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eTool LCA Software Updates – Autumn 2014

eTool LCA for Any Project

We conducted a retrospective LCA on the harbour bridge a while back, which highlighted how versatile eTool LCA was.  It was clunky though.  Whilst setting up the harbour bridge project we had to answer questions in the eTool LCA interface like “Number of bedrooms”.  We weren’t quite sure how we were going to solve this little quandary once and for all.  There seemed to be an unmanageably large number of different types of structures with potentially unique functional attributes.  For example, in the OmniClass classification there’s 748 different “Facility Types”.  When you also add all the possible iterations of mixed type facilities we really started scratching our heads.  Why?  Here’s a few reasons:

  • The result was bigger than the biggest number that excel could calculate (1.79 x 10308)
  • If we provided the software uses with a drop down to choose from this list, the drop down would extend past he bottom of your screen, through the Earth, out of our solar system, out of the milky way and through a bunch of other galaxies.
  • If you could navigate through that list of different functions at the speed of light, and the one you wanted happened to be half way down the list, it would take you longer than the time between the big bang and now
  • The amount of data stored in that list would take your computer about the same length of time to retrieve the list from the internet

Anyway, we knew we needed another method.  We needed an ability to not only choose from the list of facility types, but enable custom combinations of these facility types in the one design.  For example, a mixed development with residential, retail and commercial space.

This feature also started us on our journey of BIM integration.  Thus far we’ve drawn on COBIE as our categorisation standard, but in the future we hope to map this to other standards so users can report however they see fit.  The flexibility of eTool LCA just exploded (without the clunkiness, or waiting until the next big bang for your list of facility types to download).

eTool LCA for Infrastructure

In our new list of possible design functions we have infrastructure elements such as roads, rail, air ports, bridges, stadiums etc.  We even have applicable functional attributes that users can choose for the appropriate infrastructure.  For example, a road designer may choose to measure their impacts per:

  • passenger transported
  • tonne of freight transported
  • workload unit (one passenger or 100kg of freight)
  • unit area of pavement
  • unit length of the road

Hopefully this drives some serious though about what the function of that infrastructure is, and how the movement of passengers or freight may be better done with lower carbon alternatives such as rail!  After all this is one of the beauties of LCA.

eTool LCA for Energy Generators

Another neat example of facilities that can now be assessed with eTool LCA is electricity generators.  Fancy running an environmental life cycle assessment of a wind turbine verse solar PV verses coal fired plant?  Knock your socks off!  The functional unit you’ll probably be choosing here is impacts per life cycle kWh generated.

eTool LCA for Data Centres

A little left field, but how to you compare the sustainability of data centres?  Have a go in eTool LCA!  You can choose from the below functional units to ensure you’re making fair comparisons between different options:

  • Annual data stored
  • Life cycle data stored
  • Annual data transmitted
  • Life cycle data transmitted
  • Net usable area

What next for eTool LCA?

For those who are rushing to check out the above functionality, bare in mind this is hot off the press and we’re yet to develop a library of templates that support these new types of construction entities.  This will come though, especially with the template validation functionality that is already helping our library grow.

In the mean time, software features continue to roll on.  The two big projects we’re working on at the moment is BRE IMPACT compliance.  We’re excited about this as it’s a third party verification system specifically designed for what eTool LCA does – LCA of Construction Projects.  Not only is this a big indication of the mainstreaming of LCA, it’ll also be really nice to have an official seal of approval on the accuracy of eTool LCA.

The other big project is a push on reporting.  We’re introducing a whole heap of cool new reports aimed at users to generate promotional and marketing ideas for their improved buildings.  Is this core to LCA, absolutely now.  Is it important to ensure that environmentally sustainable buildings proliferate?  Absolutely.  We don’t have our pulse on this globally but we hazard to guess the biggest impediment to truly sustainable buildings in Australia is a total disinterest within the real estate industry.  And eTool LCA is will hopefully spark this interest a little more by providing agents with really useful info to help them sell better buildings.

Past that, refer to our product roadmap which (although partially implemented) gives a good idea of where we’re heading longer term.

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GBCA Green Star 2014 Incorporates LCA Credit

Last year, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) announced the launch of two Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) based “Innovation Challenges”, which challenged the industry to incorporate Whole of Building LCA (6 points), and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) (2 points) into new and registered Green Star projects.

Just this month, GBCA released their Summary of Changes to Credits report where life cycle assessment is now a draft credit offered for Green Star. The newly added Material Life Cycle Impacts credit makes up to six points available for whole-of-building, life cycle cycle assessment:

  • 4 points for realising an improvement across six environmental impact categories in comparison to a theoretical benchmark building
  • 1 additional point available for including an additional five impact categories in the analysis

This is exciting news for life cycle assessment as it signifies the growing global trend towards LCA as the preferred design and assessment method for sustainable buildings. Just last month, the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) also embraced life cycle assessment in their EnviroDevelopment standards.

eTool is a leader in life cycle design and assessment through our innovative, sophisticated life cycle assessment software and consulting services and offer a range of services to best suit your needs. Please contact us if you have any queries about the new LCA Green Star credit or if you would like to discuss how eTool can assist with your Green Star project.

Watch this space as life cycle design continues to soar and eTool congratulates GBCA for another positive development in Green Star.

 

 

Webinar: Intro to eTool LCA – Life Cycle Assessment made easy

Want to learn about life cycle assessment (LCA) of the built form?

Join Richard Haynes, Co-founder and Software Development Team Leader of eTool, for a complimentary webinar on life cycle assessment (LCA) of the built form. The session will provide an introduction into life cycle assessment for buildings, eTool LCA software and an overview of LCA standards around the world.

Details

Date: Wednesday, 21st May
Time: 9:00am to 10:00am AWST (Australian Western Standard Time)
Webinar: Attendees will be sent a GoToMeeting login the week of the event 
Cost: Free 

Webinar Structure

  • Intro to eTool
  • LCA of a Building in 10 Minutes
  • Running Improvement Scenarios
  • Reporting
  • LCA Standards Overview
    • ISO 14040 – LCA Principles and Framework
    • ISO 14044 – Requirements and Guidelines
    • ISO 14025 – Product Environmental Labelling Type III
    • ISO 14067 – GHG Carbon Footprinting
    • EN 15804 – Building Product Declarations
    • EN 15978 – Assessment of Environmental Performance of Buildings

 

 

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LCA Design Life and Functionality

Why This Post?

Well, it turns out it’s REALLY important. My eyes opened to this on the first life cycle assessment we conducted four years ago now. I probably didn’t realise how important it was until more recently though.  The crucial moment was when we did some back of the envelope, top-down carbon budgeting to understand how much greenhouse pollutions our buildings could push into the atmosphere and still enable a stable climate. And this is where it gets interesting. The workings to our rough carbon budget for buildings are here and they throw out a fairly large challenge. In fact, for residential buildings, we need to go net zero operational carbon, and then reduce the remaining embodied emissions by nearly 90%.

Often when you hear the term embodied energy, embodied carbon or embodied impacts, it’s associated with materials choices. Or at least that’s the normal approach to reducing embodied impacts. But there’s an elephant in the living room that’s not being addressed, and this post discusses that. If you don’t want to read about it, sit back and enjoy this video (apologies for the less than professional sound quality).

 

Some LCA Basics

Life Cycle Assessment isn’t just about measuring impacts. One of the key elements of ISO 14040 is to consider the “Functional Unit” of the object of your assessment. The functional unit enables comparisons between variations of the product or services. In the case of buildings, it would correct for things like design life and size. Inherently, it’s correcting for the function of the building. And the formula for the impacts of a building hence becomes:

Life Cycle Assessment Impact Equation for Residential Building

Life Cycle Assessment Impact Equation for Residential Building

As mentioned above, most people focus on reducing the impacts when trying to improve building environmental performance. In reality though, it’s the denominator that often has the most effect on the impact of a building. And this stands to reason. If your building houses more occupants, or lasts longer, it’s providing more benefit for the same initial and disposal impacts (construction and demolition).  As mentioned in a related post here, we actually need to reduce our embodied emissions by nearly 90% to hit a sustainable level of GHG emissions.  So we need every bit of help we can get, and some focus on functionality and design life presents us with some very low hanging fruit.

Design Life

Extending design life is a brilliant way of improving the impacts per functional unit for a buildings. This is because most maintenance, energy and water inputs are pretty constant over the building’s life, where as the initial materials, construction, demolition and disposal impacts are quite independent of design life. For residential buildings in Australia, for example, these initial and end of life impacts total approximately 25% of the total life cycle impacts. So, by doubling design life without any change to energy efficiency, you can reduce the overall impacts of your building by over 12%.

How to Influence Design Life

In order to answer this question we really need to think about what is driving demolitions. There are two good surveys that answer this question quite well. One is from the US and the other Australia. They compliment each other in their answers. Here are the results:

US Study Conducted By Athena:

Reason for Redevelopment Proportion Categorised Reason Proportion
Area Redevelopment 35% Not Related to Durability 61.3%
No Longer Suitable for Needs 22%
Code Compliance Too Expensive 2%
Socially Undesirable Use 1%
Maintenance Too Expensive 0%
Changing Land Values 0%
Out Dated Appearance 0.90%
Lack of Maintenance 23.80% Lack of maintenance / neglect 26.4%
Other Physical Condition 2.60%
Structural or Material Problem 3.50% Durability Issue 3.5%
Other 2% Other 8.8%
Fire Damage 7%

Athena, Demolition Survey – Building Service Life Study – Phase Two

There seems to be a surprisingly large proportion of buildings that are being redeveloped for reasons other that structural integrity. So, building strength and durability seems to be only part of the design life story. It gets a lot more interesting when you read this study further, as it turns out the longest lasting buildings are actually timber. This was counter intuitive to me, I would have expected the steel and concrete buildings to be lasting longer than the timber ones. The other interesting thing was that there seems to be a hump that a building needs to get over at the 30-50 year mark, and once it’s over that, it’ll last a long time.

Service Life of Structure Type

 

The Australian survey supports the theme that durability is only part of the story.

Reason for Redevelopment Proportion
Demolished for Site Redevelopment 58%
No Longer Suits Owners Needs 28%
Other 6%
Building Becomes Unserviceable 8%

Dynamics of Carbon Stocks in Timber in Australian Residential Housing

Redevelopment Probability

These studies suggest that the durability of a building only plays a small role in predicting service life. Other factors, predominantly redevelopment pressure, are actually more important. The strategies to counter this are relatively simple. I’ve listed a few below:

  • Increase density compared to surrounding suburb through:

– Building value : Land value ratio
– Maximise yield

  • Diversify lot ownership, which increases difficulty for redevelopment in the future
  • Design quality (create timeless character by ensuring house is designed for the site and surrounds)
  • Enable retrofitting (enable occupant density to be increased or building use to be transformed easily without demolition)

Other strategies that assist in extending the service life of the building (or materials) include:

  • Ensure appropriate materials are used to weather any likely natural disasters in a region (e.g. fire)
  • Where redevelopment potential is very low, focus construction methods
  • Design for deconstruction (extend materials service life beyond the building)

We should be thinking of buildings as permanent features, that may stand for many centuries. Whilst this would be a paradigm shift in Australia, there are countless examples of suburbs within the world’s major cities where average design life of existing structures would be well in excess of 100 years. These are cities like London, Paris and Rome where this resilience to redevelopment is in itself the appeal of these cities. There are still pockets of historical buildings in Australian cities also, and our aim should be to promote this approach to the extent that it become the norm.

Functionality

Increasing functionality is perhaps slightly simpler. It does require buy-in from the owner. In the residential context it really comes down to increasing occupancy within the same space. This doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing life-style. Very well considered design will yield efficiencies in ensuring that every square metre of floor space is well utilised. Integration of stairs, corridors, studies, entertainment areas etc into bedrooms or living rooms are examples of efficient design. It also pays to compare our current residential functional average to that of our past, and also other countries. The chart below shows that over the last 35 years, Australia has trended badly in terms of environmental sustainability in relation to functionality of residential buildings. During this period, the average size of new buildings has significantly increased, whist the occupancy per dwelling has dropped. It’s encouraging to see a recent reversal in this trend, and we hope it continues.

Australian Residential Building Functionality TrendsWhen we look at he space per person, it’s increased from 54 to 96 square metres.  Compare this to the average space per occupant in the UK of 32 square metres and it’s clear that we have some wiggle room in this area.

In commercial buildings, there’s very good financial incentive for improving floor plate efficiency as it means greater rent. Small changes can yield big uplift in rental revenue. Intelligent strategies to improve floor plate efficiency include:

  • Sharing services between floors
  • Optimising lift size, speed and number
  • Minimising services risers
  • Minimising circulation ways

The common areas associated with large apartments or office buildings are also very worthy of attention. In Australia particularly, car parks often amount to 25% of total floor space or more. This is a huge burden on the useful floor area of the building, not only in terms of embodied impacts, but also operationally, due to lighting and ventilation requirements. Currently, car park efficiency is an area that doesn’t receive a lot of attention. We have yet to see a design brief where a developer has stipulated a target floor area per car park. Good practice internationally is 20 square meters per car space, and this is with a normal 90 degree layout. If the car park is large enough to accommodate loop, by moving to 45 degree angle parking the space requirements can be reduced even further. This is enabled by reducing the required space to pull in and out of the park to a single lane for 45 degrees nose-in parking, whereas 90 degree parking requires two lanes. It’s not uncommon to see car parks in Perth buildings requiring 30 square meters of space per car park, so there’s huge potential in this area for efficiency improvements and cost gains. Could that three level basement car park be optimised and reduced to two? Ask the question and refer to some international benchmarks on car park design, you might be pleasantly surprised.

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The most frustrating thing about all these great opportunities to improve a building’s design life or functionality is that we rarely get to help people do it. The reason is, it’s usually been designed by the time we’re engaged. There’s a nice chart, a version of which is below, that explains how as a project progresses from brief to concept to construction and onwards, the ability to influence it’s environmental performance drops off sharply. This post effectively explains a bit part of the reason why. There are other design opportunities that also need early consideration to become feasible as well. We recognised this pretty early on at eTool and developed way of running ‘scoping study’ LCAs to help design teams identify and reduce environmental impact ‘hot spots’ in their concept designs. We’ve taken this a step further now by offering a target setting service. We can help a design team develop performance targets for their building before a concept design has even been dreamt up. All we really need is a draft brief and we can profile the life cycle impacts of a normal approach to delivering the intended function of the building. We then use this model to simulate improvements that the owner and design team want to target, these can include design life or functionality improvements. Early feedback on this service has been great, get in touch if you want more information.

Building Life Cycle Environmental Influence

 

 

 

 

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A Rough Carbon Budget For Buildings

Why A Carbon Budget?

As we learn more about greenhouse (GHG) pollution and global warming we’re getting better at understanding cause and effect. There’s lots of complexity, obviously. However, the variables are slowly being identified, tested, and fed back into the models. Last year the media latched onto a story that global warming had ceased. I wish the stories indeed did debunk climate theory. Unfortunately not. We’re just in a period of warmer oceans and cooler atmosphere. Will Steffen explained this in a very objective manner when questioned in the Senate Committee on Extreme Weather Events (see page 12 of this transcript). Anyway, all the scientific research into climate change now enables us to make predictions of warming based on the volume of GHG we release into the atmosphere. And we’re even able to make predictions about what effects this may have. The below infographic is an incredibly good summary of these predictions, and the background data is rock solid if you’re interesting in looking into this further.

KIB_Gigatons_CO2_Apr14_A4

 

It’s pretty clear we need to try to limit warming to two degrees. The big reason for this is that there are tipping points for our climate, which trigger events that force more warming. Some examples include melting of arctic tundra and stored methane, release of methane from sea bed methane clathrates or the collapse of the amazon due to drought and fire. We don’t actually know at what point these events will happen and they may even happen before we get to two degrees warming. What we do know, is that it’s highly likely they will happen if we keep warming the planet. Even without these events occurring, we’re on track for four degrees of warming by the end of the century. Four degrees will probably put so much pressure on food resources there’ll be major global conflict. Not over land, or oil, but over food. It could get very messy.

A Per Capita Carbon Budget

So, we need to work out how much more carbon we can release to avoid these events, we need to set a budget. There is actually a level of GHG pollution that the planet can happily cope with naturally through chemical and biological sequestration. It’s a rubbery number, but sits at about 2.0 tCO2e per person. In 2050, accounting for population growth, we really need to be aiming for approximately 1.0 t CO2e per person per year which would actually enable us to reduce the GHG in the atmosphere. This, then, is our sustainable level of GHG emissions on a per capita basis. Some calculations on this here and here (with slightly different results).

Apportioning to Economic Sectors

Relating this to buildings is a little difficult because we don’t really know how the economy is going to decarbonise. There might be breakthroughs in certain sectors that enable it to effectively zero its GHG emissions, whilst others may find it very hard to shake the existing thirst for fossil fuels (or land use change). If however, we assume that all major sectors of the economy decarbonize together, then we can essentially take each sector’s current percentage of GHG emissions and multiply it by 1.0 t CO2e to yield the per capita budget for each sector. This is one of the best diagrams I have come across to explain GHG flows through the economy. It’s taken from a great publication called Navigating the Numbers.

GHG Flows

GHG Flows

In the diagram, the column “end use activity” is what we need to focus on to determine how current GHGs are apportioned across our economy. Directly, buildings are responsible for 15.3% of GHGs. However, there are a lot of indirect emissions that relate to buildings if you take a life cycle approach to measuring an impact of a building. These include transportation of materials to the site, transportation of equipment and labour, construction energy, emissions relating to materials production, further transport, and equipment use to maintain the building. Then deconstruction, demolition and landfill emissions. There may also be land use change emissions associated with some building products, or urbanisation as well. If we make the below assumptions regarding the allocation of these indirect emissions to buildings (which are not based on research, but I believe are reasonable), we land at a number of 26% of total GHG emissions relating to buildings.

  • 60% of building energy use relates to electricity to determine distribution and transmission losses
  • 70% of coal is used for electricity or downstream processes attributed to buildings
  • 30% of oil and gas gets used for electricity or downstream processes that can be attributed to buildings
  • Unallocated fuel combustion is proportionally attributed to all end uses
  • 1% of air transport and 10% of all other transport relates to building construction, maintenance, design or management.
  • 50% of iron, steel and cement is used in building construction or maintenance
  • 10% of chemicals are used in building construction or maintenance
  • 25% of aluminium and non ferrous metals are used in building construction or maintenance
  • 10% of other industries are providing materials or services to building construction or maintenance
  • 25% of land use change emissions due to harvest and management of forests relate to construction and maintenance of buildings
  • 15% of all landfill gas emissions relate to disposal of construction waste
  • 75% of waste water treatment emissions relate to building waste water

Building Related Emissions

These assumptions and calculations at this point are moving pretty quickly towards “back of the envelope”. The only way I can really justify this is that there are no numbers out there telling us what is a sustainable level of GHG emissions for buildings. So don’t hang your hat on these numbers, however, in lieu of more robust calculations, here’s a starting point.

A Carbon Budget For Buildings

We can now set a rough carbon footprint for environmentally sustainable buildings at 260kgCO2e per year per capita. This will be split between residential dwellings and other buildings. If we assume the split is the same as the direct GHG split in the “Navigating the Numbers” flow chart, that gives us a budget of 168kgCO2e per year per capita for residences, with the remainder of building related GHG distributed to workplaces, hospitals, civic buildings etc. We haven’t done any work on how to distribute the remainder amongst these other buildings as it gets pretty complex but watch this space. For residential buildings in Australia, we have a lot of work to do to achieve this budget. See the below chart for a visual on that.

Australian Residential Buildings

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Although these numbers require more work to confirm, they provide some guidance in lieu of other sources. They display the extent of the challenge. In particular, note in the last chart that the target is many times less than even the embodied GHG of current “average” buildings in Australia. I extend on this topic in this post, exploring some lateral thinking to solving the challenge of hitting our carbon budget for buildings. Note, this is an update on the video attached to the next post so you may spot a difference in the figures.