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GBCA Green Star LCA Credits

As part of the exciting Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) Green Star 2014 Design & As Built release, Life Cycle Assessment has taken another step forward in establishing itself as a standard component of good design.

The new Life Cycle Impacts credit provides up to 7 points for projects achieving a performance improvement across six environmental impact categories.

While the total number of points has increased the performance requirement has also risen from what was a 100% accumulative improvement to now being 130%. Essentially, there are more points available but designs will have to push harder to get them – ultimately a good outcome for the planet.

While most of the criteria and requirements have remained the same since the draft credit was realised earlier this year, it is great to see it firmly established in the new tool. More details can be found on Page 141 of the Green Star Rating Tool Technical Manual.

“As the circular economy expands, our industry will need to understand how to work with LCA…to drive the next evolution of sustainability,” said Romily Madew, Chief Executive of the GBCA.

Since LCA was first included in Green Star last year with the Innovation Challenge, eTool has been successfully involved with over 12 separate Green Star projects. These have ranged from large office, retail and tertiary education buildings through to retirement villages and supermarkets. Several have already achieved their targeted Five Star Green Star accreditation and with one hitting Six Star.

“GBCA members Cundall and eTool deserve applause for recently working together to earn five Green Star points for a life cycle assessment for the Kings Square buildings in Perth.” (read article here)

All projects have successfully managed to obtain the points targeted through the LCA credit with teams quick to included eTool in additional and upcoming jobs.

More importantly, project teams are finding that by integrating a Life Cycle Design approach they are realising far greater opportunities for improving environmental performance. Furthermore, it has been giving these projects, the consultants working on them and the clients, a world leading edge.

“Life cycle assessment is not a fad, and will increasingly be understood as a smart business decision within a sustainable business model”, said Romily Madew.

Make sure you sign up to our upcoming LCA in Green Star webinar if you want to keep up with the rapidly growing demand or contact us if you have a project you’d like to discuss.

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Psaros WINS a 2014 Banksia Sustainability Award!

Leading WA developer and long-standing client of eTool, Psaros was the recipient of the SMB Sustainability Leadership 2014 Banksia Sustainability Award.

A testament to their innovation and commitment to sustainability, Psaros uses eTool to conduct a life cycle assessment (LCA)  for each of their multi-residential developments, with one of their more recent developments Edge, winning an International Property Award in the 2014 Asia Pacific regional competition.

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Edge by Psaros

It’s an honour to be a part of the Psaros sustainability journey and we look forward to what lies ahead. Congratulations Psaros for Leading by Doing.

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Chiara Pacifici, Head of Sustainability, accepting the award on Psaros’s behalf.

 

More Psaros developments:

Zero-Carbon Buildings? It’s the Wrong Target

Well this is a bit of an odd post as it’s result of me getting carried away in a “linked in” conversation and blowing the word limit considerably. I’ve ended up posting only the key points on the “linked in” conversation and the detailed response here.

To understand the background please have a look at this conversation (I think you’ll have to sign up to be part of the group) and this blog article. From there you will see where the rest of this following rant comes from.

 

 

I think this is pretty massive topic requiring a lot of discussion to get some good outcomes. I’ve ended up with a 50page response as a result.

It also has taken a few tangents which I’ll try to bring back into line with the original topic by breaking it down into four points:

 

  1. If you are taking aim at a particular legislation be very clear in your article that is your purpose.
  2. Don’t be prescriptive in your design approach and push only one strategy (such as passive house) or you’ll get perverse outcomes.
  3. Don’t write off onsite renewable energy it’s on the increase for some good reasons and is only set to grow even further – embrace it where it works.
  4. I’ve also gone to address several of your points in detail to provide some more structure to your original article

 

Those points in detail for those interested enough to read the 50 pages now….

 1. If you are taking aim at a particular legislation be very clear in your article that is your purpose.

I was lead to believe it was all about reducing carbon and what targets to set to get there.

I’ll repeat – I’m not across the UK definition of “zero carbon house” and again if your aim was to identify flaws in it then please reword your opening paragraph as well as the bulk to ensure it’s more “explicitly” stated throughout the article. Otherwise it will continue to read as anti onsite renewables, pro passivehouse and not UK specific. This is really dangerous and we will continue to have people around the world blindly following a design strategy that can often result in bad outcomes for the planet.

You have also introduced “comfort targets” into the conversation which I agree is an important element to good design. However if we are targeting CO2e reductions “comfort targets” need to be defined as what is sustainable for 7b people on the planet and not just a lucky few who can live in large “eco” houses. I think this is another topic for another conversation….

If you’re aim in the article was to create some healthy debate then it was spot on ;)

2. Don’t be prescriptive in your design approach and push only one strategy (such as passive house) or you’ll get perverse outcomes.

If reducing CO2e is the goal then CO2e is the only priority when it comes to design strategy. More importantly CO2e should be the basis of your target not “energy efficiency”.

I am totally agnostic in regards to which strategies (be it passivehaus or solar pv) should be prioritised in a project until we have kicked of with Life Cycle Design. Then and only then can you start to see which strategies will provide a genuine reduction in CO2e over the buildings life cycle.

In my home city of Perth we have a goldilocks climate and very carbon intensive grid which is no where near being destabilised by PV. Unfortunately we still have the vast majority of “eco” designers using all of their clients money to design something that doesn’t need an air-conditioner while having no budget left for solar hot water or solar pv. They’ll reduce their carbon footprint by 10% while the guy down the road in a standard design with solar hot water and solar pv will have a 90% reduction in carbon, lower operating costs and all with less than half the capital cost.

Worse still they’ll chuck large volumes of concrete into the design for thermal mass in the push to achieve the magic “energy efficient” design resulting in an overall increase in life cycle carbon (even with a carbon intensive grid).

If you took the same example up to Kununurra, with a hydro dominated grid, then the solar pv would be a waste of embodied carbon as would the majority of the “radical energy efficiency” strategies. In that circumstance it would all be about the embodied carbon in the materials, transport, construction and maintenance.

Shift it again to various locations in the UK and I bet you’ll find a whole set of new variables and changes in priorities for strategies. Again starting with blanket statements about what should be prioritised without checking each project variables first will result in perverse outcomes.

I know you guys have a much colder climate than we do but I’m still pretty confident that with a proper LCD approach onsite renewables (PV, solar hot water, pellet heater etc) will still come into the mix for a low carbon design.

LCD ensures you apply a rigorous and unbiased approach to each project and provide something that planet and the occupant can be happy with. I would suggest that become familiar with standards such as EN15978 as it will allow you to integrate passivehouse within a much more holistic design philosophy. EN15978 is scientific approach to assessing the environmental performance of a building and is not biased by any existing rating system, design concepts or technology. It’s fast becoming the new benchmark for good design

 

3. Don’t write off onsite renewable energy it’s on the increase for some good reasons and is only set to grow even further – embrace it where it works.

“It is less costly and more effective to consume radically less energy and emit less CO2 by design, rather than to meet higher energy demand with building mounted ‘Zero-Carbon’ renewable generation.”

Sorry but this statement is just not true. In some cases the opposite is more accurate. Again horses for courses! I think I addressed this point somewhat above.

Solar PV has dropped in price dramatically and continues to do so. Distributed storage is now doing the same. So if you continue to ignore it or try to push it to the side you will be left behind. Yes it does have it’s challenges as does any developing technology but they are disappearing fast.

I did read that article from Japan and it’s interesting we had a very similar situation in Australia a few years back. In small isolated network there was a really fast uptake in PV and the local utility got scared of stability issues and put a halt on further installations. As a result the industry responded by integrating cost effective distributed storage and away it went again. I’d almost guarantee we’ll see similar responses around the globe not to mention increase in electric vehicles.

Installing PV on roof in Perth can be as cheap as a solar farm ($1-2/Wp). There is already frames (the roof), electrical infrastructure (existing switchboard and meters) and no land costs. More importantly they are off the shelf items without need for expensive engineering, approvals and regulations. As far as this scary maintenance cost the systems I’m familiar with in Perth over 8years old have never skipped a beat. It just comes down to a life cycle cost analysis and trust me it looks pretty good with people taking it up purely on a cost basis with no rebates.

 

 

4. Specific points in your original article

 

“4. ‘Zero-Carbon Buildings’ may increase national CO2 emissions”

Why can’t these buildings also run gas and have the best of both? This is a pretty massive long bow to draw and very misleading to say that it will increase demand on the network.

“In the dark freezing depths of winter, with a gale howling outside, everyone has their heating turned up high and all the lights switched on … and since the sun isn’t shining the photovoltaic systems on the ‘Zero-Carbon Buildings’ aren’t generating electricity. And since the wind is gale force and highly changeable the wind turbines have switched to safety-mode and aren’t generating electricity!”

Wow, this is sounding like some of the anti renewable energy climate change sceptics. Again can’t the house have both renewables and gas? Furthermore distributed storage is on the way and on the way fast. If you don’t think so then have a think about the people who said mobile phones would never get past one per 200 people.

Houses with onsite renewable energy somehow increase the demand on the network even in hot climates?? Well I can tell you from personal experience in Perth we saw the government build another $300m power station to deal with this peak only to find that solar pv cut the peak dramatically and they never turned it on. Again you need to ensure you’re treating each project on it’s merits and not casting blanket statements or you’ll get tripped up.

 8.‘Zero-Carbon Buildings’ is an abstract and unreliable idea

Sorry this is totally incorrect and also damaging to the progress we are making in getting people to think about CO2e. EN15978 lays it out pretty simply. Run a Life Cycle Assessment and you’ll have a much more reliable picture of reducing CO2e in a building.

Energy is not CO2e much like food cost is not measured in volume of food. Saying the only way to reduce CO2e in a house is to focus on radical energy efficiency is like saying we are going to cut our weekly food bill by eating less volume. So off you go to the shops and buy cheese wine and caviar and cut out the bread, rice and fruit (too much volume), furthermore you stop eating the produce from your own vegi garden. Somehow your food cost went up?

Many forms of energy have really low carbon intensities, some you can grow at home with very small carbon intensities and sometimes investing large amounts in energy efficiency can increase your carbon emissions.

Please explain how tackling CO2e by looking at energy and not CO2e be can less abstract than just targeting the CO2e in first place??

 

 

To wrap it up in conclusion this whole article first up appeared to be about reducing CO2e associated with houses. If this is the goal (which it should be) then setting a “zero carbon” target is exactly what we need to do. Simple….

Regards,

Alex

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The Green Swing Wins National HIA Award

We’d like to extend a huge congratulations to The Green Swing, whose developments have recently won the 2014 HIA GreenSmart Townhouse/Villa Development Award!

The Green Swing was started by a group of passionate Perth residents who decided to build their low carbon houses on a small plot in the Victoria Park suburb. They have won a number of awards due to their impressive environmental performance for the development. Check out their case study from their life cycle assessment on our projects page here.

 

 

The Green Swing - 2014 HIA GreenSmart Townhouse/Villa Development Winner

Construction of a mud brick home

Earth Buildings – Proving the Importance of Embodied Energy

Fei Ngeow, eTool LCD Engineer, recently attended the 2014 EBAA Conference: ‘Earth Building – Towards Zero Carbon’, in NSW. The two-day conference was held the the Bamarang Bush retreat in buildings constructed with mud brick and included workshops and guest speakers on varying topics related to earth buildings.

Fei presented on the topic “The opportunity for earth buildings to achieve true environmental sustainability.” Some of our findings when comparing emissions of a brick veneer house with a mud brick house are shown below:

Life Cycle Performance Comparison

External Wall Comparison

Life cycle analysis shows that a 250mm mud brick wall has a 95% improvement in embodied CO2 over a 110mm rendered brick veneer wall.

Assumptions:
  • Mud brick wall – 250mm puddled mud brick wall made onsite, finished with 10mm clay/bitumen render.
  • Brick veneer wall – 110 brick, insulation, plasterboard paint internal finish, render external finish.
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Embodied Energy Comparison
When you consider the impacts for a whole house for the brick veneer and mud brick house, the embodied emissions are lower for a mud brick construction when compared to a benchmark brick veneer house.
Brick veneer house versus mud brick house - total embodied energy only
According to the IPCC, 1 tonne CO2/person/year  is considered the safe limit to maintain a stabilised climate  for  Interestingly, the embodied emissions in both situations are actually higher than this leaving no emissions spare for all other aspects of life such as transport, food, goods and services.  Assuming we leave around 0.7 tonnes/occupant per year for all other aspects of life we have a sustainable budget of about 0.3 tonnes/occupant/year for our dwellings.
Embodied & Operational Comparison
When the services (heating, cooling, hot water, cooking, appliances, and lighting) are included, the savings are not as clear, due largely in part to the NatHERS 6.5 star rating for standard insulated brick veneer house versus an uninsulated 4 star mud brick house.  Arguably, this reflects limitations in the NAThers modelling such as natural ventilation and use of non-standard designs or materials.  In reality a mud brick house has been claimed to outperform brick veneer in terms of thermal comfort.
Assumptions (for both houses):
  • reverse cycle heat pump (CoP = 3.65, EER = 3.4)
  • 85% efficient gas HWS
  • CFL lighting
  • gas cooking
Brick veneer versus mud brick

The house comparisons have been modeled in a cold climate zone (Tomerong)  and therefore have a minimal cooling requirement and high heating requirement. When low carbon alternative heating solutions such as wood pellet heaters are incorporated, the embodied emissions make up a larger proportion of the total.

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Although the mud brick still requires more heating, because the heating source is very low in emissions in both cases the total operational energy decreases meaning, the embodied emissions proportionally increase.  The relative savings from the mud brick walls then become more significant. If houses can be designed optimally, to minimise cooling requirements, low carbon outcomes are easier to achieve through the use of renewable heat sources.

The grid emissions in the above two scenarios are assumed constant throughout the life cycle of the building.  In reality the grid emissions will decarbonise if Australia is to meet its commitments to Kyoto (80% reduction in CO2 by 2050).  Again the embodied emissions become more  significant because the operational makes up a smaller proportion of the overall emissions.

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Conclusion

The operational use can have a significant impact on the environmental performance over the life of the building.  However, embodied emissions can be arguably as important particularly when low carbon heating sources or future grid intensities are taken into account.  Operational energy use can be very variable depending on how conscientious the end-user is, it is also much easier to tackle through use of renewables and energy efficiency – measures that can often often be applied retrospectively. The embodied emissions on the other hand are locked in from the time the building is built.  By using low impact materials such as mud bricks these impacts are reduced significantly and the savings are locked in for the lifetime of the building no matter what kind of user moves in.
Likewise Earth builders still need to be knowledgeable about the services that go into the building and their life-cycle impacts to ensure that these won’t negate the environmental benefits of their earth home. This is where Life Cycle Design can be very handy – providing big picture comparisons to help the builder make choices that are better for the planet.
A big thanks to the Earth Building Association of Australia for putting on a great conference!
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eToolLCD Data Update

eToolLCD Data Update

A host of new materials have been added to eToolLCD recently to enable even more design flexibility. As well as the new data, existing materials and energy processes have been updated also to achieve greater data consistency and accuracy. All the datasets are now based on AusLCI and the Ecoinvent 2.2 background modified with AusLCI inputs. Most figures for Global Warming Potential (GWP) are consistent with the previous background data with the exception of some outliers, key examples are listed below:
  • Timber data now includes the sequestration of carbon dioxide during the growth phase (which is then re-released into the atmosphere in end of life scenarios)
  • Copper and brass now using improved processing assumptions, decrease in global warming potential, increase in most other indicators
  • Glass fibre insulation has increased due to improved process assumptions
  • Natural polished stone has increased quite dramatically due to mapping electricity inputs back to carbon intensive Australian electricity
  • ABS, Nylon and Expanded Polystyrene impacts have all increased for GWP due to an update in processes (incumbant data was as old as 1990)
  • ​The land use figures have also changed quite a bit due to accuracy improvements in background LCI processes
We are literally in the thick of this update as I write this so still unsure of the changes at a building level. Our educated guess at this stage is any significant use of timber in a building will lead to a much greater saving in GWP compared to the older database. This may also make the benchmarks slightly tougher for some types of buildings (e.g. Residential).
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Why 1% for the Planet?

I have to confess, the main reason I floated this idea with the eTool team was because I idolise Yvon Chouinard.   For those who have never heard of him he’s a climber/alpinist who started the Patagonia brand.  He’s now 76 years old so his life experiences make him a very worthy elder.  Check out the movie 180 Degrees South to get an taste. Climbers, surfers, business people and conservationists all revere him for his feats in only their own specialties, his aggregate achievements across all these disciplines is incredible. Yet, humble would have to be the most appropriate word I can muster to describe him, an incredible human.

But my lofty idea based on an infatuation with Yvon Chouinard wouldn’t have amounted to anything had the cause been anything less than noble. The 1% for the Planet cause is noble, and it’s pretty simple. A commitment to give 1% of your company’s sales to non-profits operating in the environmental space. Yes, that’s right, 1% of sales (not profit). It’s a pretty big call, and one that eTool could hardly afford to make given we’re a boot-strapped environmental software startup with very meagre financial resources. Nevertheless, we bit the bullet and joined up. Two years in I think we’re pretty happy we did. It’s a good thing to be a part of, and eTool really hope that those reading this get involved. If you need a bit more motivation, check out this intro to 1% for the Planet (featuring Yvon himself, member #1)…

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Psaros Announced as Finalist in Australia’s Prestigious Sustainability Awards

A long standing client of eTool has recently been announced as a finalist for the Banksia Sustainability Awards.

Psaros has been leading the way in sustainable multi-residential buildings in Australia through conducting eTool Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) for each of their developments, with one of their more recent developments Edge, winning an International Property Award in the 2014 Asia Pacific regional competition.

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Edge by Psaros

Recently, Psaros and the Conservation Council of Western Australia (CCWA) formed a partnership to help encourage sustainable apartment developments in Perth City. They have commissioned market research to help understand community attitudes towards sustainable apartment-style living the future of Perth city.

Read the Psaros press release here.

We’d like to say a a big ‘congratulations!’ to Psaros from all of us here at eTool. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for the Psaros Banskia Award!

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eTool is now a member of Spacecubed!

Spacecubed is an inner city co-working office space that facilitates community engagement, collaboration, and innovation to help Western Australian startups, businesses and organisations grow.

eTool has recently joined as a community member at Spacecubed to support and participate in the growing startup and innovation community in WA. If you haven’t heard of Spacecubed, check it out here. 

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We’re Going Global

Miss our September Newsletter? …We have some exciting news! 

eTool is growing some wings and heading off on a global journey…

From the very beginning, Richard and Alex created eTool and the eToolLCD software to achieve one mission – to create a global solution for a global challenge: global warming. After many years of hard work, struggle, briefly being the “LCA nerds”, and a great deal of patience, we now watch with excitement as the world embraces Life Cycle Assessment as a standard component of good building design.

To reflect our desire to improve the built form around the world, we’ve breathed new life into our website, created a succinct “Life Cycle Design Explained video“, and changed our domain name to www.etoolglobal.com. Let it be noted: the latter was not an easy decision. The word ‘global’ had a certain “evil global domination” feel, much to the disdain of the team. However after many discussions, global seemed to be best word to signify our ultimate goal – so we are taking the world global back and giving it a new and positive reputation.

To date, eTool has conducted over 200 LCAs of all sorts of building projects with over 1,500 registered eToolLCD users across 61 different countries.

So while our global journey has already begun, we really look forward to continuing to work with you all in achieving global domination… domination of genuinely sustainable buildings that is!

 

-The eTool Team
Richard, Alex, Fei, Patrick, Portia & Henrique