Sustainability back to basics: Life Cycle Assessment
As the industry continues to address the challenge of reducing carbon emissions relating to buildings, a number of new processes and disciplines have come to the fore.
There has been much talk of whole life costs, and the calculation of embodied energy when selecting materials for construction products. Associated with these two disciplines, but taking a broader stance, is the area of life cycle assessment (LCA). LCA is essentially focused on reducing the impact of people on the planet and capturing the real environmental cost of products and services. Put another way, it’s about finding ways of getting more for less.
A good example of this is the Olympic Stadium. The Bird’s Nest in Beijing used 49,000 tons of steel, while the stadium in Stratford used 4,600 tons — both seated 100,000 people.
The calculation of an LCA involves the assignment of a full range of environmental effects to any product or service through materials extraction to processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling, plus all transportation requirements. The typical outcome is material, energy, water, eco system and emission footprints. ISO 14000 details the phases of calculation involved: goals and scope; life cycle inventory, life cycle impacts, and interpretation. However, there are many methods of calculating LCA, and almost as many tools.
Forward thinking businesses are looking at LCA and seeing how it can be used to make them more sustainable and save money. Increasingly, building products and businesses down the supply chain will need to show how the manufacture and supply of materials reduces the impact on the environment.
By Kye Gbangbola, a director of Chartered Building Consultancy Total Eco Management More on sustainability can be found at: