eToolLCD Environmental Indicators

Whilst undoubtedly climate change currently remains the greatest environmental challenge of our time and our recommendations will focus on this, there are many other environmental indicators that can be measured in eToolLCD. Interestingly many are also heavily impacted by the burning of fossil fuels therefore, quite often a reduction in CO2e can often also lead to a reduction in many other indicators. A summary of some of those currently measured in eTool can be found below.

Global Warming Potential. Anthropogenic global warming is caused by an increase of greenhouse gasses (GHG) in the earth’s atmosphere. These gasses reflect some of the heat radiated from the earth’s surface that would normally escape into space back to the surface of the earth. Over time this warms the earth. Common GHGs include CO2, N2O, CH4 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Global Warming Potential (GWP) is expressed in equivalent GHGs released, usually in kgCO2e.

Embodied Energy. Embodied Energy (EE) is a measure of the primary energy content of non-renewable energy sources including the energy required to extract, process and deliver the non-renewable fuels, or manufacture, transport and install and maintain a renewable generator (hence there is usually and non-renewable energy content associated with renewable energy sources also).

Water Footprint. The pressure on global freshwater resources arises from the demand for everyday goods and services which use water in their production. The interconnected nature of global economic systems means that water abstraction can occur far from where final consumption occurs. Managing water resources is extremely important for the health of the environment and our current and future agricultural, industrial and personal water requirements. Freshwater can be derived from renewable sources (rainwater) and somewhat non-renewable resources (aquifers). The water footprint indicator distinguishes from these sources and provides an understanding of the depletion of fresh water sources, in particular from non-renewable resources.

Land Use Land transformation and use causes biodiversity loss. The main cause of the loss of biodiversity can be attributed to the influence of human beings on the world biosphere. Biological diversity is the resource upon which families, communities, nations and future generations depend. There is a general acceptance that the term biodiversity encompasses diversity numerous levels, for example genetic level, populations/species level, communities/ecosystems level and regional landscapes level). Unfortunately, there are currently no methods which allow for simultaneous measurement of all levels of biodiversity. There have been numerous attempts to integrate direct and indirect land use in LCA and its impact on biodiversity but none of the proposed metrics are fully operational or applied globally.

Ozone Depletion Ozone is formed and depleted naturally in the earth’s stratosphere (between 15-40 km above the earth’s surface). Halocarbon compounds are persistent synthetic halogen-containing organic molecules that can reach the stratosphere leading to more rapid depletion of the ozone. As the ozone in the stratosphere is reduced more of the ultraviolet rays in sunlight can reach the earth’s surface where they can cause skin cancer and reduced crop yields. Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) is expressed in equivalent ozone depleting gasses (normally kgCFC11e).

Acidification Potential. Acidification is a consequence of acids (and other compounds which can be transformed into acids) being emitted to the atmosphere and subsequently deposited in surface soils and water. Increased acidity can result in negative consequences for flora and fauna in addition to increased corrosion of manmade structures (buildings vehicles etc.). Acidification Potential (AP) is an indicator of such damage and is usually measured in kgCO2e.

Human Toxicity Potential Human results from persistent chemicals reaching undesirable concentrations in each of the three elements of the environment (air soil and water). This leads to damage to humans, animals and eco-systems. The modelling of toxicity in LCA is complicated by the complex chemicals involved and their potential interactions. Human Toxicity Potential (HTP) takes account of releases of materials toxic to humans in three distinct media being air, water and soil. The toxicological factors are calculated using scientific estimates for the acceptable daily intake or tolerable daily intake of the toxic substances. The toxicological factors are still at an early stage of development so that HTP can only be taken as an indication and not as an absolute measure of the toxicity potential. In this case, the indicator is measured in Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY).

Eutrophication Potential Over-enrichment of aquatic ecosystems with nutrients leading to increased production of plankton, algae and higher aquatic plants leading to a deterioration of the water quality and a reduction in the value and/or the utilisation of the aquatic ecosystem. Eutrophication is primarily caused by surplus nitrogen and phosphorus. Sources of nutrients include agriculture (fertilisers and manure), aquaculture, municipal wastewater, and nitrogen oxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion. It is measured in terms of kg of phosphate equivalents kg PO4eq.

Abiotic Resource Depletion Minerals And Energy. A combination of both Mineral and Fossil Fuel Abiotic resource depletion. This is a measure of the burden today’s society is placing on future generations by depleting available resources.

POCP Photochemical Ozone Creation Potential (POCP), commonly known as smog, is toxic to humans in high concentration. Although ozone is protective in the stratosphere at low levels it is problematic from both a health and nuisance perspective. Plant growth is also effected through damaged leaf surfaces and reduced photosynthesis. POCP is formed when sunlight and heat react with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). POCP is measured in kg ethylene.

Ionizing Radiation. Ionizing Radiation (IR) characterises impacts from the release of radioactive species (radionuclides) to air and water. The species most commonly accounted for are the radionuclides of caesium, iodine, radon and uranium etc. Anthropogenic sources are the nuclear fuel cycle, phosphate rock extraction, coal power plants, and oil and gas extraction. When released to the environment, they can impact both human health and ecosystems so the end_point areas of protection they relate to are human health and the ecosystem quality.

Marine Aquatic Ecotoxicity. The potential effect of toxic releases and exposure on marine environments.

Terrestrial Aquatic Ecotoxicity The potential effect of toxic releases and exposure on terrestrial (land-based) environments.

Ecotoxicity. The potential effect of toxic releases and exposure on environments.

Particulate Matter. Particulate Matter (PM) or respiratory inorganics cause health issues in high concentrations. PM concentrations vary widely around the world. The main contributors are industrial operations and power generation. However, PM emissions from vehicle exhaust can contribute significantly to health damages because they are emitted in high-density areas and at low elevation. Secondary aerosol precursor emissions in many areas are due to vehicle exhaust and domestic wood heaters. Ammonia emissions from agriculture are also a major contributor to secondary PM. They are measured in kgPM2.5

Water Consumption. The pressure on global freshwater resources arises from the demand for everyday goods and services which use water in their production. The interconnected nature of global economic systems means that water abstraction can occur far from where final consumption occurs. Globally, water use has been increasing at more than twice the rate of population growth, and most withdrawals are in watersheds already experiencing water stress. Managing water resources is extremely important for the health of the environment and our current and future agricultural, industrial and personal water requirements. Freshwater can be derived from renewable sources (rainwater) and somewhat non-renewable resources (aquifers). Consumptive water (H2O C) use is abstracted water that is no longer available for other uses because it has evaporated, transpired, been incorporated into products and crops, or consumed by man or livestock.

Abiotic Resource Depletion Minerals. Abiotic Resource Depletion of energy (ADPM) is a measure of the extraction and consumption of primary resources from the earth. Such exploitation reduces resources available to future generations and as such must be managed.

Human Toxicity Cancer. Life cycle impact assessment of toxicity takes into account the fate, route of exposure and toxicity impact of toxic substances when released to air, water or land. Categories of chemical substances commonly accounted for are pesticides, heavy metals, hormones and organic chemicals. Human toxicity, cancer measures the potential for toxic releases or exposure to cause cancer in humans.

Human Toxicity Non-Cancer. Life cycle impact assessment of toxicity takes into account the fate, route of exposure and toxicity impact of toxic substances when released to air, water or land. Categories of chemical substances commonly accounted for are pesticides, heavy metals, hormones and organic chemicals. Human toxicity, cancer measures the potential for toxic releases or exposure to cause cancer in humans.

Freshwater Ecotoxicity. Life cycle impact assessment of toxicity takes into account the fate, route of exposure and toxicity impact of toxic substances when released to air, water or land. Categories of chemical substances commonly accounted for are pesticides, heavy metals, hormones and organic chemicals. Human toxicity, non-cancer measures the potential for toxic releases or exposure to cause damage to freshwater environments.

Water Scarcity. The pressure on global freshwater resources arises from the demand for everyday goods and services which use water in their production. The interconnected nature of global economic systems means that water abstraction can occur far from where final consumption occurs. Managing water resources is extremely important for the health of the environment and our current and future agricultural, industrial and personal water requirements. Freshwater can be derived from renewable sources (rainwater) and somewhat non-renewable resources (aquifers). The water scarcity indicator (H2O S) expands on the water footprint indicator by not only distinguishing from these sources and providing an understanding of the depletion of fresh water sources but also relating this depletion to scarcity in the freshwater supply in the local region.

Ionizing Radiation. Ionizing radiation characterises impacts from the release of radioactive species (radionuclides) to air and water. The species most commonly accounted for are the radionuclides of caesium, iodine, radon and uranium etc. Anthropogenic sources are the nuclear fuel cycle, phosphate rock extraction, coal power plants, and oil and gas extraction. When released to the environment, they can impact both human health and ecosystems so the end_point areas of protection they relate to are human health and the ecosystem quality.

Abiotic Resource Depletion Energy. Abiotic Resource Depletion of energy (ARDE) is a measure of the extraction and consumption of non-renewable energy sources (primarily fossil fuels, but also inclusive of other energy sources such as uranium). Primary energy content of non-renewable energy sources including the embodied energy to extract, process and deliver the non-renewable fuels, or manufacture, transport and install the renewable generator. Hence there is usually and non-renewable energy content associated with renewable fuels also.

BRE Ecopoints.  A single metric score that weights the various environmental indicators covered in Bre IMPACT according to their environmental significance.

The diagram below presents some of the damage pathways (environmental, human, resource) that the indicators impact on.

ReCiPe2016-impact-categories

(Courtesy of Simapro)

eToolLCD workflow

If you’re wondering how to complete your LCA models using eToolLCD you have landed on the right place. This is a basic step by step process to start a model from scratch all the way through to certification. There will be variances depending on the project type you’re modelling and the purpose of the LCA but we hope this provides a good initial guidance. You can always check the example projects in your account to compare the scope and make sure you’ve added all required project info.

 

etoollcd-workflow

  1. Inform eTool about your new project and pay the project fee (except for Specialist users who can work on unlimited projects per year).
  2. Create a project, structure and you base design (to be used as reference for comparative LCA process) in eToolLCD.
  3. Insert project information using the “Details” tab.  Be sure to use the ‘Compare Benchmark’ – eTool have created a number of Benchmark buildings; including a Residential and Office type. Comparing your design to those Benchmarks will highlight any major gaps in your Life cycle inventory.
  4. Include templates from library or customise your own templates. Make sure you customise templates in the library first, before you load them into your models.
  5. Compare the scope of your Design with the example projects and the Benchmark designs (which you can see in the eTool Library). You can also use the Construction Scope and Energy and Water Scope which are on the Project details as a checklist of items to consider in the data collection phase of your life cycle assessment.
  6. Run the Top Impacts reports – check that the usual suspects and expected items are on the list.
  7. Compare the total impacts of each building Category (Substructure, Superstructure etc) against the Benchmark – (blue bars versus grey bars)
  8. Submit your Base design  for Certification by the eTool team. This is quality assurance service and an LCA mentoring process
  9. Clone your Certified Base design to create a LCA – Scenario, often called your Improved design.
  10. Identify the strategies to reduce the Top Impacts – use the Recommendations tab to document these design improvement strategies.
  11. Implement design improvements using the “Recommendations” tab and other features like bulk swap. Make sure you record the changes so they can be automatically populated in your reports.
  12. Generate the reports automatically from the software and present to your clients:
    • Target Setting Study (preliminary design advice)
    • Design Feedback Report (design development stage)
    • Environmental Infographics (Useful for marketing and communicating to layperson)
  13. Clone the improved design into a final design and implement all confirmed design improvements.
  14. Submit final design for certification with eTool.
  15. Generate reports from Certified Final design
    • Emissions certificate
    • Infographics
    • Life cycle inventory
  16. Get out there and be proud of achieving a genuinely sustainable design outcome!

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.

eTool International Residential Benchmark (Methodology Summary)

Below is a summary of our approach to the International residential benchmark.  A full EN15978 report on the benchmark model can be found here.  International Residential Benchmark Weighted x10 dwellings v28

In light of eTool’s recent exploration into global markets, we thought it prudent to create a “global” benchmark for housing developments.  eTool will be using this benchmark for all future housing projects. The reasons an international statistically mixed use benchmark is the most robust model to compare designs against are as follows:

  • The planet does not care what kind of house you build only how close it is to zero carbon. A mixed use benchmark provides a fair comparison of performance across different house types be it apartments, detached, maisonettes etc.
  • The planet does not care where you build your building, only how close it gets to zero carbon. Climate change is a global problem, whilst regional benchmarks can be useful for comparing similar buildings in the same area they can produce unfair results.  For example, a house built in a low carbon grid area (e.g. Brazil) may have emissions of 2 ton/person/year.  This may only be a small improvement against the average Brazil house as they both have the benefit of a low carbon grid.  Conversely a building in WA may have higher emissions (say 3 ton/person/year)  but despite having higher emissions than the Brazil case could show a larger improvement against the average WA house.  A single benchmark is the only way to give correct credit for the true sustainability performance of a building.

Before getting into the nitty gritty, it’s important to understand the purpose of the eTool benchmark, which is:

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

Benchmark Form and Structure

The benchmark has been created to represent an average dwelling built in a developed country, the statistics for a range of developed countries have been population weighted and combined into a single theoretical average dwelling.

Capture2

The statistics used in the benchmark are based on data obtained for each country. The construction type and dwelling size statistics take new build data wherever available, as this data is generally reliable and represents a picture of the way buildings are currently being built across the developed world. For residential buildings there is a mix of houses and apartments. This is the latest breakdown of the new dwellings density mix across the countries considered in 2010:

Capture

The occupancy is calculated by dividing teh countries population by the number of dwellings to give an average. This is weighted by population to give a global average of 2.52.
For the single dwelling element (59% of our average dwelling) a building structure has been modelled taking a cross section of commonly used construction techniques. In this instance, the data was obtained for U.S.A.  The U.S.A makes up the largest proportion of new housing in the developed world and is considered to represent a fair “average house.”  Construction techniques are unlikely to differ significantly enough to impact on the overall modelling, whilst brick houses may be more common in the U.K. and Germany, timber framing is far more prevalent in Japan and Sweden.

Capture4

A similar approach was taken with windows, internal walls, floors and roofs. The vast majority of those installed in new builds across America and Europe are double glazed and allowances have also been made for the smaller proportions of other window framing options currently in common use.

Capture5

For the multi-family dwellings, a standard concrete frame structure has been taken with one level of car parking and typical auxiliary and common layouts, such that the apartment living area represents approximately 50% of the total floor area of the building.  The total impacts of this building have been weighted on a per m2 basis and 56 m2 has been added to the model to represent the apartment element.

Benchmark Operational

Existing data has been used for operational energy, and arguably new build data would be preferable, but total existing data is generally a lot more robust (and readily available). Whilst new build energy figures were available for some countries, the figures tend to be from modelling completed for regulatory purposes and are therefore theoretical. In many countries there is a perceived “performance gap” between modelling results and actual consumption mainly due to differences in occupant behaviour, but also because of limitations in software and methodologies used for the modelling. The hope is that there will be continued industry effort towards monitoring of new build housing performances. Until further data in this area is available, we have a robust snapshot of how average buildings are currently performing by taking existing housing data.

The data for total residential fuel consumption was divided by the total number of dwellings in each country analysed. This was then weighted according to population to give a final figure for the average energy consumption of a developed country dwelling.

Capture7

End-use percentage estimates were then used to determine where this energy is being used in the dwellings.  Again, U.S. data[ix] has been used to represent the average.

Capture

Other impacts such as appliances and cabinetry and finishes have also been included by the estimated proportion of dwellings estimated to include these.

Capture8
The global average water consumption is considered fairly consistent across most developed countries with America and Australia having higher water consumption due to larger garden sizes.  A conservative nominal 169l/person/day has been assumed for water supply and treatment.

 

[i] Populations by country 2010 http://countrymeters.info/en/United_States_of_America_(USA)

[ii] Characteristics of New Housing U.S.A http://www.census.gov/construction/chars/highlights.html

[iii] Statistics Bureau Japan http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan/1431-09.htm

[iv] EU Odysee Data 2008 downloaded on 11.7.2014

[v] Australian Bureau of Statistics Average floor area of new residential dwellings 2012 http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/featurearticlesbytitle/E9AC8D4A1A3D8D20CA257C61000CE8D7?OpenDocument

[vi] U.S. Energy Information Administration – Annual Energy Outlook 2014 – Energy Consumption by Sector and Source http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/tablebrowser/#release=AEO2014&subject=0-AEO2014&table=2-AEO2014&region=1-0&cases=full2013full-d102312a,ref2014-d102413a

[vii] Odysee energy database for EU and Norway (2008) downloaded from http://www.odyssee-mure.eu/ in July 2014

[viii] Statistics Bureau Japan Chapter 10 Energy and Water http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan/1431-10.htm

[ix] U.S. Energy Information Administration Residential Sector Key Indicators and Consumption http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/tablebrowser/#release=AEO2014&subject=0-AEO2014&table=4-AEO2014&region=0-0&cases=full2013full-d102312a,ref2014-d102413a

 

 

Impact Category Definitions

What are all these new impact categories eTool can now measure?  Below are some definitions:

Climate Change impacts result in a warming effect of the earth’s surface due to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, measured in mass of carbon dioxide equivalents.

Stratospheric Ozone Depletion is caused by the release of gaseous chemicals that react with and destroy stratospheric ozone. Although the Montreal treaty has significantly reduced the use of the most damaging substances and there is evidence that the abundance of ozone depleting gases is reducing in the atmosphere, some releases of ozone depleting chemicals still occur.

Acidification Potential provides a measure of the decrease in the pH-value of rainwater and fog, which has the effect of ecosystem damage due to, for example, nutrients being washed out of soils and increased solubility of metals into soils. Acidification potential is generally a regional impact and is measured in mass of sulphur dioxide equivalents. The mechanism dominating the acidification impacts is the combustion of fossil fuels, release of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide which dissolves with condensed water in the atmosphere and falls as rain. The term acid rain describes severe incidents of this mechanism.

In general terms, Eutrophication Potential provides a measure of nutrient enrichment in aquatic or terrestrial environments, which leads to ecosystem damage to those locations from over enrichment and is measured in mass of phosphate equivalents.

Tropospheric Ozone Formation Potential is the creation of lower atmospheric ozone (commonly known as smog) due to the mechanism of VOCs reacting with sunlight. In particular, the release of carbon monoxide from steel production is predominant; however other releases such as nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and methane also contribute significantly to POCP.

Mineral & Fossil Fuel Depletion (Abiotic Depletion) provides an indication of the potential depletion (or scarcity) of non-energetic natural resources (or elements) in the earth’s crust, such as iron ores, aluminium or precious metals, and it accounts for the ultimate geological reserves (not the economically feasible reserves) and the anticipated depletion rates. It is measured in mass of antimony equivalents.

Human Toxicity, in general terms, refers to the impact on humans, as a result of emissions of toxic substances to air, water and soil, and is expressed in terms of damage to human health by the index mDALY (1/1000th of a disability adjusted life year)

Land Use is measured in years of use of arable land (m2.year). This describes the area and time land is occupied by production systems both natural and industrial for the production of the building materials but not the occupation of the building itself. While not strictly an impact category it is linked to general land use pressure and is therefore a proxy for biodiversity and other land competition impacts.

Resource Depletion (Water) provides an indication of the total net input of water used throughout the life cycle of the building.

Ionising Radiation covers the impacts arising from the release of radioactive substances as well as direct exposure to radiation. The impact is expressed in terms of damage to human health by the index uDALY (1/1,000,000th) of a disability adjusted life year.

Ecotoxicity refers to effects of chemical outputs on nonhuman living organisms. Expressed in comparative toxic units (CTUe) it provides an estimate of the potentially affected fraction of species integrated over time and volume per unit mass of a chemical emitted.

Particulate Matter is defined as a mixture of solid and liquid particles of organic and inorganic substances resulting from human activities and suspended in the atmosphere. Several studies show that PM causes serious adverse health effects, including reduced life expectancy, heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, low birth weight, and premature birth. Precursors involved in PM formation include sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH3), and volatile and semivolatile organic compounds. Measured as either PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers) or PM10 (particulate matter between 2.5 to 10 micrometers). Finer particles can travel deeper into the lungs and are usually made up of materials that are more toxic therefore PM2.5 can have worse health effects than the coarser PM10.

eTool LCA Software Updates – Autumn 2014

eTool LCA for Any Project

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

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

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

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

eTool LCA for Infrastructure

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

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

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

eTool LCA for Energy Generators

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

eTool LCA for Data Centres

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

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

What next for eTool LCA?

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

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

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

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

eTool LCA Software Updates – Summer 2014

EN15978 Compliance

The last few months have been hectic for our software development team. We brought the software into line with the European standard EN15978 – Sustainability of construction works – Assessment of environmental performance of buildings – Calculation method.  We undertook so eTool could be used to gain innovation credits in Green Star projects.  For out international audience, this is a environmental rating scheme managed by the Green Building Council of Australia.

Technically the update was a big challenge, EN15978 a very comprehensive standard with quite strict rules regarding how the LCA calculations should be conducted.  It’s a piece of work we planned back in 2012, we did need that little commercial push to undertake the change, and the opportunity to utilise eTool LCA for Green Star projects provided this.  We are really happy that we managed to complete this piece of work.  We really think the planet has a lot to benefit from through this standard, and hopefully through the use of eTool LCA.  Here’s some reasons:

  • EN15978 was written by CEN technical committee 350 who are also developing other standards to meet there overall mandate of delivering standards to holistically assess the sustainability of construction works.  This is really exciting.  It effectively draws a line in the sand and gives really solid guidance on how we should be assessing the buildings.  It includes social, economic and environmental considerations for sustainability.
  • A good Life Cycle Assessment is without doubt the best way to measure and improve the environmental performance of something.  This has been recognised by CEN TC 350 who have relied on it nearly exclusively for the environmental assessment of buildings.
  • CEN TC 350 also developed a standard for the assessment of building products.  These will be used by the new ECO EPD framework being developed in Europe which will align most of the major EPD Program operators.  Now this is exciting.  Finally, we have an international system that reports truly comparable data for construction products.  It’s equivalent to nutrition labelling for building products (substituting health info with environmental info).

All this means the stars are nicely aligning for low impact buildings.  There’s a huge opportunity to cut through the greenwash if industry uptakes this approach.  One of the things we love about this approach is it actually enables policy makers to set budgets in order to ensure we hit sustainability goals.  I’ve written about this concept and how it might be approached here.

Software Speed Improvements

Users during the last 12 months would have noticed that at times, particularly for very big designs, the software laboured.  It was getting pretty frustrating for our ops team who were working more and more on complex LCA models for large projects.  We’d delayed tackling this problem because it required a massive re-write of the back end.  There’s nothing worse than spending two months labouring on a software improvement project, then delivering the result which looks exactly the same!  It was a very nice change though, to give you an idea of the performance improvement, we had a large test design that was taking the best part of four minutes to save, now it’s taking just two seconds.  The big driver for this was actually to enable more features to be introduced to eTool LCA that would have otherwise slowed it down further.  There’s more coming!

Record Recommendations

This is probably  my favourite new feature.  It makes the job if modelling and tracking improvement ideas very easy.  I can honestly say this has enabled our operations team to significantly increase the research time we can allocate to identifying more improvement ideas.  Less time doing little admin tasks like copying and pasting data between eTool and spreadsheets, and more time focusing on reducing the impacts of the design.  All users need to do now is hit record, model the improvements, hit stop and every change to an impact due to that improvement will be recorded at different life cycle stages of the building.  And it’s recorded for every indicator too, so you can see how much carbon you saved verses how much money you saved.   I love using this feature.  Check it out.

EN 15978

In 2011 the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) released a new standard for measuring the environmental sustainability of buildings.  We grabbed a copy of this standard, EN 15978 soon after it was published to understand how eTool stacked up against the requirements.  We breathed a sigh of relief, although we had a few things to tidy up, what we were happy with was that we actually needed to reduce the scope and system boundary of a normal eToolLCA to report to EN15978.

Background to EN15978

This standard was one of the first to be released by CEN Technical Committee 350.  It was part of a much broader project to fully define how to measure the sustainability of buildings.  Within TC 350 there were working groups determining how to measure a building’s:

  • Environmental Performance,
  • Social Performance, and
  • Economic Performance.

Impressive.  The full suite of sustainability covered under one set group of standards.  And it doesn’t stop there, there are also working groups covering civil works and construction products.  Incredibly, they are making very good headway through this arduous scope with 8 standards already published and another four under development.  EN15978 is the key to measuring the environmental pillar of sustainability.

How Does it Work?

Well, it’s kind of complex you have to read the detail of the standard, and a good number of the standards referenced.  That said, we will summarise as best we can.  The basic philosophy is to rely 100% on LCA as the method of measuring environmental performance.  So there is hence a heavy reliance on ISO 14040, 14044 and 14025 which eTool LCA software also heavily draws on.  The standard gives guidance on how to apply LCA to buildings.  It effectively defines the goal, scope and method for LCA practitioners working on buildings.

The System Boundary

The diagram below shows the system boundary of EN 15978 is shown below.  For existing users of eTool LCA, or those who rely on eTool ratings, our standard system boundary is also shown.  We think the EN 15978 have essentially done a fantastic job putting this together (with a few exceptions we discuss below).

EN 15978 and eTool LCA Normal System Boundary

EN 15978 and eTool LCA Normal System Boundary

The largest omission from the system boundary is what EN15978 calls “non building related energy use”.  They essentially include HVAC, domestic hot water and lighting but exclude all other energy used within the building.  This makes sense at first glance, after all, these areas are certainly the most heavily influenced by the building designers, and other energy use is very heavily occupant driven.  There are however some strong arguments for including all energy used within the building, a few of which are listed below:

  • A building designer can influence occupant behaviour, and as such these aspects should be considered by architects and engineers, for example:
    • Energy monitoring has been proven to influence occupant behaviour in both commercial and residential buildings and should be considered by the design team
    • In residential buildings, energy use per occupant generally drops off with higher occupants per dwellings due to the base loads (refrigeration, living area entertainment, standby loads, lighting and heat losses from hot water systems) being spread between more occupants.  Buildings that allow and encourage more occupants per dwelling will (all else being equal) use less energy per occupant, and hence should be differentiated.
    • In commercial buildings, an integrated fit out of work stations can have huge positive impacts on energy use through the use of central servers for data storage and processing and mini computers at work stations drawing very little power.  A seamless implementation of such systems may require architectural and engineering consideration during the design of the building so should be factored.
  • Building integrated renewable energy systems should if possible be sized to meet the entire load of the building, not just the base building loads, so designers should be aware of the entire loads.
  • Developers can have a large influence on the building performance (at least initially) through the final fit out of appliances (residential) and work stations (commercial) so this should be within scope so we don’t drop the ball on this opportunity.
  • Vertical transport (elevators, escalators etc) for medium rise buildings can be heavily influenced by design:
    • The building envelope needs to cater for the most efficient plant geometrically
    • The use of stairs or ramps should be encouraged through design to reduce reliance on plant
    • The building electrical systems should be designed to cater for regenerative drives etc
  • Communicating the total impact of buildings without accounting for occupant energy use is very misleading.  Imagine moving into a building marketed as ‘energy neutral’ building only to find your power bill only drops 25%

Environmental Indicators

The suggested list of reported indicators is quite comprehensive for EN15978 and is shown in the below summary table:

 EN15978 Indicators

EN15978 does state that not all indicators need to be reported, but the documentation must specify the reasons for omission.  Interestingly toxicity, land use, biodiversity are missing from the above list.  The standard states that this is due to there being no scientifically agreed calculation method within the context of LCA for these indicators.  We’ll watch this space as we know some of these missing indicators are of great interest to many users of eTool.

EN 15978 and eTool LCA

After we read EN15978, we documented the required changes, pushed them into our product roadmap we got back to other work.  It wasn’t for another year though before it hit us how important this standard was.  All of a sudden, we weren’t “those guys from Western Australia who think they’ve nutted out how to truly improve the environmental performance of buildings”, EN15978 established that LCA was indeed the most appropriate tool for profiling green buildings.  Standards such as this one lend huge credibility to solutions like eTool that were released prior to the standard.  We were definitely barking up the right tree when we naively stood in front of the cameras on the ABC’s New Inventors and demonstrated the humble beginnings of eTool!

The recent uptake of LCA by the Green Building Council of Australia in their Greenstar tool heavily references  EN15978.  This has prompted us to build a suite of reports that are compliant with the standard, and those it references.  Importantly, we’re not going to remove any functionality form eTool, or contract the scope or system boundary.  Users will simply have the opportunity to report to either the EN15978 scope or the more expansive eTool LCA scope.  Similarly we’ll continue to upload more indicators into eTool LCA, our focus for the next 12 months will be plugging the gaps for EN15978 reporting.  There’s likely to be a lot of low hanging fruit here, and some trickier ones that may take some additional programming so we’re not entirely sure when we’ll be reporting on all 22 indicators just yet.  Our reports will be compliant with EN15978 though by still listing these additional indicators with “INA” (Indicator Not Assessed) in place of the calculated values which is accepted in the standard.  We’ll also allow users to report indicators currently available in eTool that aren’t required by EN15978.  Our general position on indicators is that global warming is our biggest environmental problem and hence our main efforts will continue to focus on solving this.

eTool and Internet Explorer

We’re pushing the envelope a little with what’s possible for web based software and Microsoft Internet Explorer has been a pretty challenging for us, it seems that we fix it up to work in one version, and those fixes break something in another version.  Needless to say, if you’re happy using safari, chrome, firefox or basically any other browser by MS Internet Explorer you shouldn’t have any issues.  If you’re stuck with MS IE, or love using it, here’s the work around for using the eTool app…