New Software Developer Opportunity

eToolLCD With Cogs (Rich)

Our vision is a fun and fulfilling future in balance with the planet. Our business is committed to decarbonising the built form.  eToolLCD is our fast growing SaaS product. It optimises the environmental performance of buildings & infrastructure. You will be developing eToolLCD.

The challenges you will face:

  • Fast track to senior developer responsibilities (and beyond)
  • Fast and rich feature development in our web app which demands a beautiful interface, great user experience whilst processing some deep maths under the hood
  • Full stack development exposure – UX / UI design, front end, back end, DB admin, integrations and basic server management
  • We’re setting you up to lead our dev work, you will learn fast and help with key architectural decisions
  • We deliver in an agile manner. Things are fast moving, flexible, at risk of breaking and exiting

The support we’ll give you:

  • Some food on the table – salary starting at $60k-$80k but we’ll ramp this up in line with your responsibilities. Also performance based equity in eTool, own part of the business you’re helping create
  • Amazing mentors – you’ll get to pick the brains of our founders and we have a senior developers on our advisory team who periodically reviews our code and gives us invaluable feedback

The satisfaction you’ll get:

  • eToolLCD is currently helping designers see and avoid 100,000’s of tonnes of CO2e (and lots of other environmental impacts) in their building and infrastructure projects. We want to ramp this up to millions of tonnes of avoided CO2e
  • Product ownership: your fingerprints will be all over our product, you will be a big part in guiding its continued success. Big opportunity for pride in your work here.
  • Incredible, fast tracked experience and responsibility.

Our requirements:

  • You must be able to think laterally, problem solving is key
  • You’re user-centric in your approach to delivering software
  • You can prioritise and manage your time effectively
  • You have an enquiring mind
  • You’re willing to participate in a vibrant workplace
  • Our current stack is web app, ASP.NET frame work with MySQL Database running in the cloud. But we don’t particularly care what language you’re a current gun in, we know good developer transcend languages and frameworks.

About 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 a leading life cycle design app 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.

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, 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.

Apply Here



eToolLCD Timeline

eTool has risen from humble beginnings to become a global force in low carbon design.  This wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t taken the quality of our software seriously.  The timeline below captures just some of the eToolLCD achievements and milestones.






    eToolLCD Certification Service


    Ever since the early days of eTool 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 we have ingrained a formal certification process provided inclusive within your subscription/project access fees.  During the certification process, a senior eTool LCA practitioner is made available to your project for the purposes of:

    • Assisting the LCA team with completing the study in compliance with relevant standards (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 BREEAM/LEED/Gren Star 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.

    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 all options modelled for BREEAM)
    • Concept Design Stage Final Model
    • Technical Design Stage Base Model
    • Technical Design Stage Improved Model(s) (including all options modelled for BREEAM)
    • Technical Design Stage Final Model

    eTool understand 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.


    1. eToolLCD user submits initial model/s for review
    2. eTool staff complete QA / QC Checks on eToolLCD model/s and provides feedback
    3. eToolLCD user complete / update eToolLCD model/s
    4. eToolLCD user submit final model/s for certification
    5. eTool staff completes certification (and clones model to BRE account if required)

    – An independent review of the eToolLCD designs (6 or less) conducted by a competent LCA practitioner commenting where applicable against each project, structure and model quality checks. As a minimum, the following is reviewed:

    – 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 justificationa dn references.
    • Adhesives are inlcuded if cover more than 20% of materials surface
    • Study period of 60 years

    – eToolLCD Certifier Review Statement documenting checks made, comments and user responses using the certification checklist. See example report here.

    – Phone/email/weblink support throughout the process

    For further information see eTool terms and conditions

    Eiffage Kier and eToolLCD PAS2080 Audit

    As part of their ongoing quality management process, HS2 joint venture Effiage Kier (EK) contracted Lloyd’s  Register Quality Assurance (LRQA) to undertake a PAS2080 audit on their GHG reporting, processes, systems and tools.  For the past year EK have been using eToolLCD to model, baseline and improve the whole life carbon of their respective HS2 assets. 

    PAS 2080 is an environmental protection standard for carbon management in infrastructure and includes requirements for effective governance and leadership, quantification of greenhouse gas emissions, target setting, reporting, information management and continual improvement. 

    The PAS promotes reduced carbon, reduced cost infrastructure delivery, more collaborative ways of working and a culture of challenge in the infrastructure value chain through which innovation can be fostered. It includes requirements for all value chain members to show the right leadership and to establish effective governance systems for reducing whole life carbon through the use of a detailed carbon management process. “


    The overall structure of GHG reporting within PAS2080 largely follows the modular approach defined in EN15978 – the European standard on how to measure the environmental performance of buildings.



    The PAS2080 audit demonstrates EKs ability to quantify, compare and improve the life cycle environmental impacts of their infrastructure projects.

    Spanning several months, LRQA undertook a rigorous technical review process that goes beyond PAS2080 and also incorporates ISO14064-3 Specification with guidance for validation and verification of greenhouse gas statements.  Both EKs systems for data gathering and aggregation as well as eToolLCD modelling software have been extensively assessed against LRQA requirements, including the following:

    • Gap analysis
    • Design team collaboration
    • Management systems and policies
    • Internal quality assurance
    • Database reliability
    • Calculation methodologies
    • Testing procedures

    This can be a daunting process however the transparency of the systems and procedures in place at both EK and eTool has provided effective documentation to satisfy the LRQA audit. The following eTool policies and procedures were interrogated with particular detail.

    • eTool quality management policy
    • eTools data validation processes
    • eToolLCD Regression Testing Methodology and Practices
    • eToolLCD Error Handling
    • Cybersecurity incident response plan
    • Data Breach Response Plan
    • eToolLCD Patterns and Practices
    • eToolLCD Development and Deployment Procedure
    • Software Delivery Methods
    • Disaster recovery plan

    Another big part of effective LCA reporting is multidisciplinary collaboration (eTools Enterprise feature is perfectly set up for effective LCA collaboration). A good LCA will involve input from a wide range of expertise including change estimators, planners, designers and operation managers.    Further opportunities have been presented for EK, eTool and our stakeholders to learn and continually improve the quality of our LCA modelling and reporting.

    “PAS2080 accreditation is at the forefront of innovative verification schemes. Early in 2018, Eiffage Kier subscribed to eToolLCD software to help facilitate carbon quantification and management in a full Life Cycle Assessment. Having eToolLCD not only achieves significant BREEAM credits but has helped Eiffage Kier achieve PAS2080 verification as a designer working on HS2, Britain’s largest infrastructure project.

    Using eToolLCD’s user friendly software, we have produced a variety of carbon assessments – ranging from full, contract-wide baselines to smaller carbon quantification – in asset balanced scorecards for different design methods. This has helped save thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide, in turn helping EiffageKier move towards a 50% reduction in embodied carbon.

    eTool’s proactive approach to responding to LCA queries from the Eiffage Kier team has helped deliver a compliant life cycle assessment report in line with various standards including PAS2080. eTool’s in house assurance on published life cycle assessments has also been important to the success of Eiffage Kier’s verification of PAS2080 and life cycle assessments. The output from our partnership has been instrumental in providing our stakeholders with confidence in both our methods and our data.”

    Matthew Pygott – Carbon Assessment Engineer

    Eiffage Kier JV, HS2 Team


    For further information on PAS2080, the audit or if you are working on infrastructure projects and looking to further understand their CO2e impacts please contact



    Green Star D&AB version 1.2 Opportunities for Improvement

    DAB 1.2

    The Building Life Cycle Impact Reduction credit in version 1.2 has significant gaps outlined below, detailing why the B6 points cap and focus on other modules doesn’t work.

    eTool disagree with the method selected for the version 1.2 of the Green Star Design and As Built as it could lead to poor outcomes for the planet. Some examples are presented below:

    Example 1:

    Design team works hard to identify low impact materials that reduce the overall impacts of the design by an average of 10% per indicator in the LCA credit. Operational energy efficiency is resulting in a 50% saving. This results in about 3 points in the LCA credit for materials choices and 3 points for energy (B6). They decide to install a PV system that increases the operational energy saving to 90%. They achieve 8 extra points in the GHG calculator. But the PV results in a 10% average increase in impacts in other life cycle modules in the LCA credit. So they gain 8 points, and lose 3. At this point, the low impacts materials could be removed with no effect to the total Green Star points. So the design team decides to not pursue the original low impact material choices because excluding them will make no difference to their Green Star points. Although this could be considered as an “Edge Effect” considering 20% of Australian households now have PV, in the residential space it’s not at all uncommon potential scenario, particularly when dealing with high performance buildings that are aiming for best practice.

    Example 2:

    Similar to example one with a different technology. Design team of a residential multi unit dwelling building has focussed on low impact materials, and is achieving a 30% reduction in energy consumption through energy efficiency. They’re currently achieving 4 points in the LCA credit (1 for materials, 3 for B6) and 5 points in the GHG credit. They look into replacing the electric instantaneous solar hot water units with electric heat pumps. They find out it’s only possible with large central unit. The design changes required for the hot water ring main (additional service risers, copper ring main, pumps, insulation etc.) and the heat pump itself (including refrigerants) adds significant impacts to the materials (reduce LCA points by 1) but results in a large positive impact in the operational energy (20% saving increases GHG points by 4). Design team could now remove the low impact materials with no effect to Green Star points.

    Example 3:

    If the GHG calculator excludes plug loads from the assessment, projects that add technology or design features that reduce plug loads may be penalised for those features in the Green Star credits (regardless of the life cycle benefits). An example would be additional PV (not required for integrated equipment).

    Example 1 and 2 are particularly problematic as they may actually drive less effort and innovation in materials etc which is against the principle of fostering optimisation in all life cycle modules.

    Lack of Normalisation and Weighting in the Green Star LCA calculations:

    Normalisation and weighting should be seriously considered for the points calculation. The method currently advocated in the credit (no normalisation and equal weighting) is somewhat contradictory to accepted LCA methodology. It has also already lead to some potential adverse penalties in the LCA credit.

    An example that best illustrates this is the application of a large solar array on a buildings which led to an increase in ODP (more than 10%) in the characterised results. In the particular example (which we can’t publicise) when the results were normalised the reference buildings had GHG emissions equivalent to 500 Australian persons average emissions. The ODP on the other hand was 1.9 persons average emissions. So the solar array was reducing the GHG by 100’s of person’s average GHG emissions, but only increasing the ODP by 0.19 persons average emissions. So use of characterised results was effectively saying “we will reward a building more if it reduces the impacts of ODP by 0.19 person’s average emissions but increases GHG emissions by hundreds of average person’s emissions”. Potentially this would be justified if ODP was a far bigger environmental problem than GHG. Weighting could be applied to test for this (and the established weightings systems globally and in Australia seem to suggest GHG is a bigger problem). ISCA have a normalisation and weighting system which could be drawn upon by the GBCA. Similarly, BPIC established normalisation and weighting figures that could be used as a first pass by the GBCA.

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

    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.

    Materials Efficiency Metrics

    Thanks to our work with HS2 we have recently added a number of new indicators to help measure materials efficiency.

    • Mass of non-renewable primary material (t eq) – virgin materials not including timber
    • Mass of non-renewable secondary materials (t eq) –  all recycled materials currently largely metals
    • Mass of renewable primary material (t eq) – timber and organic products that can be continually renewed
    • Mass of reused non-renewable materials (t eq) – quantifies directly re-used materials, in the LCA these would only have transport impacts
    • Mass of reused renewable materials (t eq) – such as re-used timber
    • Materials Efficiency Metric – HS2 KPI combining the above

    These new indicators will help users understand where the hotspots are and greatest improvement opportunities for material consumption, waste, recycling and circular economy.  Please see here for further detail on how circular economy can link with LCA.

    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!

    Links between LCA and the Circular Economy

    Circular Economy (CE) is a philosophy that has gained a good deal of momentum within sustainable construction recently.  We have seen the new draft London Plan requiring consideration of Circular Economy (as well as embodied carbon) on all major London developments.  eTool also recently contributed to the UKGBC guidance on Circular Economy (a copy can be viewed here) and there is a definite feeling of ground-shift within the industry which is exciting to see.

    The key concept behind building circular is that waste is simply a design flaw and that if we can remove it entirely then we will see improvements to the environmental, cost and social performance of our projects.

    A circular economy is a global economic model that decouples economic growth and development from the consumption of finite resources. It is restorative by design, and aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value, at all times (Ellen MacArthur Foundation)

    Many aspects of circular principles currently have a qualitative focus.  A quantitative approach, however, can go hand-in-hand with this through LCA. By analysing the environmental and/or economic impacts of the potential circular strategies over the life cycle we can prioritise those that provide the greatest benefit.  There is a lot more that can be drawn from an LCA study than embodied carbon data.

    LCA circle graphic

    In eTool we measure full impacts over the building life cycle from cradle-cradle and have numerous other environmental indicators that help measure environmental performance beyond Embodied Carbon and life cycle GWP.  One group of indicators now measured in eTool LCAs has been developed by HS2 to help quantify circular principles, see materials efficiency metrics for further details.

    Quantifying Benefits

    There are numerous circular principles that may produce good environmental outcomes.

    • Refurbishing/repurposing/recovering existing buildings or materials
    • Specifying materials with high recycled content
    • Designing for disassembly and end-of-life reuse
    • Designing for longevity/adaptability/reusability where its appropriate.

    However, without full life cycle quantification of the strategies under consideration, there is no way of knowing the relative benefits, which ones to prioritise and which ones produce perverse outcomes. For example, recycled aggregate trucked from 70km away actually has much higher impacts today than locally sourced virgin aggregate.

    Recycled Aggregate

    Global Warming Potential (kgCO2e) for product and transport stage (A1-A4)

    Recycled metals, on the other hand, have relatively minor transport impacts (see figure below). eToolLCD contains a growing list of “Recommendation” strategies that users can apply to their LCA work.  We have a tagging system with a new “circular economy” tag for any that relate to refurbish/recycling/deconstruction/longevity.

    Module D

    Module D of EN15978 relates to “benefits and loads beyond the system boundary” and has particular relevance for circular strategies,

    • D1 – Operational Energy Exports
    • D2 – Closed Loop Recycling
    • D3 – Open Loop Recycling
    • D4 – Materials Energy recovery
    • D5 – Direct Re-use

    Under Module D where materials will be recycled at the end of their life, a benefit credit is given in the LCA. For example, if a cladding system is designed for deconstruction the materials are more likely to be recycled at the end of life we will see an improved performance in the LCA from module D (product reuse).


    1 Tonne of Virgin aluminium shipped 1500km

    Allocating recycling loads and benefits can get a little tricky when trying to avoid any double counting of impacts, more information on Module D can be found at this blog post.

    Longevity and functional units

    Buildings that can last for very long periods are clearly a better use of resources than buildings that get knocked down after 20 years.  The life expectancy of many low-density inner-city commercial buildings is unlikely to reach far beyond 20 years due to redevelopment pressure. However certain high-density megastructures (such as the Shard) will likely still be standing for 100 years or more.  Its going to be a long time before someone thinks they can replace the Shard with a building that will create more value from the real estate. To capture the relative benefits and savings of a buildings life expectancy it is important to apply an appropriate functional unit to the LCA. It is common in the industry to measure impacts in absolute terms over a 60 year period – kg CO2e/m2.  Applying a realistic life expectancy based on building location and density relative to its surroundings and presenting impacts in temporal terms – kg CO2e/m2/year the LCA will present a truer picture of the results.  This is particularly important when considering Circular Economy principles.  Materials going into a building that lasts twice as long before being demolished and sent to landfill will have half the life cycle impacts.

    Circular Economy Philosophy

    Whilst there are often clear quantifiable benefits of applying circular principles it is important that we do not lose sight of the bigger picture. It makes sense to rely purely on circular economy principles when trying to reduce finite resource exploitation, however, many building materials today actually have an abundance of supply – see our “Are we running out of materials blog post”. When we are trying to optimise for a different environmental problem, for example, Global Warming, purely focussing on the circular economy principles may not necessarily result in a net positive outcome (as shown above).

    Circular economy represents one of the many “means” to the end goal of true environmental sustainability. We must be careful to quantify our strategies and avoid applying circularity simply for the sake of circularity which may sometimes be more detrimental to the planet than a linear strategy. We will need tools such as recycling and re-use to achieve a zero carbon future but material consumption is not in itself always a bad thing if done sustainably relative to the alternatives.