Breeam 2018 LCA Ramp-up!

The following represents eTools response to the revision of the Mat1 credit offering in Breeam (2018).  The comments are based on the Technical Manual SD5078, Breeam UK New Construction 2018, Consultation Draft, as well as general ongoing conversations with the Bre.

Credit Summary

  • Up to 2 credits available for completing an LCA using IMPACT.  Credits awarded depend on performance against the Bre benchmarks
  • Up to 4 further credits available for Superstructure options appraisals during RIBA stages 2 and 4
  • 1 credit available for substructure, landscaping options appraisal RIBA Stage 2
  • 1 exemplary credit available for services options appraisal during RIBA stage 2
  • 1 exemplary credit for alignment with LCC
  • 1 exemplary credit “3rd party verification”

Total – 7 materials credits plus 3 exemplary

Evidence required – LCA modelling results, Optioneering report demonstrating how the LCA has been integrated into the design and the design team responses at stages 2 and 4.

eTool’s Thoughts

General Approach

eTool are excited to see the progression of the LCA credits within Breeam. LCA is fast becoming a mainstream aspect of sustainability and is seen in the construction industry as the future of good environmental performance.  Embodied or capital carbon represents approximately 20% of total UK building emissions, LCA therefore will need to form a vital role in tackling climate change and meeting the Paris commitments. Within the industry land owners now recognise the importance of LCA and are requiring it to form part of the design process as do developers such as Land Securities and infrastructure projects such as HS2 many European countries (Holland and soon France are legislating LCA across all buildings).

The general approach of the new materials section and emphasis on using LCA to improve environmental performance from the design outset should be applauded.  eToolLCD was built with the primary intention of informing design outcomes and getting involved as early as possible, when we have the greatest number of opportunities available for improvement. By building an LCA models, analysing recommendations and presenting results we have influenced a reduction of over 500,000 tCO2e on our projects.  The high volume of LCAs that we produce has allowed us to form an extremely efficient workflow within the tool and we look forward to further helping design teams quantify and improve their building

The full 10 credits can be achieved using eTool by anyone with some basic construction knowledge. Our existing features align perfectly with the credit requirements.

Stage 2 analysis:  Often there is a shortage of information available at stage 2 to undertake a full LCA.  However we have always believed that these are the key times to deliver LCA analysis when the big structural decisions are being made and opportunities for improvement can be analysed.  That is why we built our unique template system which can provide very detailed LCA analysis using minimal information.  Our templates for entire wall and floor make-ups contain well-researched assumptions to fill any gaps in quantity information.  These can then be updated as the design progresses.

Optioneering: Another key component of eToolLCD is our recommendations reporting.  There is little point in building an LCA model if you are not going to try and improve the design outcomes or present lessons to the team, this is where the fun really begins!  We have a public library of recommendations that is building and improving with every new job and new suggestion that is proposed.  The library has groups of different recommendations that can be applied in bulk – high cost, zero cost, shell only, energy etc).  The user can record any change that is made to their model and report how they affect the impacts both environmental (CO2, water, acidfication, ecopoints etc) and monetary (£, Euros and $).  The team has a simple shopping list that can be prioritised based on what provides the greatest environmental improvement for the least cost.

Reporting: Nobody wants to spend their time copying and pasting graphs and tables into reports formatting, issuing, repeating.  This is time that could be much better spent digging deeper into our LCA work and finding recommendations! We now have several reports automated directly out of the software that provide information and results in an easy to follow format. These reports are automated from our LCA models as standard and will of course be fully compliant with Bre evidence requirements. We are continually working on improving the reporting for our users and will continue to improve on the presentation of the LCA work

LCC Allignment: Aligning he LCA and LCC is of vital importance for effective LCA work. Quantifying the costs of improvements will help teams prioritise how to get the best environmental gain for least capital spent. With our recent cost functionality it is a simple step to extract LCC results from your LCA model and report for the Man2 credits. Aligning the LCA with the LCC means that a full LCA will need to be completed including all elements within the build – finishes, operational energy etc . These are beyond the scope for the Materials credits however they can be easily added to a model using our template system.  Including operational energy in particular, can raise some very important design decisions. Do the savings from thermal mass or triple glazed windows make up for their embodied impacts, would more carbon be saved on spending 1k on solar PV or 1k on a timber roof, this is when LCA becomes a very powerful tool?

3rd Party:  The 3rd party verification is a great inclusion. Recent publications from RICS (Whole life carbon measurement: implementation in the built environment) suggest that there can be a large variance in results of LCA studies.  A 3rd party verification will not only improve the quality of individual LCAs but also encourage greater learning with the LCA community feeding back to each other improvements to processes and design options. eToolLCD has over 2000 registered users and eTool have certified over 300 full building LCA project.  Our certification service is provided to projects completed by commercial users as part of our standard software soffering. During the certification process a senior eTool LCA practitioner is made available to the project for the purposes of:

  • Assisting the LCA team with completing the study in compliance with relevant standards (Breeam LEED etc)
  • Reducing the risk to and elevating the professionalism of the users LCA service by peer reviewing their LCA study to ISO 14044 standards.
  • Assisting the LCA team with challenging concepts or modelling requirements.
  • Improving the LCA teams efficiency in completing LCAs using eToolLCD
  • Providing the LCA team with potential strategies that may be worth considering to reduce the impact of the design.

The certification system ensures a consistent, high quality of LCA studies is produced from the eToolLCD software. We will add to the certification checks those listed by Breeam such as review of total quantity data.

eTool hold the view that, if anything, the new credit offering does not go far enough and there exists further potential to deliver performance based design.  The optioneering is a vital component of LCA work, however further credit should be weighted towards the benchmarking.  As it stands a theoretical 100% timber building (which has zero CO2e impacts) would achieve the full 10 credits and an average building would achieve somewhere between 8 and 9 (depending on the benchmarking outcome).  There is opportunity to give more weight to the benchmarking performance which should be taken now, the climate catastrophe clock is ticking!

The new revision is by all means a positive step in the right direction.  Further detailed comments on the credit methodology (we encourage everyone to provide their own comments to the Bre) are shown below.

 

3rd Party

 “A suitably qualified 3rd party (see Definitions on page 294) shall either carry out the building LCAs or produce a report verifying the building LCAs accurately represent the designs”

One area that requires careful consideration by the Bre is who qualifies as a 3rd party.  The definitions communicated by the Bre state that anyone who has not consulted on the design is a 3rd party.  Given the LCA work will include optioneering and will often be completed by the Breeam/sustainability consultant, the LCA practitioner would always be considered a design team member.  The exception might be if the practitioner is given only designs to assess by the active team members (architects engineers etc).  They will not be able to propose options but the design team may put forward suggestions for them to then test.  This is somewhat grey and could get challenging for the Bre to assess.  At eTool we have a large public library of recommendations for our users to review and test on their models. Would the practiotioner who presents the model and recommendation options still be a 3rd party?  A far more appropriate and simplified approach would be to require a 3rd party verification whoever completes the LCA work, “3rd party” or not.

 

LCA Scope

The scope of the LCA is not entirely clear from the credit, should trade staff, their transport and equipment impacts be included?  eTool and our users always complete as full an LCA as possible to ensure there are no missed opportunities for improving the design.  We include trade staff and all equipment that they use to build and maintain the development over its life cycle (cranes, pile drivers, concrete pumps, vacuum cleaners etc). This can be of particular interest when, understanding different foundation systems and excavation requirements or when looking at modular buildings.

The scope of the LCA neglects finishes and fittings despite them making up a very significant portion of a buildings impacts. The current approach in the industry (and EN15978) is to include these and to assume the same products will be replaced throughout the buildings life cycle. We feel this is still the most appropriate approach and places emphasis on the elements that have the largest likely impacts under today’s conditions.  Taking LCA categories in their isolation can cause perverse design outcomes particularly in cases when the scope of the build also includes fit-out.  In whole building projects, the design team should be assessing each strategy on its environmental merits and prioritising.  Reducing the scope of the LCA only serves to reduce the scope for improvement strategies.  We recommend that when included within the scope of the build all optioneering should be included and given credit for, the LCA assessor will most likely do this anyway as a client requirement.

 

Functionality

eTool would also like to see some mention of “Functionality” in the principles.  Whilst there are challenges in benchmarking functionality good design is not being recognised in the principles and/or credit without some notion of function.  If an office can increase its floor plan by reducing service or car park spaces this should be encouraged (greater office area provided using the same resources).  Likewise, 60-year life expectancy is not accurate for the majority of high rise building which will be standing far longer and are therefore a more efficient use of resources and carbon than low density buildings which will face more re-development pressure over their life cycle. Often much bigger environmental wins can be gained through improved functionality.  Consider a concrete low rise building in an urban centre, it may well be knocked down within 50 years.  A high rise on the same spot on the other hand may well still be standing in 100+ years this represents a 50% saving of impacts (in terms of kg CO2e/m2/year). eTool recommend that optioneering can include functional improvements and that an accurate life expectancy is considered when comparing options.

 

Negligible Items

Negligible items. Whilst nails tend to be pretty negligible, adhesive and certain brackets are not always, of course this all depends on the scope of the LCA, nails could be the largest impacts of a small timber shed!  In a full LCA a great deal of adhesive can be used in carpets and finishes.  This is simple to quantify, xm2 times thickness (0.5mm of adhesive).  Likewise brackets in curtain walling and other systems can be very significant.  It is rare that a design team member will know the area of glue on a particular component.  We would advise therefore that it is always included as a conservative assumption. If its looking like a significant item then more information should be sought and the model refined. The LCA assessor should always use their own experience to determine the negligible items and follow the EN15978 rule of 1% of total environmental relevance or the RICS guidelines of 1% of cost.

 

Super Credit

We think there is an excellent opportunity to go further by completing a full LCA/LCC including operational energy and water. This could in the future lead to the super credit whereby all chapters in Breeam that can be quantified through LCA – energy, water materials, pollution (perhaps even health) are assessed in a single model with each environmental strategy assessed based on its actual quantified merits.  This allows the design team the maximum flexibility in meeting their targets as well as delivering quantified results in terms of reductions of CO2e (or any other environmental indicator).

eTool believe that the current separation of energy, water and materials is no longer necessary with the advancements in standards, LCI data sources, LCA tools, and knowledge within the industry.  Siloed thinking of environmental performance in this way leads to adverse trade-offs for the planet.  The only way to prevent these adverse trade-offs is to use life cycle assessment within a life cycle design process.  The construction industry is recognising this and moving to LCA for environment decisions makings.  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 based.

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

– In Green Building Rating Schemes: DGNB, the majority of the environmental points are achieved through an LCA (quantifying water, energy, materials holistically through their life cycle metrics.

What Cladding?

Facade impacts can really add up, the cladding in particular on walls can take a real hammering in British weather and could be replaced 2 or 3 times over a buildings life cycle.  Picking the cladding with the lowest impacts can present significant savings both initially at product stage and over the life cycle as that cladding gets replaced.

I dropped a few of the cladding options available under Bre IMPACT to understand the heiarchy of choices that might present low carbon alternatives to design specifications

Capture

Of course their are many other factors that should be taken into account – framing, structure, glazing propotion etc but as a basic reference I thought the above might be useful.

eTool is growing! Join Us

 

eTool operates in the unique space of sustainability via clever technology – join us to be a part of this exciting future.

We offer the world leading life cycle design software for sustainable buildings and infrastructure.  eTool has achieved some particularly exciting milestones over the last 18 months expanding our market reach to become a truly global entity with offices in Australia, the U.K. and Americas.  eTool is recognised by rating schemes such as BREEAM, LEED, Green Star, The Living Building Challenge and One Planet Living.  We also have an impressive tier one client base from which to build on.

At this pivotal point in the company’s journey we are striving to rapidly grow the software subscriber user base and increase our local and global profile. With bright opportunities in front of us right now, we are seeking to hire a driven Business Development Executive to help build on our existing sales trajectories and accelerate revenue for eTool.  The responsibilities of this role will grow with the business, and given eTool’s growth trajectory this presents an excellent opportunity for a high performing employee to take their career to the next level.

eTool provides a flexible working environment and the excitement of working with an ambitious early stage company in a growth field that is vital for tackling climate change.

Business Development Executive (Sustainable Built Environment)

Responsibilities

  • Prospecting – building on our client base to accelerate new lead and client generation.
  • Pitching – selling eTool software and consultancy services to the construction sector
  • Communications and closing – following leads and ensuring effective delivery of eTool message throughout sale.
  • Monitoring existing eTool clients – refining our interaction and marketing towards them.
  • Ensuring that eTool clients are “quality” clients – managing expectations and continued engagement to ensure repeat business
  • Maintenance of the customer relations management system and sales reports
  • Assistance in improving sales processes, refining marketing materials and attending events
  • Identification of new markets and potential sales

Required Skills and Experience:

  • Relevant degree and/or masters
  • Excellent sales skills and experience with proven track record
  • Minimum 3 years demonstrable experience in liaising with, engaging and presenting to senior business leaders (preferably within the construction industry)
  • Excellent communication skills particularly spoken and presentation
  • Ability to influence decision makers and drive positive outcomes for construction teams

Desirable Experience:

  • Awareness of Breeam, LEED and sustainability ratings schemes
  • Previous experience or working knowledge of construction and sustainability consultancy (and key challenges they face)

 

Personal attributes:

This sales role requires initiative, autonomy, persistence and determination.  A desire to make a big contribution to the low carbon future is important, that is how we measure our success.  The maturity to know when, where and how to focus your efforts to foster both the short term and long term success of the business.

Salary:

Negotiable depending on experience – the right candidate can expect circa 30k base + 15-50k OTE.

This is a key role in a small team with big plans! eTool is setting up an appropriate employee share ownership scheme where key contributors can expect to enjoy the rewards of some equity ownership in this fast growing company over time.

Location and Hours:

Flexible hours and home working available, our UK office is based in Brighton however the candidate may be based anywhere within reasonable travel distance to London (for occasional meetings), a shared local office space can be provided.

Working hours will be full time however, part-time positions could also be considered.

Applicants are advised to complete our questionnaire and upload CV and covering letter to http://etool.polldaddy.com/s/etoolbdcoordinator

Redução do Impacto do Ciclo de Vida do Edifício – LEED (Portuguese)

Análise de Ciclo de Vida (ACV) é uma metodologia usada para avaliar os impactos ambientais associados a todas as etapas da vida de um produto ou serviço. É uma abordagem holística que engloba a extração dos materiais, processamento, fabricação, distribuição, uso, reparo, manutenção, descarte e reciclagem ao fim da vida útil. A ACV quantifica os impactos ambientais e compara a performance por meio da funcionalidade do produto ou serviço. A performance de um prédio comercial, por exemplo, pode ser avaliada por meio do impacto ambiental por m2 de área locável por ano (kgCO2/m2/ano). O estudo de ACV permite identificar as potenciais áreas para aumento de performance e redução de impacto ambiental, podendo também incluir recomendações de melhoria para a equipe de projeto. A ACV é regulada pelo padrão internacional ISO 14044 (e EN15978 especificamente para edificações) e a aplicação na área de construção civil é utilizada mundialmente para promover desenvolvimento sustentável.

Na certificação LEED, o objetivo do crédito Redução do Impacto do Ciclo de Vida do Edifício é otimizar o desempenho ambiental de produtos e materiais e permite obtenção de até três pontos. Apesar da metodologia permitir avaliar impactos relacionados a todo o ciclo de vida do projeto, este crédito LEED (opção 4) tem o foco apenas na estrutura e recinto do edifício, durante período de 60 anos. Ao comparar a performance do projeto proposto com o modelo de referência (Baseline), a equipe de projeto deve demonstrar redução de impacto de no mínimo 10% em pelo menos três categorias de impacto (por exemplo: aquecimento global, depleção da camada de ozônio e eutrofização).

A eTool, empresa Australiana especializada em avaliação do ciclo de vida de todo o edifício, desenvolveu o software eToolLCD que atende aos requisitos técnicos da norma ISO 14044 e pode ser utilizado na certificação LEED. A eTool iniciou operações em 2012, já completou mais de 300 análises internacionalmente e é pioneira no uso de ACV para certificação na Austrália (Green Star). Atualmente, está expandindo os serviços na Europa (BREEAM) e nas Américas. Os projetos LEED que utilizaram o software eToolLCD incluem: King Square 2 – Cundall (Austrália), Wildcat Building – Arup (Dinamarca) e ENOC Tower – AESG (Dubai).

“A única forma de garantir redução de impacto ambiental é quantificar a performance ao longo da vida útil do projeto e a metodologia de ACV foi desenvolvida para auxiliar na tomada de decisões. Este crédito LEED será muito importante para as equipes de projeto trabalharem de forma ainda mais integrada e o software eToolLCD facilita muito esta análise”, afirma Henrique Mendonça, engenheiro da eTool que está de volta ao Brasil depois de passar cinco anos na Austrália e se especializar na prática de ACV de toda a edificação.

Saiba mais sobre nossos projetos recentes aqui.

 

 

LCA – More than just easy credits

Since being awarded IMPACT compliance in Christmas 2015 eTool now have many clients successfully using eTool on either a consulting basis or as LCA software providers.  With an IMPACT compliant LCA they can guarantee the two bonus LCA Materials credits in Breeam New Construction 2011/2014. These credits are awarded as a bonus to the Green Guide materials credits and awarded for completing an LCA and reporting on the results. 6+1 credits can also be achieved under Breeam Fit-out/Refurbishment/International, up to 23 credits in HQM and 3 under LEED.  The tool can also be used to assist in life cycle costing Man 2 credits, and Mat 06 Resource Efficiency.  The Bre are trying to encourage uptake in LCA and for the time being the credits can be applied at any stage of the design – effectively points for trying.

Below are just some of the clients who we have been working on LCAs with to date.  Although the primary motivation is often Breeam related, LCA is also providing some fantastic learning outcomes for design teams.

etoolclients

“We have been using eToolLCD for the last year and have completed 3 certified assessments.  As with any new software there is a learning curve involved but the training and level of support has been excellent and we can now complete an IMPACT assessment on our project in a couple of days (depending on complexity).  This has enabled us to give our clients and design teams valuable information on the environmental impacts of design options as well as giving an additional 2% to the projects BREEAM assessment once the eToolLCD model has been certified.” David Barnes, Volker Fitzpatrick 

Find out more about our recent projects here.

 

 

Closed Loop Recycling and EN15978 – how does it work?

I’ve heard its complicated why is that?

We need to reward recycling but also have to be careful not to double count the benefits (at the start and end of life for example).  The approach under EN15978 is as follows:

  • to reward “design for deconstruction” as the key driver that determines the net results over the whole life of a building
  • to allocate economically, so if a product is a waste product at the end of the buildings’ life (there is no market for it, so it costs money to remove it from site rather than having some sort of scrap value) then any benefits associated with recycling that product are picked up by the next person who uses it.  So essentially, recycled timber is all rewarded at the start of the building’s life.  Recycled aluminium is all rewarded at the end (in net terms)

Allocation of reused products from other industries are also done economically, one example of this is recycled fly ash or blast furnace slag in concrete.  Because Blast Furnace has some value, it’s not as attractive environmentally as fly ash

The rules for recycling allocation under the EN15978 methodology were initially somewhat mind-boggling for me.  To understand them you will  likely need to take a number of re-visits and you should try to wipe out any preconceptions you may have on recycling.

So how does it work?.

Lets start with what is included in the scope of En15978 first,

boundary

Note that Module D is actually a form of “System Expansion” and one could argue is outside of the life cycle of the building.

Before we look into recycling allocation further we also need to understand a few definitions.

Recycled content is the proportion of recycled material used to create the product, the global industry average recycled content of aluminium today is approximately 35%. This means that in 100kg of aluminium 35kg comes from old recycled aluminium and 65kg comes from new raw material.

Recycling rate is the proportion of useful material that gets sent back into the economy when the product comes to the end of its life. The global industry average recycling rate of aluminium today is approximately 57%. This means that in 100kg of waste aluminium 57kg will be recycled into new aluminium products and 43kg will be sent to landfill.

Closed loop recycling, whereby a product is recycled into the same product (e.g. steel roof panel recycled into steel reinforcement).  The loop is closed because when the steel product comes to the end of its life it can be recycled into a new steel product (theoretically this can happen continually forever).  Closed loop is more straightforward to calculate as the emissions are directly offset by the new product that would have been required to be made from scratch.

Open loop recycling is when the product is used to create something new (e.g. old plastic bottles recycled into carpet).  The loop is open because the plastic now in the carpet required other material inputs to create the carpet and cannot be recycled further (if a process is developed that can continually recycle the plastic carpet then it becomes closed loop). We use economic allocation to understand the impacts that are being offset.

Now lets focus on a closed loop recycling example of a standalone 1000 kg of ‘General Aluminium’ modeled in eTool.  Under EN15978 scope impacts under module D – Benefits and loads outside the system boundary are quantified.  This includes closed loop recycling which is not directly related to the actual physical boundary or life cycle of the building.

The life cycle stages for the aluminium are shown below

alum recy 1

Kg CO2e by LC stage for 1000kg of general aluminium 

Hang on, the impacts are bigger for the 100% recycled content option???

Well, there is an initial saving in the product stage of 18,280 kg CO2e from using 100% recycled content aluminium versus using a 100% raw material. The no recovery option also gets a small advantage for transport of waste (C2) because landfill sites tend to be closer to a building than recycling sites on average. The no recovery option is also (very slightly) penalised for disposal impacts, if the aluminium is recovered it has 0 disposal impacts because it is sent to the recycling plant and these impacts are counted in the A1-A3 stage of the new aluminium product. The interesting result though is in the closed loop recycling.  We have a credit applied to the aluminium that is recovered and put back in the economy. This is effectively offsetting the assumed extraction requirement for the new aluminium to be used in the (aluminium) economy – for example in the next building.  Likewise aluminium that is not recovered causes a higher net demand for new aluminium.  To determine the ‘credit’ or ‘penalty’ at the end of the building’s life, the net increase in new aluminium required due to the use of the aluminium in the building is calculated.  In the 100% recycled content, 0% recovered the material is penalised by the equivalent mass of new aluminium which will need to be extracted to supply the next building.

Hmmmmmm…

Yes it may seem counter-intuitive but try to think of the world aluminium economy as a single life cycle entity.  If everyone used only 100% recycled aluminium that has 0 end-of-life recycling rate (ie it ends up in landfill) then we would soon run out of recycled aluminium available.  We would have to go back to using raw aluminium (maybe even start digging it back out from landfill!).  By encouraging recovery of the aluminium EN15978 is trying to discourage the overall extraction of the raw material.

O.K. That wasn’t too bad

So far so good but it gets trickier! Lets imagine we have fully recycled content and fully recovered aluminium,

Well you get the best of both worlds – reduced product stage and closed loop credits right?

Wrong!  Here is what happens….

alum recy 2

Kg CO2e by LC stage for 1000kg of general aluminium 

The minus CO2e credit at end of life can not be applied in this instance because you are already using 100% recycled aluminium. There is no material extraction in this case to offset and your end-of-life credit is 0. You don’t get penalised for the added extraction for the future building but you don’t get credit for it because that has already been given in the product stage. Under EN15978 there is actually a very similar amount of carbon associated with a 0% recycled/100% recovered aluminium scenario and a 100% recycled/100% recovered aluminium.

Whoa, that’s deep.

Its a tricky one and there is certainly an argument to say this is not encouraging the right behaviour but the emphasis on end-of-life treatment means that the impacts are accounted for and credit is given without double counting.

So what do we take from all of this?

Recycling content and rate is an important consideration in buildings but it is no silver bullet. Every little helps in sustainability though. Focus on the durability and deconstructability of the product over the recycled content which under EN15978 has a relatively small impact on the environmental performance.

*Note figures show are taken from eToolLCD September 2016

References: Recycling Rates of Metals, T E Graedel, 2011

Benchmarking Philosophy

eTool recently changed from offering numerous fairly localised benchmark options to a single international average benchmark for each building type.  The decision making process was interesting so I thought I’d quickly document it.

The purpose of the eToolLCD benchmark is:

  • To establish a common measuring stick against which all projects are assessed so that any project can be comparable to another (for the same building type);
  • To create a starting point, or “average, business as usual case” from which to measure improvements.

From the outset we’ve always understood that a benchmark needs to be function specific.  That is, there needs to be a residential benchmark for measuring residential buildings against etc.  The first point essentially addresses this.

The second point introduces some complexity.  What is, or should be, “average, business as usual”?  More specifically, are people interested in understanding how their building performs when compared compared locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally?

When we started trying to answer this question, some scenarios were very helpful.  If a designer wants to compare locally, the benchmark needs to reflect the things that are most important to the overall LCA results.  The two most critical things are probably electricity grid and climate zone.  Localising just these two inputs gets pretty tricky and the number of possible benchmark permutations starts to add up pretty quickly.  In Australia there are four main independent electricity grids (NEM, SWIS, NWIS and Darwin).  In the Building Code of Australia there’s 10 climate zones.  Accounting for which climate zones occur within each grid, there’s about 20 different benchmarks required.  To add to the complexity though, the NEM is split into different states (New South Wales, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia).  Generally, because the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting guidance splits the NEM into different states, the NEM is usually considered as six different grids. So there’s upwards of 50 different benchmarks we’d need to create and maintain for Australia alone just to localise electricity grids and climate zone.

One disadvantage of this method is it’s still not all-accommodating.  It doesn’t account for remote grids of which there are many in Australia.  An example is Kunnanurra which is 100% hydro power.  So even in this scenario where we had 50 or so benchmarks for Australia, there’s still big potential for a designer patting themselves on the back for a great comparison to the benchmark when really it’s just a local condition, and vice versa.  The same can be said about an off grid scenario (effectively just a micro grid of it’s own).

The other disadvantage is maintenance of all these benchmarks.  Expanding the above scenario internationally there could easily be 1000’s of possible benchmarks.  There’s so many that it would be hard for eTool to initially create them, and even harder to subsequently maintain them.  Clearly the localised benchmark option had some big challenges.

At the other end of the benchmarking philosophy we considered just having generic benchmarks, or even one global benchmark.  This is perhaps a more user-centric, or building occupant sensitive system.  That is, the building occupants are probably more interested in this measure as it’s more about how they live compared to the global community.  So a building may be “average” compared to the local context, but actually be very low impact compared to the broader average (due to favourable local conditions).  Conceivably, the local conditions contributing to the ease with which a building can perform may be part of people’s motivation for living in a particular area.

The disadvantage of the generic benchmarking approach is that it isn’t as useful for a designer to compare their building’s performance against this as the local conditions (which may create a significant advantage of disadvantage) aren’t considered.  This was a big consideration for us, eToolLCD is a design tool, it has to be relevant to designers.  Interestingly though, the way eToolLCD is generally used is the base design is modelled, and then improvements are identified against this base design.  The benchmark is usually only used towards the end of the process as a communication and marketing tool.

Also, there’s no reason why the designer can’t model their own local benchmark, for example, a code compliant version of their own design.

This topic spurred some serious debate at eTool.  In the end, the deciding factors were:

  • A local approach couldn’t really be adopted without localising at least the grid and climate zone for each benchmark option.  That is, it would have been too difficult to go half way with localisation (for example, only localising climate zone and not grid), as this really just revoked the whole advantage of localising the benchmarks.
  • Taking the very localised approach was going to put a huge benchmark creation and maintenance burden on eTool which wasn’t necessarily productive
  • The choice of a generic benchmark didn’t detract from the function of eToolLCD as a design tool.
  • Greenhouse Gas pollution is a global problem not a local problem, we feel people probably need to measure and improve their performance against a global benchmark rather than a local one.

So the single global benchmark was the direction we choose.  Once this decision was made, we needed to determine how to statistically represent global averages.  We decided to choose an aspirational mix of countries to make up the global benchmark, that is, select the standard of living that we felt most people in the world aspire to and determine the average environmental impacts of buildings in these demographic locations.   This does mean the global benchmarks are generally higher than the actual global average building stock for a given function.  That doesn’t stop us from estimating what the sustainable level of GHG savings is against this aspirational benchmark (90%+).  It also enables us to strive for this level of savings without adversely effecting our standard of living aspirations (globally).  The global benchmark created using this approach is the residential benchmark.  More information about how this was conducted can be found here.

For those people or organisations that would like a customised benchmark, eTool can provide this service.  Please get in touch.

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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.

 

 

Vote for eTool in GE’s Ecomagination Challenge

GE’s Ecomagination are looking for breakthrough ideas, technologies and innovations to help lower ANZ’s carbon footprint. They launched a competition back in August to search for the brightest ideas and there are only a few days left with the deadline closing in fast this Friday.

We’ve added our LCA software into the mix and would love your support!

All you have to do it head over the website here, log in via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn (only takes a second) and then hit the ‘I support this idea’ button. If you’re feeling inspired, leave a comment about our LCA and how you think it can help lower ANZ’s carbon impact!

Energy efficient fridges – a waste of money or saving the planet?

Although energy efficiency appliances have improved dramatically over the past decade, we’re always a little cautious about recommending highly rated energy efficient fridges to our clients, as the main focus is on temperature performance to keep food fresh for longer periods, which can become problematic when looked at a little more closely.

Let’s explain what we mean exactly…some fridges save on energy by having longer “compressor-off cycles”, which causes the temperature inside to fluctuate. Ice-cream is a good indicator of temperature fluctuation, as it can partially melt during the off cycle and then form gritty crystals when it refreezes – we’ve all been there! Poor uniformity may mean that there is a 3°C average in the fresh food compartment, but more than 5°C in other parts, such as the door shelf. This can result in milk going off much faster than you would expect or are happy about.

In terms of environmental impact, the embodied energy of the food is likely to be at least 10 times more than the energy consumed by the fridge, so sometimes a fridge which is actually less efficient and uses a bit more power can extend the life of food quite considerably, making it the more sustainable option! So what can you do to make a lower rated fridge even more sustainable?

Well, properly ventilated fridges can represent large savings in energy efficient houses and when considered as part of the kitchen design, it’s very simple to achieve. Clever options include sealing the fridge into the cabinets and making use of the cool air and exhaust ducting; the closed space keeps cold air inside and around the fridge, away from the kitchen. The air that becomes hot as it passes through the refrigeration mechanism is drawn either up to the ceiling and exhausted outside the house or over the top of the refrigerator and can be ventilated into an upstairs room such as bathroom or laundry to dry the towels.
The ability to increase the efficiency of a fridge with well designed cabinetry and ventilation is not related to the fridge specification, however, so is something we can comfortably model in our LCAs.

In addition to being wary of the energy rating and trying to implement the refrigeration air flow in your home,  we would always suggest buying the right sized appliance to suit your needs. A large model with the same star rating as a smaller model uses more energy and generates more Greenhouse Gas, and if you think about it, do you really need a gigantic fridge?
A cool cupboard will keep most of your fruits and vegetables in good nick in most climates, allowing you to choose a smaller fridge. Cool cupboards should be located in the coolest part of the house (usually your kitchen or pantry) and have good airflow in at floor level and out through the ceiling.

We know it’s become a bit of a habit in Australia, but try and think of a way to do without a second fridge to save on both the cost of buying and running it and the environmental impact of its use, manufacture and disposal.

Ongoing running costs can easily exceed the original purchase price of an appliance, so always add the purchase cost and the lifetime running cost together to get a more accurate picture of the total cost of an appliance. For example, a fridge that consumes 1kWh extra per day represents over $800 extra operating costs in a decade, without even considering potential energy price increases.

One last tip – especially if you have kids at home – hang a sign on the fridge door that says ‘Only open when necessary!’ Opening fridge doors only when you need to get something out or put something back in, as opposed to leaving it open whilst your make a sandwich, will save between 5-10% in running costs.

References:

http://sustainablehouse.com.au/ Michael Mobbs’ Book

http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/household/kitchen/fridges-and-freezers/fridges-review-and-compare.aspx

http://www.yourhome.gov.au/technical/fs64.html