eToolLCD Certification Service (Third Party Review)

Ever since the early days of eTool back in 2012 we highlighted one of the risks to widespread LCA adoption is the varying levels of quality in building LCA models and subsequent loss in confidence of the results and conclusions drawn.

To mitigate this, as well as our free of charge eToolLCD training, eTool have also ingrained a formal certification process provided with any paid for eToolLCD Subscription and associated project access fee. ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 standards for LCA call for all studies to be verified by a third party, therefore it made sense for eTool to offer this certification service, as we understand the inner workings of the software which is important for LCA verification. This approach allows eTool to carefully manage the user experience enhancing the users LCA writing skills by assessing users ‘inputs, whilst ensuring quality and comparability.

During the certification process, a senior eTool LCD practitioner is made available to your project for the purposes of:

  • Assisting the LCA team with completing the study in compliance with relevant standards and rating systems (we have now completed over 400 projects for BREEAM, LEED and Green Star so will ensure the model is completed to the correct requirements and no hold ups occur during the LCA credit  verification).
  • Providing credit for “3rd party verification” under BREEAM 2018.
  • Reducing the risk to your clients and elevating the professionalism of your service by peer-reviewing your LCA study to ISO 14040 and ISO14044 standards.
  • Assisting the LCA team with challenging concepts or modelling requirements.
  • Improving the LCA teams efficiency in completing LCA/LCCs using eToolLCD.
  • Providing the LCA team with potential strategies that may be worth considering to reduce the impact of the design.

The certifier will be “suitably qualified” to undertake peer reviews having as a minimum:

  • Completed at least 3 paid for LCAs within the last 2 years
  • eToolLCD advanced training course
  • Experience or qualifications in interpreting construction documentation

The certification system ensures that consistent, high-quality LCA studies are produced from the eToolLCD software. This lends further credibility to your work when clients see the eTool brand on your reports. Outcomes after initial certification requests and interaction with a senior eTool LCD practitioner during third party review has seen a considerable difference in tCO2e saved.

For practiced users of eToolLCD, our certification system offers the benefit of a dedicated support section to complement existing experience. Utilising our certification system, users will benefit from a very quick third party review and subsequent certification, due to the level of quality input data.  

The certification is provided for up to 6 designs within an eToolLCD Building or Infrastructure entity. These designs may be very early stage models, or later stage complete LCA/LCC models or a combination, typically:

  • Concept Design Stage Base Model
  • Concept Design Stage Improved Model(s) (including optioneering)
  • Concept Design Stage Final Model
  • Technical Design Stage Base Model
  • Technical Design Stage Improved Model(s) (including optioneering)
  • Technical Design Stage Final Model

eTool understands that good LCA/LCC modelling is an iterative process and will be on-hand from the outset to provide assistance and answer any questions surrounding the modelling and certification.

Certification Process:

  1. eToolLCD user conducts self review and submits initial model for review
  2. eTool staff complete quality checks on eToolLCD model and provides feedback
  3. eToolLCD user complete / update eToolLCD model
  4. eToolLCD user submit final model for certification
  5. eTool staff completes certification and issue Certifier Review Statement

BREEAM Third Party Verification

In addition to ISO14040 and ISO 14044 quality checks the certifier will also review the following for both baseline models and optioneering models, in line with BREEAM 2018 requirements:

  • Material quantities are within +-10% of those shown in design documentation (both concept and technical design stage models)
  • Where default figures for product service life, transport distance and construction waste have been adapted from generic material default values, there is adequate justification and references.
  • Adhesives are included if cover more than 20% of materials surface
  •  Study period of 60 years

The deliverables are as follows:

  •  eToolLCD Certifier Review Statement documenting checks made, comments and user responses using the certification checklist
  • Phone/email and web link support throughout the process.

Additional information can be found at the Subscription, Project Licenses and Project Certification sections of eToolLCD Software Use Terms and Conditions and eTool Services Specification.

Additional information regarding eToolLCD Project Access Fees can be found here.

* Effective modelling and certification is a result of the eToolLCD software being utilised as it has been designed/intended to be used. The certification service helps ensure that eToolLCD software is appropriately used by ensuring a high quality of user inputs. Studies are conducted by the author (not eTool), and if deviated away from standard processes, are exposed to the risk of errors in the model and authors adding information without notifying the reviewer. In these circumstances the reviewer will flag any concerns in the certifier review statement, but can not be held liable for inaccurate reports.
** It should be noted that as the review has not been conducted by a panel of experts, publication of the comparative results of the LCA would breach ISO 14044 and EN15978 unless the relevant sections of the standards were addressed, in particular requiring a panel review team for comparative studies. 
*** Users who wish to make eToolLCD results public, will also be required to provide a Third Party Verified LCA compliant report.

Warehouse benchmark – LEED certified projects

eTool has developed a warehouse benchmark study in collaboration with CTE, a Brazilian Engineering and Consultancy firm, following the growing demand for Life Cycle Design services in LEED certified projects. 

The objective of this study is to share benchmarking results, deep dive on project hot spot areas, identify the best improvement strategies and assist design teams to set impact reduction targets at concept stage. 

LEED is helping drive the use of Life Cycle Assessment in construction and this study encompasses the final design of seven warehouses in Brazil that were assessed according to the Building Life Cycle Impact Reduction credit (MRc1 – Option 4 – Whole Building LCA).

The size of these projects vary between 62,818 m2 and 6,128 m2. Functional equivalence comparison also considered an average height of 13.6m.

The LCA credit is focused on project´s core, structure and enclosure materials impacts and the reduced scope includes the following life cycle modules:

  • A1-A3 – Product Stage
  • A4 – Transport
  • B1-B5 – Use, Maintenance, Replacement
  • C1-C4 – End of Life

eToolLCD software was used to conduct the study using Life Cycle Strategies North American v17 Life Cycle Inventory, compliant with EN15804 and ISO14044. The impact assessment method is CML – IA baseline V4.5. Service life is 60 years.

The construction scope covers the complete building envelope and structural elements, including footings and foundations, structural floors, columns, beams, structural wall assembly (from cladding to interior finishes), external doors, glazing, and roof assemblies. Estimated demolition impacts are also included. 

LEED certified warehouse (Brazil) – Carbon benchmark

Typical warehouse construction in Brazil uses reinforced concrete footing and piling, concrete slab, prefabricated concrete columns and beams, rendered concrete block walls, concrete panels or steel cladding, steel roof structure and insulated steel roof covering. 

The majority of the materials´impacts are associated with concrete and steel. The use of clinker replacement in cement is becoming more common and partial use of blast furnace slag was assumed in concrete mix for foundation and structural floors. Above average percentage of high recycled content in steel reinforcement was also considered as part of the benchmark model. These assumptions will help drive change in the segment as they become more common and are now considered typical practice for LEED certified projects.

LEED warehouse (27859 m2) – material inventory summary

 

LEED warehouse benchmark – EN15978 table (reduced scope)

Good structural design can significantly reduce embodied carbon, especially when different scenarios are tested at concept stage. Not only evaluating the impacts of materials but also the effect of different construction methods and technologies. eToolLCD users can quickly assess warehouse environmental impacts at concept design stage using whole warehouse template (component level) available in the software. Note this custom template is developed following LEED credit requirements and covers a limited scope. eTool encourages a whole of project analysis including all life cycle stages and full construction scope. This allows early stage analysis to help inform design teams test different scenarios and potential improvement strategies before progressing to detailed design stage.

For more information please contact us.

London Plan Policy – Targeting a reduction in building life cycle carbon emissions.

 

In response to the latest Draft London Plan Policy, eTool takes a closer look at the importance of Whole Life-Cycle Carbon Assessments (WLC) and the latest guidance.

Draft London Plan Policy SI 2 sets out a requirement for developments to calculate and reduce WLC emissions. This requirement applies to planning applications which are referred to the Mayor, but WLC assessments are encouraged for all major applications. Guidance has been published to explain how the assessment of these carbon emissions should be approached and presented, and all planning applications referred to the Mayor must include a WLC assessment prepared in accordance with the WLC guidance document.(¹)

National Building Regulations and the Mayor’s net zero-carbon target for new development currently only account for a building’s operational carbon emissions. As methods and approaches for reducing operational emissions have become better understood, and as targets have become more stringent, these emissions are now beginning to make up a declining proportion of a development’s WLC emissions. Attention now needs to turn to WLC to incorporate the embodied emissions of a development.(2)

Whole Life-Cycle Carbon (WLC) emissions are the carbon emissions resulting from the materials, construction and the use of a building over its entire life, including its demolition and disposal. It is widely accepted that a WLC assessment provides a true picture of a building’s carbon impact on the environment.

Applicants should use benchmarks figures provided as a guide for the design team. Projects with higher emissions should discuss design improvements to reduce emissions early in the concept stage. Aspirational targets are encouraged in line with the World Green Building Council reduction of 40% embodied carbon emissions by 2030. 

eTool makes the Office Benchmark model available online for all eToolLCD users, including Open Users, to encourage design teams to engage LCA early in the design process. eTool Benchmark figures are closely aligned with the Policy Benchmarks as detailed below.

TableClick here to create an account and check the model online for more details. eToolLCD Benchmark model available online includes all modules.

What methodology should be used?

WLC assessments should be carried out using a nationally recognised assessment methodology.

In the UK, the recognised framework for appraising environmental impacts of the built environment is BS EN 15978. This standard was adopted for use by eTool since its release in 2011 (this article expands on EN 15978 further: https://etoolglobal.com/eblog/environment/en-15978/ ).

Supporting the BS EN 15978 is the now widely used RICS Professional Statement: Whole Life Carbon assessment for the built environment(3). It is this RICS policy that should be used as the methodology for assessment when developing a WLC assessment for compliance with Draft London Plan Policy SI 2 (this article explains how eToolLCD adheres to the RICS Professional Statement: Whole Life Carbon assessment https://support.etoollcd.com/index.php/knowledgebase/etoollcd-and-rics-whole-of-life-carbon-assessment-for-the-built-environment/ )

Both BS EN 15978 and the RICS Professional Statement: Whole Life Carbon assessment for the built environment, set out four stages in the life of a typical project and It effectively defines the goal, scope and method of the system boundary.

EN-15978-Diagram

A WLC assessment should cover the entirety of modules A, B, C and D to comply with the London Plan Policy SI 2, with a reference study period (assumed life expectancy of a building) of 60 years.

What about materials and products?

With regards to acceptable sources of carbon data for materials and products, there is an emphasis on EPD’s and equivalent datasets in accordance with EN 15804, ISO 21930, ISO 14067, ISO 14025, ISO 14040/14044 and PAS 2050.

When it comes to biogenic carbon from the use of timber, this should be assessed in accordance with Clause 3.4.1 of the RICS Professional Statement: Whole Life Carbon assessment for the built environment, and included within the reported totals for modules A1-A3.

Grid decarbonisation

Figures should be based on the current status of the electricity grid, in order to provide a point in time assessment, however it is also important to consider the possible long term decarbonisation of the grid and how it could impact design decisions. Therefore, a second set of figures should be provided based on the expected decarbonisation of the electricity grid over the lifetime of the development (i.e. 60 years). This should be done in accordance with the ‘National Grid’s Future Energy Scenario: Slow progression’, including in relation to the EPDs of all materials (UK and non-UK, for simplicity)(4)

eTool will continue to work with UK Industry Bodies and working groups to offer our ongoing support on the above subject and guidance relating to Life Cycle Design.

References:

(1)https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/wlc_guidance_april_2020.pdf
(2) https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/wlc_guidance_april_2020.pdf
(3) https://www.rics.org/globalassets/rics-website/media/news/whole-life-carbon-assessment-for-the–built-environment-november-2017.pdf
(4) https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/wlc_guidance_april_2020.pdf
 

BIM & LCA – aiding a more collaborative approach to sustainable design.

In 2019, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) published the first two international standards for Building Information Modelling (BIM):

  • BS EN ISO 19650–1 Organisation of information about construction works – Information management using building information modelling – Part 1: concepts and principles
  • BS EN ISO 19650-2 Organisation of information about construction works – Information management using building information modelling – Part 2: Delivery phase of assets.

Both of the ISO 19650 standards supersede BS1192:2007 + A2:2016 (principles) and PAS1192 part 2 (capital/delivery phase).

This long awaited move to an international BIM standard not only allows for greater collaboration on global projects, but also brings designers and contractors closer together through clear and precise information management.

So where does LCA fit into this?

The earlier you engage with Life Cycle Design the better. It is at pre-design stage where any decisions made have the biggest influence on energy demand and the environmental impact of a project, while featuring the smallest costs for changes to the design.

It is at early design stage where we need to come together and adopt a collaborative approach on a design that maximises its sustainable potential by including all parties in the design process.

new graph

 

As we have established, efficiency and collaboration on a project is the key factor during early planning stages. When it comes to sustainable buildings, designers will need to be aware of a plethora of information such as embodied carbon, resource use and toxicity. It is highly likely that this will require numerous iterations of the design, in order to produce the desired outcome.

The use of BIM in the design process will allow the design team more time to consider the sustainability factors of the project, by engaging with other members in a more collaborative approach.

With the advancement in BIM/LCA technologies, we are now in a fortunate position where there are LCA tools that can be integrated with BIM to assess the environmental impact of a building.

Standalone embodied assessment tools require data or a model to be imported from a separate BIM modelling application each time an assessment is carried out. Aside from being a laborious task, this is highly inefficient, and collaboration between all parties breaks down.

Many LCA tools have now been developed that offer BIM integration, however there still needs further improvement until LCA can work seamlessly within BIM. In many cases the result are far from ideal, with workflows being unable to work correctly in real life projects.  One contributing factor that can cause inaccuracies and mistakes in LCA results when produced through a BIM integrated workflow, is the human factor.

This is predominantly due to the level of detail in the BIM model. The LCA results will only be as correct and accurate as the BIM model itself. Omission of an element in the BIM model will naturally lead to the respective LCA scope reduction. Incorrect or too generic modelling of an element in the BIM model will lead to false modelling of this element in the LCA model.

Although the above principle can apply in all AEC BIM workflows, in the case of LCA, the effectiveness of the workflow also highly depends on the basis over which the LCA tool works. There are two distinct methods to obtain the Quantities Take-Off from a BIM model, the component level method and the material level method. When the material level method is used, the quantities are extracted from the BIM application material by material, sometimes with meta data showing the component this material belongs too. When adopting this approach, the Human Factor can negatively impact the accuracy of the results quite significantly. This is due to the current Level of Detail (LOD) the industry usually applies in the BIM models. A typical example of this are the glazing quantities, since it is very unlikely and probably also not worthwhile for the modeller to model the exact thickness of the two glazing panes of double-glazed window. Instead it will be modelled as one thick layer of glass that also overlaps the air gap between the panes. In addition, in the early stages most of the elements in a BIM model are filled with generic materials that describe the element itself instead of the actual material.

Using the component level method, which is also the approach followed in eToolLCD, the quantities go along with the components, not the materials. This means that the user will get the total area of a double-glazed window, not the total volume of glass and the total volume of the frame. This gives the user the opportunity to map these components with the respective ones within the LCA tool.

In eToolLCD, this approach is enabled by the utilisation of an extensive component (or template as it is known within e ToolLCD) library, which are essentially the virtual twins of the BIM components and the real life constructed components. With minimal effort from the LCA practitioner, they can then map all material quantities with LCI data sets, enabling higher accuracy of the final results due to the way the low LOD is handled and resolved.

By opting for whole of project life cycle assessment tools (such as eToolLCD) that are incorporated within widely used BIM applications i.e Revit, via a plugin (see this post for further information on eTool’s Revit plugin), it will encourage a more collaborative approach, enabling all parties involved in the project to have an input and make it possible to assess the overall sustainability of a project from conception through to demolition.

With the new ISO BIM standards focusing on collaboration, coupled with the LCA/BIM holistic approach to sustainable design, this truly gives us the opportunity to have a positive impact on our surroundings and the environmental impact of our buildings in the future.

Related article: Does eToolLCD integrate with 3D CAD packages or BIM?

NCC 2022 and NatHERS Star Ratings – eTool Position Statement

NCC 2022 are proposing some dramatic improvements in residential energy use. This is, in principal a fantastic development and one that eTool very much supports. We do however feel that mandating 7 star NatHERS performance carries some risk and isn’t the most effective deployment of available capital for rapid decarbonisation. The reason is simple, there is much lower hanging fruit available in areas not covered by the NCC proposed changes.  It’s also highly likely that the 7 Star requirements will lead to net-negative outcomes for the planet.

See below examples of the life cycle impacts (Global Warming Potential) of three detached residential buildings designs in each capitol city (averaged) selected because of their ubiquity (the homes selected are very standard display home products), plus an overall national population weighted average. Due to their relatively large size (and hence large thermal loads in comparison to other impacts) they represent a somewhat “best case” scenario of what improving thermal performance can achieve. The charts below indicate that moving from 6 to 7 stars doesn’t significantly move the needle on life cycle global warming impacts.  Although moving from 6 to 7 stars delivers a 25% (average) saving in heating and cooling energy requirements, it only results in an average 2% reduction in life cycle impacts.

Life Cycle Impacts of 7 Star NatHERS NCC 2022

While this change could make sense for particularly hot or particularly cold climates, such as Darwin, Hobart and Canberra, it makes significantly less sense for the more temperate areas of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.  So, the question is, can Australian new home buyers get better bang for buck elsewhere?  The “Other Impacts” are broad (see below for a breakdown for the population weighted average example), but the two largest categories are outside of the proposed scope for NCC 2022.  So, while eTool are supportive of improved thermal performance of buildings, we also see inherent risk associated with targeting this strategy in isolation.  That is because, for homes to “rate” 7 stars in many temperature climates they require a lot of thermal mass (e.g. brick and concrete), so what the 2022 NCC may end up doing is discouraging the use of low carbon materials such as timber in preference of brick and concrete for thermal mass.  This will in turn result in higher life cycle material impacts and ultimately higher net impacts, working against the intended goals of the amendments (to reduce greenhouse gas emissions).

Likewise, plug loads are another area – currently outside the NCC – that requires attention.  Solar PV most certainly should play a role in reducing the impacts of the building, energy monitoring, and possibly other policy levers the government can pull to improve the energy efficiency of appliances.  There’s other easy wins that should be addressed, higher efficiency HVAC, lower GWP refrigerant gases are good examples.  Ultimately, life cycle assessment should be the cornerstone of any policy for reducing the environmental impacts of Australian residential and commercial buildings.

Life Cycle Impacts Australian Residence

 

 

 

Greenbuild 2019 all eyes on embodied impacts

The conference and expo took place in Atlanta and kicked off with the 44th president of the United States Barack Obama in a casual conversation with USGBC President Mahesh Ramanujam and a large crowd at the Georgia World Congress Center. Obama highlighted the challenge we have in front of us to create a global capitalism that reduces inequality. He reinforced that social sustainability will empower people to solve environmental issues across the entire planet. He also shared experiences as a President when negotiating global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the importance to consider the “per capita” basis. “I get that we have a culture that like “BIG”, but we have to rethink the size of our homes, our lifestyle and what really gives us satisfaction”.

The event this year was inspiring because of the increased momentum for Whole Building LCA and embodied carbon reduction. There were many educational sessions showcasing LCA studies, research publications and a whole industry movement around understanding relative impacts between different project areas and life cycle stages. Global campaigns like WGBC “Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront” and Architecture 2030 “New Buildings Embodied Carbon” were referenced in many presentations.

eTool reduce carbon eTool embodied carbon

eTool participated in an educational sessions named: “Don´t shine away from Whole Building LCA”, which the intent was to show the audience case studies and encourage higher uptake of the WBLCA credit. After the main presentation, there was a “Speed Dating” workshop for conference participants to meet with LCA tool providers, learn about their software and share some success stories.

It was motivating to see a collaboration from experts highlighting the importance of the LCA methodology to reduce carbon emissions in the built form, a topic that eTool work hard since 2009 to help transform the construction industry! The team at eTool produced online content on how to apply the methodology and achieve carbon reduction goals with our eToolLCD software:

Additional references for LCA applied to the construction industry can be found at:

 

LCA and UKGBC Net-Zero Framework

Given the recent movements in the climate justice campaign, the release of UKGBC Net-Zero Carbon Framework in April this year has been very timely. Although we have seen various “net zero” definitions in the UK in the past (such as the scrapped zero-carbon homes targets under building regs over 10 years ago) it feels this time the general idea has more industry backing with 100s of architects, structural engineers and councils formally declaring a climate emergency.

The UKGBC definition is an interim step on the pathway to assessing full life cycle impacts. It introduces embodied carbon in materials (A1-A3), their impacts for transport (A4) and constriction (A5) alongside operational energy (both regulated and unregulated emissions).

ukgbc net zero

Figure1: UKGBC Net Zero Carbon definition (April 2019)

 

Unfortunately, it does not go as far as full LCA yet with the idea that it simplifies the work and encourages uptake. However, module B1-B5 presents a large chunk of CO2e that will be missing from the calculations. Typically B1-B5 can be responsible 500-1000 kgCO2e/m2 over 60 years and ignoring these impacts will lead to good potential design opportunities being missed. Onsite renewables such as PV will be replaced over the life cycle and whilst the energy that they offset will be included in B6 the embodied impacts of their replacements are not. There are plans to increase the scope in future updates and it is encouraging to at least see some level of joined-up thinking between operational energy and construction embodied carbon. This will no doubt drive some improved design outcomes as design teams can assess the relative merits of strategies that impact on both energy and construction impacts such as thermal mass or triple glazing.

Modelling in eToolLCD
There are two choices of dataset groups in eTool currently. Either BRE IMPACT data or eToolLCD default data (regionalised data available for UK, EU, Aus, NZ and USA regions). Both can be used to model net-zero under the current definitions however if future expansions include modules C and D then eTool default data would be preferred.

 

ModuleUKGBC Net Zero ConstructionUKGBC Net Zero OperationalUKGBC Net Zero Whole of Life (Yet to be Finalised)BREEAM 2018 (IMPACT)eTooLLCD
ConstructionA1-3 Product Stage 118698-32  118698-32 118698-32 118698-32
A4 Transport of Equipment and Materials 118698-32  118698-32 118698-32 118698-32
A5 Construction 118698-32  118698-32 118698-32 118698-32
Use StageB1 Products in Use 118698-32 (1) 118698-32 118698-32
B2 Maintenance  118698-32 (1) 118698-32
B3 Repair  118698-32 (1) 118698-32
B4 Replacement  118698-32 (1) 118698-32
B5 Refurbishment  118698-32 (1) 118698-32 (1) 118698-32
B6 Integrated Energy Use 118698-32  118698-32 118698-32 (1) 118698-32
B6+ Non-Integrated Energy Use (Plug Loads) 118698-32
B7 Water Use & Treatment  118698-32 (1) 118698-32 (1) 118698-32
End of LifeC1 Deconstruction & Demolition  118698-32 (1) 118698-32
C2 Transport of Waste Offsite  118698-32 (1) 118698-32
C3 Waste Processing  118698-32 (1) 118698-32
C4 Disposal  118698-32 (1) 118698-32 118698-32
Benefits and Load Beyond the System BoundaryD1 Operational Energy Exports  118698-32 (1) 118698-32 (1) 118698-32
D2 Closed Loop Recycling  118698-32 (1) 118698-32
D3 Open Loop Recycling  118698-32 (1) 118698-32
D4 Materials Energy Recovery  118698-32 (1) 118698-32
D5 Direct Re-use  118698-32 (1) 118698-32

Figure 2: Scope of Carbon Assessments

Below are the impacts in kgCO2e/m2 for a typical medium density office building. (Note B6 energy impacts assume today’s grid (0.25kgCO2e/kWh) applied over the 60 year life cycle. Note the RICS Whole Life Carbon for the Built Environment Professional Statement is provided as a reporting reference, this level of reporting is simple to pull from eToolLCD using our All Impacts Report

Results

Figure 3: Typical medium density low rise office building 

 

Impacts associated with construction represent a third of the total.  This is significantly higher now than in previous years when the UK grid was 0.6kgCO2e/kWh and usually made up 80-90% of life cycle impacts had that the grid has a lower.  However, there is still a large chunk impacts missing from the guidance in the form of replacement and maintenance (B2-B5) which can be 500-1000 kgCO2e/m2.

Once quantified the design team can start to consider strategies, some examples are shown below.  Without strategies, 1.755 tonnes/m2 of CO2e would need to be offset in a typical office. For net zero the cost of implementing these strategies will need to also be weighed up against the cost of purchasing offsets.

Strategies

Offsets come with varying degrees of quality, cast and “additionality” arguments. The offset schemes referenced by UKGBC (Gold standard and Clean Development mechanism) carry a cost of between £0.6/tonne and £14/tonne. In an average office this could result in up to an extra £24/m2 or 1-2% of construction costs. However, the Greater London Authority recommends a price of £60/tonne. It will be interesting to see whether this gives the industry further incentive to implement low carbon strategies (in particular timber) early on in the design process. Furthermore, the onus will be on us LCA practitioners to improve the accuracy of our LCAs with the total kgCO2e figures resulting in a significant increase to net-zero development costs.

 

Super Credit (Materials+Energy+Water) for Green rating schemes

800px-Superman_shield_small
eTool believes the “Super Credit” based on the life-cycle methodology should be adopted in the short term as an innovation credit (alternative pathway for material, water and energy) in rating schemes like Green Star and ISCA.

In Green Star, LCA could be used to reward not only “Materials” but also the ‘Greenhouse Gas Emissions’ and ‘Potable Water’ credits when whole of building LCA is considered. Operational energy and water impacts are accounted for in separate credits within the existing rating tool – ‘Greenhouse Gas Emissions’ and ‘Potable Water’, respectively. Given the LCA would also account for these impacts, the proposed approach uses the LCA model as a pathway to integrate all three credits. This option became known as the ‘super credit’.

Project could potentially tap into 39 points under the Green Star – Design & As Built (v 1.2) rating tool using this performance based approach:

Materials (Life Cycle Assessment):  7 Points

Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Modelled performance): 20 Points

Potable Water (Performance pathway): 12 Points

This approach means that the energy and water modelling will still need to be done following the original credit description, however the inclusion of the “operational impact” data (modules B6 and B7) into the same LCA model will enable the most accurate and transparent environmental picture of a building project. Understanding how each part of the building (from material choice, water supply and treatment, up to a HVAC system selected) accounts for the total environmental performance, is a key for better design decisions. In addition, the combination of energy, water and material credits into one LCA model and quantifying points achievable via the ‘Super credit” could help to close some gaps of the Green Star Design and As Build 1.2 rating scheme.

Another rating scheme that is currently adopting the life-cycle philosophy and will benefit from it in a short term is IS – Infrastructure Sustainability.

As a member of the iSupply register with ISCA (Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia), eTool suggested the 3-in-1 LCD for materials, energy water ISCA credits. Among all rating schemes in Australia, IS rating is probably most innovative and progressive, adopting the continuous improvement processes and developing a new WWEM tool to combine water, waste, energy and materials calculators into one tool, sort of a “super calculator”.

With an LCA conducted using eToolLCD software even more IS credits could be achieved: Mat-1, or RSO-6, Ene-1, Ene-2, Wat-1, Wat-2, ECN-4, Man-6, Man-7, Lea-3, Innovation credits, resulting in up to 40 points (or almost half of the IS rating 2.0).

Super credit 3 ISCA

Siloed thinking of environmental performance leads to adverse trade offs for the planet. LCA prevents these adverse trade offs, and when coupled with a life cycle design process leads to large environmental performance improvements. There is now a strong trend in uptake of LCA for environmental decision making.

Examples below:

– In standards development: CEN was directed by the EU to produce standards for voluntary rating of sustainable buildings. They developed “EN 15978: Sustainability of Construction Works, Assessment of Environmental Performance of Buildings, Calculation Method” which is entirely LCA-centric.

– In regulation: Laws such as the 2011 Grenelle regulations in France require mandatory LCA-based environmental product labelling.

– In Green Building Rating Schemes: DGNB. LCA forms the bulk of the environmental assessment, LCC for economic and there are some tick boxes for social credit.

– A new EU rating scheme Level(s) that encourages the use of the LCA. Still early phases but it could end up being rolled out across the EU.

eTool believes the “super credit” would enable any sustainable rating scheme to progress towards the most holistic assessment methodology.

The advantages of the super credit

Good Environmental Outcomes: There is a much lower risk of negative trade-offs by integrating embodied and operational impact into the same analysis, instead of understanding the impacts of different categories separately.

More tangibility for the design team to understand the contribution of each improvement strategy and prioritise them. For example: recycled carpet vs lighting sensors vs high efficiency HVAC vs high efficiency water fixtures.

– Identifying different hot spots of a building depending on location (energy and water grids type) and building type. For example, an office building located in Victoria today (very high operational energy requirement, highly intensive grid) will likely need to focus largely on energy efficiency to improve environmental performance. Alternatively, residential buildings in Tasmania will likely have to put much more effort into materials, transport, construction, maintenance, replacement, water efficiency etc as the impacts relating to energy will be a much smaller percent of a reference buildings.

Aligned with global trend towards LCA (future-proofs the rating tool) that accounts for whole of project impact analysis.

Simplifies the maintenance of the existing calculator tools. Single LCA model to enter results from materials, energy and water.

Time-efficiency. The LCA outputs can be used to address multiple credits, not only related to the materials, energy, water, but also cost, innovation, waste, recycling content, maintenance and management decisions.

The reasons put forward for not adopting the super credit are not aligned with eTool’s experience in the application of LCA in the design process of hundreds of projects in Australia and abroad. LCA is only a “relatively coarse approach” if the practitioner is not guided on the method of underlying calculations that are applied in the LCA.

In the case of Green Star and ISCA projects there is nothing preventing the use of the same calculation methods for Operational Energy and Water that exist today (and indeed these are the figures used in Green Star and ISCA LCA studies).

Module A1 – A5 are arguably more predictable than water and energy consumption estimates (which rely on occupant behaviour). The significant challenges faced by eTool as a business who supply LCA software and LCA services to the construction sector are not generally technical in nature. For example, we’d consider the psychology of building developers to adopting strategies that the LCA identifies to improve the environmental performance of their projects to be more challenging.

We are not aware of challenges that would prevent the industry from adapting to a rating scheme using LCA as a core calculator for environmental performance (as for example DGNB have done) and offer our assistance in overcoming those challenges facing GBCA, ISCA and other rating systems.

eTool Response to the Green Star Future Focus consultation paper 2019

Green Star Future Focus
Suggested changes to the framework have been presented in the Future Focus consultation paper – Green Star for New Buildings. The industry has been asked to submit comments to the proposed changes, that include the new set of categories and credits, encourages the elimination of carbon emissions from the built environment and sets high and ambitious requirements for 5-star and 6-star projects.

It is a POSITIVE change to see the proposed integration of the categories Energy, Water and Materials into one new category called “Positive”.

Previous and new credits

For LCA devotee like eTool, it gives hope that the new rating (Green Star for new buildings) will bring the circular economy thinking within Green Star to a whole new level. It is a great chance to close gaps in the previous rating “Green Star Design and As Built version 1.2” as pointed out by eTool feedback on the Material Life Cycle Impact Reduction credit.

How each decision, like a PV system, a new material with an available EPD or water saving technology, would influence the proposed design of a green building? These options need to be modelled to provide a transparent picture of the environmental footprint of the whole project, ideally before drawings are finished and contracts are signed.

eTool believes that the previous separation of energy, water and materials is no longer necessary with the advancements in standards, LCI data sources, LCA tools available and the knowledge within the industry.

Higher requirements for 5 and 6 Star projects.

Another positive change presented in the Discussion Paper is the redefinition of the 5-Star and 6-Star requirements. It is not new to anyone, that the construction industry moved to a new level with an increasing number of Green Star certified projects. Original 4-Star and some of 5-Star projects in Australia became business as usual, which means the “Reference” needed to be redefined – and the rating required a shift to a higher level.

GBCA is aiming to have the new 5 Stars as “Net zero ready”, and 6 Stars as “Net zero carbon”.

net carbon ready and zero

In short, the “Net zero Carbon” (= future 6 Stars) must be 100% powered by renewables and reduce their embodied carbon by 20%. This cannot be done just by simply buying offsets, but through the building design improvement.

The “Net zero READY” projects will still need to reduce embodied carbon (by 10%) but won’t have to be 100% powered by renewable energy.

This is a very positive change, however a clear definition how this needs to be measured is still missing. The European standard EN15978 sets the calculation method and potential options for specific performance targets include an absolute figure (i.e. 85kgCO2e/m2/year) or a percentage reduction against equivalent code compliant design.

New Badges for Champions.

The idea of badges is great and it is a good way to encourage innovations. Supporting the GBCA badges, eTool suggested the following ideas:

  • “Super positive champion” badge for those projects that used LCA model to achieve a “Super Credit” within the new rating, integrating energy, water and materials into the same analysis.
  • “Life cycle costing champion” badge for those projects using LCC to achieve the best environmental performance at the lowest cost, and use that as a metric to prioritise improvement strategies.
  • “Full Operational Net Zero Carbon champion” badge (including building-related and non-integrated building energy use as per EN15978). More details in our Position Statement on Green Star Net Zero Label from 2016.

How can we make sure that “Net zero carbon projects” (ready or not) consider ALL GHG emissions?

Is it enough to use 100% renewables in the Scope 2 and reduce water consumption for the building operation? Is it enough to reduce the embodied carbon (in the building materials) by 10-20% and offset the remaining carbon by purchasing the NCOS certificates?

Zero carbon is a very ambitious goal and to get there the projects will need to use life cycle design from concept phase to understand the key impact areas, prioritise strategies and make sure they are economically viable. The goal is to capture as much impact as possible in the LCA scope and use the design methodology to provide full transparency on the results and support the industry to make the right decisions towards a future in balance with the planet.

Are we running out of building materials?

Materials stock

 

The above infographic from the BBC implies that we will run out of copper in 32 years.  This is calculated by taking the current reserves (about 700Mt) and dividing by the current annual demand for primary copper production, the infographic is well researched.  But…

In 1996 global copper reserves were only 310Mt and since then we have consumed about 310Mt of primary copper.  Exactly the same methodology in determining how long the resource would last, so why haven’t we already run out already?  

The answer lies in the detail of the data.  Reserves are mineral deposits that are at an advanced stage of exploration and have been proven to be economically viable at current commodity prices. They are a very small proportion of actual known quantities.  Resources are estimates of known quantities based on some exploration data with some potential for economic extraction.  There is typically at least an order of magnitude more resources than reserves. In the case of copper there’s about 3,000 Mt of copper resources that are somewhat well understood (explored).  It’s further estimated that there is 300,000 Mt of copper in near-surface deposits (including the sea bed).  So we’re unlikely to “run out” of copper for 15,789 years at current levels of demand based on estimated quantities available on Earth.

What we pay for copper moving forward is another story.  As much of the copper could be harder to extract than current deposits prices should go up.  But technology also changes the cost of minerals extraction.  Exploration, mining and processing technology, as well as economies of scale all, play a part in the overall cost of delivering the product to market.  This presentation shows that costs have actually decreased by 70% between 1905 and 2007 due to technological breakthroughs.  

So the BBC Infographic is somewhat exaggerating the real extent of the problem.  That’s not to say some minerals are legitimately in short supply. When this happens prices go up and typically the economy reacts by a combination of:

  • Improving the efficiency with which they use resources.  For example, silicon wafers in solar photovoltaic modules halved in thickness between 2004 and 2014.
  • Shifting demand to other resources that can replace the short supply resource.  For example, solid tantalum capacitors in inverters have been largely replaced with polymer tantalum and ceramic capacitors.
  • Improving recycling rates and use of recycled content (see our post on circular economy).
  • Spending more on exploration and proving more reserves (as they’re now more economical).
  • Spending more on research to improve extraction techniques making previously uneconomic resources feasible.

If the world was truly facing a shortage of plastic, for example, the industry would be placing efforts into removing waste and designing all new products that contain plastic in a way that it can be easily separated and recycled. As it currently stands it is a very cheap material that has an abundance of supply meaning the motivations to reuse are lacking.

Although finite resource use is a potential problem, when the facts are explored it’s not as urgent as global warming.  From a sustainability perspective, resource availability is often more of a social/economic issue than an environmental one.  Our ecosystems, biodiversity and human health aren’t really affected if we use up all the copper and it ends up in landfill. What the planet really needs right now is for us to keep global temperatures as far below 1.5 degrees as possible!