions, something that One Click LCA does with a data regionalization methodology developed according to CEN/TR 15941:2010 and verified by BRE.
3. While there is more awareness surrounding the impact of the built environment on climate change, there is a need for stronger incentives and legislative initiatives. While the European Union with Level(s) and countries, like Finland, France, and Norway, are pushing for zero carbon buildings, there is still a lot of work to be done to make the business case for building life cycle assessment even stronger.
You too can become a Building LCA expert
- Read our Building Life Cycle Assessment ebook
- Check out our top learning resources for building LCA
- Get a 14-day free trial of One Click LCA and see how Building LCA works in practice
If you want to get personal advice on how to use One Click LCA to achieve green building certifications and low-carbon design, you can book a meeting with our experts.
Life Cycle Assessment for Buildings
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