The business case for Building Life Cycle Assessment

How to sell LCA services and save the world

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Why we need to talk about LCA

 

The demand for LCA services is on the rise, but what are the reasons behind the hype?

The answer can be found in the contribution of the construction industry to global warming, the backlash against vague eco-labeling, and the awareness that mere energy efficiency is not sufficient to mitigate the effects of Climate Change.

The impact of the construction industry on non-renewable resources, global warming, and greenhouses gases emissions is well documented. In their 2014 article, “The convergence of life cycle assessment and nearly zero-energy buildings: The case of Germany”, Markus Weißenberg, Werner Jensch, and Werner Lang summarize some key figures about the impacts of the building sector.

The construction and building sector accounts for the highest rates of resource consumption – renewable and non-renewable – through construction, utilization and disposal of residential and non-residential buildings. This has many environmental impacts. For instance, the construction industry requires a major amount of material and energy: 50% of the world’s processed raw materials, 40% of the total energy in the European Union (EU)  and 50% of total German waste.

As a consequence, it is not surprising that regulations and demands from the market increasingly require agents in the construction industry to adhere to guidelines and achieve sustainability goals.

For example:

  • 170 countries have already ratified Paris agreement to reduce carbon emissions
  • More and more countries and cities are focusing on building lifecycle emissions e.g. France, Belgium, Netherlands
  • Consumers are interested in environmental efficiency and major businesses report their emissions as part of their CSR efforts

 

And there is no best way to achieve real sustainability than by adopting the Life Cycle Assessment methodology. Life Cycle Assessment is a scientific methodology that guarantees reliable, objective, and actionable results.

The Business Case for the Use of Life Cycle Metrics by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) analyzes in detail how and why LCA has grown to become an integral part of sustainability services. You can download it on the WBCSD website or see a summary of the key findings in the infographic below.

 

 

Life Cycle Assessment in Green Building certification schemes

 

A big part of the market for Life Cycle Assessment services derives from the rise of Green Building certification schemes like BREEAM and LEED. In fact, Life Cycle-related credits make an appearance in many national and international schemes and our recent lecture “Embodied carbon reduction – a global review of rating & regulatory systems” at Building Lasting Change will be developed in a fully fleshed study on more than 100 schemes. Want to be the first to know when the full study will be available? Sign up for our newsletter.

Currently, our guide to LCA credits in Green Building certification schemes analyzes in detail LCA credits in BREEAM and LEED, and points out how the goal of Building Life Cycle Assessment credits is to assess and reduce the building’s carbon footprint and other impacts through the whole lifecycle.

Increasingly, Green Building schemes give more weight to credits based on Building Life Cycle Assessment. Most notably, BREEAM UK NC 2018 has ended up assigning up to 10 credits to the Mat 01 LCA credit.

This makes sense as the highest potential to reduce the emissions of a building lies in the early design phase: decisions taken now will affect decades in the future. The ability to influence the life cycle emissions dramatically drops as the life cycle stages progress.

 

LCA and LCC in a nutshell

 

Life-cycle metrics provide a numerical assessment of a project’s impacts on different aspects of the environment over its life-cycle. While Life Cycle Assessment focuses on environmental indicators, Life Cycle Costing offers an overview of economic impacts. Life Cycle Metrics provide you an in-depth overview of the project during all phases: design, construction, use, repair and replacement, and demolition and disposal.

By performing both LCA and LCC you can identify the design and material choices that cause the least emissions and the highest savings, and avoid sub-optimization.

The outputs of Life Cycle Assessment calculations are expressed with environmental indicators that identify the potential impacts on a specific element of the biosphere. For example, Global Warming Potential describes the potential contribution to climate change. These indicators and calculation methodology are based on international standards, mainly EN 15978 for Europe and ISO 14040/44 for North America and produce results that are an objective measure of the sustainability of a building.

What is LCA mostly used for?

  • Achieving certification credits
  • Choosing between designs or materials
  • (Carbon) awareness – transparency and understanding
  • Regulating life-cycle or materials impacts of projects
  • Awarding competition prizes based on LCA
  • Zoning and urban planning supporting LCA

What is LCC mostly used for?

  • Achieving certification credits
  • Long-term planning
  • Overview of costs over the whole lifetime and selection of most cost-efficient design alternatives

 

The use of Life Cycle Metrics is not limited to new construction projects: LCA and LCC can also be used for public tenders, infrastructure projects, renovation and refurbishment, city planning, and competitions.

Want to know when to conduct LCA and LCC analysis in each stage? Check the summary below.

How to sell Life Cycle Metrics services

 

For consultants interested in selling LCA and LCC there are some elements that need to be considered. The most important ones are time and data, which are strongly interlinked.

Life Cycle Assessment used to take weeks and even months, which made it a very expensive and time-consuming process, especially when the data collection process took a long time. Both these problems have been solved by automation and the evolution of databases globally. Therefore, one of the most efficient ways to sell LCA and LCC services is to select a tool that enables automated data import to cut down the time required for calculations and has a database with relevant and reliable data, most importantly EPDs.

Moreover, another successful strategy is the combination of Life Cycle Assessment and Life Cycle Costing: Life Cycle Costing gives an overview of the costs of the project over the whole lifetime (usually 60 years for a building) and combining LCC with LCA allows cost and environmental optimization at the same time.

Finally, at the moment Life Cycle Metrics represent a competitive advantage: gaining expertise with LCA and LCC is a necessary step in a global context that will need to adapt to sustainability requirements to lessen the effects of Climate Change. While investors are asking for projects that are not contributing to global warming and terms like carbon accounting and carbon management gain traction, the demand for LCA and LCC services will increase over time, reflecting new regulations, a stronger demand for green and healthy buildings, and the opportunity offered by Life Cycle Assessment to measure the effects of any building in the ecosystem, both locally and globally.

The Business case for Life Cycle Assessment – webinar

 

If you are interested in learning about this topic more in-depth we encourage you to watch a recorded webinar hosted by our LCA expert Ms. Tytti Bruce on this very topic.

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