Life Cycle Assessment and Environmental Product Declarations presented by Leisl Morell
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is gaining importance as a sustainability tool for practicing design professionals. LEED Version 4.0 has adopted LCA language into material resource credit categories. The design and manufacture of products that take into consideration the environmental impact of producing them is becoming more important. What happens to them after they are used up? Many products have environmental labels, but how do we use them, how do we interpret them? LCA and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are helping to sort through the clutter and claims being made for many “green” products.
Maintaining and operating buildings can be complex and consumes a large amount of resources. Building green and minimizing the energy and resources needed to maintain them is a key part of the LCA. What attributes make a building green? By labeling products and agreeing on what those labels mean helps us focus on what things are important to the project and which products meet those criteria.
There are 7 categories in LCA. They are global warming potential, embodied energy, ozone depletion, acidification potential, eutrophication potential (impact to bodies of water), water consumption and smog/petrochemical oxidant creation potential. The benefits besides giving customers a lot of information about a product is that it often leads to innovation and new products that have less impact to the environment.
LCA in the design process. The pre-design stage can include defining environmental goals, selecting the structural system, and looking at the impact of the construction phase and how sustainable the building will be in the future. In the schematic design stage, you start defining the products and assemblies and you can use the EPDs to help specify products. Assessing energy conservation is a key part of this. During design development LCA and EDP will help evaluate lighting and HVAC systems.
Life Cycle Assessment is all of the information gathered in the design process and EDPs provide a summary of all this. It helps put the information in a document that you can give to the customer. EDPs also summarize the impacts that the product has to the LCA categories of Global warming potential, embodied energy, etc., through a nutrition style label.
The AIA 2030 Challenge is about reducing the carbon impact from building products through smart specification and understanding the energy usage and global warming potential of those products can really help us reach those goals.