LCA in Sustainable Infrastructure


/in  /by Maryia Perthen

“You and I come by road and rail, but economists travel by infrastructure”.

Margaret Thatcher

No doubt, the infrastructure industry needs to change to address a new world we are rapidly moving towards today. Sustainable infrastructure means designing and building roads, stations, tunnels, buildings, energy and water grids with due consideration to economic, social and environmental impacts over 50-100 years. 

Emphasising on low initial costs and ignoring the use phase can lead to higher costs, both environmental and economical. Unfortunately, this cost will have to be paid later by the state, municipalities and us, end users. Thinking long term and holistically is the only way to achieve the balanced outcome for everyone and our planet.

Designers can demonstrate a significant project performance improvement when conducting a Life Cycle Assessment and Life Cycle Cost Assessment (LCA and LCCA) simultaneously. An option that represents an optimal environmental and cost outcome and is backed with scientific rigorous data that can inform decisions at various design stages.

This article provides an insight into the latest sustainability policies and regulations that have integrated the Life Cycle Design approach.

Lets fly to Europe

Ironically, we can’t fly overseas under the current situation with COVID-19 while borders stay closed for any tourism. But let’s stay positive and remember that attitude is a choice.

In Europe, the most iconic and largest infrastructure project being delivered right now is HS2. HS2 will upgrade the entire national railway network and connect the biggest cities of the UK.  Not only will this project implement the most innovative high speed rail technologies but has been leading the space in environmental protection. In order to measure, reduce and report on carbon emissions, materials efficiency and wider embedded environmental impacts, HS2 have adopted a life cycle assessment (LCA) approach for the entire project.

CEEQUAL is the international evidence-based sustainability rating scheme for civil engineering and infrastructure aiming to create a single, science-based best practice standard and certification tool for civil engineering and other infrastructure projects in the UK and around the world. CEEQUAL encourages users to consider environmental impacts over the lifetime of the asset. In general, there are points available for both embodied carbon assessments and for the full LCAs. A full LCA is undertaken to establish the environmental impact associated with all life cycle stages of the asset and is reported in line with the principles set out in EN 15978 and the EeB Guidance document for modules A-C and D (module D is optional). It is worth noting that there are further points available for projects that have reduced the LCA environmental impacts and also completed an LCCA. The portion of the CEEQUAL rating scheme related to LCA methodology is significant and encourages projects to undertake it at the earliest possible stage of the project.

How are things down under?

In Australia, the potential to build sustainable infrastructure is promising and has been evaluated with over $200 billion of assets in development¹

A good approach to sustainability starts at the very beginning, when projects are in planning and well before something becomes operational. A number of State Government agencies have recognised this, including the METRONET program of works, which has a Sustainability Strategy (2019-2022) that outlines that each project identifies opportunities for emissions reductions and integrates life cycle methods into design development and decision making. In other words, both materials costs and environmental footprints (LCCA and LCA) have to be modelled at different stages of design to assess different impact implications over the project’s life time – energy, water, materials, repairs, waste and cost. HS2 in UK and METRONET lead delivery agency, Public Transport Authority, have signed up to use the eToolLCD software, to assess sustainable opportunities and whole of life cost improvements through Life Cycle Assessment.

Another example is DPTI (Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure) in South Australia and it’s newly published “Sustainability in Design and Construction” and Sustainability manual. According to these,  projects need to demonstrate a reduction of Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) across the entire asset’s life and include Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions. Projects also need to provide estimates of materials life cycle impacts which include other impacts besides GHG, such as acidification and ozone depletion. Design assets need to minimise future cost of maintenance, repair, re-engineering, replacement, having regards to future climate change impacts. 

LXRA (Level Crossing Removal Authority) in Victoria has adopted their Sustainability policy which requires projects to reduce GHG emissions by 15-25%, minimize construction waste, and embed material saving initiatives into design, construction and operation of the project. 

TfNSW (Transport for New South Wales) generally need to ensure their practices and operations are aligned to Net Zero Emissions 2050 requirements.  On project levels, there are two rating systems used in order to measure the sustainability performance of projects: and they are TfNSW Sustainable Design Guidelines and the IS rating system. All projects over 15 million must reduce GHG emissions by minimum 5% and divert 90% of waste from landfill. Projects are also required to minimise or reduce whole of life cycle costs and need to conduct a LCCA over 30 years lifespan.

TMR (Department of Transport and Main Roads) in Queensland has strategic and long term commitments for transitioning to a net zero emissions transport system². In accordance with state government policy (State Infrastructure Plan), major projects (over $100m) are required to include a sustainability assessment using the IS rating. Sustainability targets have been set to achieve a minimum reduction of 15% embodied GHG emissions (materials), and 5% of whole of life emissions (energy). TMR considers the whole-of-life cost (LCCA) of assets during planning and decision making, and supports low and zero emission transport technologies, modes and materials.  

TMR QLD Sustainability manager Claire Thorstensen said: “Moving to a low or zero emissions future will require national commitment and leadership from the top, supported by clear roles and responsibilities in related Action Plans”.

Towards Zero Emissions infrastructure

Certainly, the main driver for decarbonising Australian infrastructure is the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) that developed the Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) rating scheme and encourages innovation and leadership. Pursuing IS rating and/or Green Star has become a mandatory requirement for many projects over 50 Million in different states of Australia. 

Currently, the LCA can be used for the IS Materials credit (Mat-1 or RSO-6), however the scope of assessment usually goes far beyond embodied impacts of materials and includes emissions from operational energy, water, waste, recycling etc. LCA can be easily transformed into LCCA to calculate the project’s CAPEX and OPEX  and to quantify how certain innovations contributed to a higher performance of the project. 

Listed in the ISCA sustainable suppliers register iSupply eTool has offered engineering and construction companies the subscription to the LCA & LCCA software eToolLCD to help their projects achieve higher environmental and economical performance. As a member of the Sustainable Materials Advisory Panel eTool is actively collaborating with ISCA on topics related to embodied impacts and the use of EPDs.

Early 2020 ISCA committed to 5 actions towards low carbon infrastructure that include a pathway towards a net zero emissions future as well as encouraging innovations to respond to climate change. ISCA may become a global leader in this space trying to implement some ambitional projects, such as implementing continuous improvement process, digitalisation of the rating scheme, as well as developing a next generation tool WWEM to include water, waste, energy and materials footprint into one single assessment. This would be a right step towards the life cycle design methodology which is already an essential part of CEEQUAL rating and hopefully will become business as usual in Australia too.  

Related articles:

eToolLCD and HS2 (High speed Railway) in UK

Eiffage Kier and eToolLCD PAS2080 Audit

PAS2080 Audit 

North Link WA Southern Section – Infrastructure Sustainability

Waterbank, Perth


¹ $165 billion opportunity for sustainable infrastructure

² Queensland Transport Strategy and  Transport Coordination Plan