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10 Essential Facts about Building Life Cycle Assessment

10 facts you need to know about Building Life Cycle Assessment

1

Building Life Cycle Assessment is a scientific methodology

Life-cycle Assessment or LCA is a scientific methodology used to calculate the environmental impacts, including carbon footprint, of a product, service, or process. It is possible to calculate the LCA of a building to find out how it will affect the environment through its whole existence, from the extraction of raw materials to the construction phase, use, and finally demolition and disposal.
2

Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment ≠ Building Carbon Footprint

Is a building carbon footprint the same as a building LCA? No, an LCA goes beyond the information contained in a carbon footprint. A carbon footprint measures how much CO2 will be released into the atmosphere by a specific process. An LCA assesses this but also many more impact categories, in order to fully understand the effects on the ecosystem. 

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

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.

 

3

Building LCA helps fight climate change

The adoption of LCA by building professionals came as a result of increasing awareness of the environmental impact of buildings and followed a backlash against greenwashing and vague eco-labelling. In short, performing a building LCA is the only reliable way to evaluate the sustainability of a building

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.
4

The impact of building materials is critical

Materials are a very important part of a building’s impact. By performing a building materials LCA, we are able to assess the environmental impacts of a specific material or product. This often takes the form of Environmental Product Declarations or EPDs and it basically means calculating the LCA of a product, from the extraction of the material through manufacture, use, replace or repair to disposal and recycling.

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.

5

It’s not just about ecodesign: there are strong business benefits to an LCA

Beyond reducing environmental impact, there are many business benefits to conducting a building LCA. You can measure the impacts of potential building sites,  use it for land sales competitions, contests, refurbishments, or city planning, perform the Life Cycle Assessment of an Infrastructure project, or achieve credits for green building certification schemes like LEED and BREEAM.

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.
6

Combine with Building Life Cycle Costing to save cost and carbon

Building Life Cycle Costing is the analysis of the costs of your building over its whole life cycle and can help to assess long-term savings and costs. It provides a credit in many green building certification credits and is often calculated alongside a building LCA.

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.

7

You can automate building LCA

To calculate a building LCA you need your project’s bill of materials and the calculated energy performance of your building.

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.

8

 You need to use an LCA database

Most Building Life Cycle Assessment tools come with an LCA database of building materials. This allows users to map material choices from their model to the software. Assessing the impacts of building materials is a necessary part of calculating Building LCA and an LCA database helps to achieve exactly that goal.

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.

9

Building Life Cycle Assessment is growing, but not fast enough

There are some challenges to the wider adoption of building LCA:

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.

10

You too can become a Building LCA expert

We care about LCA because we think all buildings need to be sustainable, and we want to make it easy to understand for everybody. At the same time, Building Life Cycle Assessment is a complex topic that cannot be fully summarized in a list. If this list has piqued your interest, there are a lot of ways you can develop your expertise in Building Life Cycle Assessment.

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.

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