The Leaders of LCA – How They Are Changing The Face of Sustainable Building

As we continue our transition towards more sustainable buildings and the imperative for carbon reduction continues to increase, the question of what exactly defines a sustainable building has come to the surface. To answer this question, and better define sustainable buildings, green building councils around the world have shifted towards life cycle assessment methodology as a way to measure, quantify and compare the environmental impacts of buildings.

Life cycle assessment allows a designer to quantify environmental performance by looking at the impacts of each component of a building over its life span and most importantly, maximise design functionality. It enables you to see a full picture of the impacts of a project and identifies important hotspots for improvement that may have otherwise been overlooked. Since LCA is metrics based, it takes the guesswork out of sustainability and it’s no wonder that it’s quickly become the go-to method around the world for good building design. This adoption of life cycle assessment and design principles isn’t just limited to Green Building Councils – many players within the private sector are choosing to use LCA methodology as a way to ensure sustainable outcomes for their projects. This uptake of LCA in the private sector is largely thanks to key leaders who decided to take LCA on-board from the earliest stages.

The well-known “Diffusion of Innovation” by Everett Rogers demonstrates that for a new idea to gain traction, the “early adopters”, those that adopt or utilise the idea or product first, are crucial to the uptake of the idea as a whole. It is the early adopters who help catalyse and enable the idea to truly be adopted into the mainstream.

One such early adopter of LCA and leader in the sustainable building space is Mirvac – one of Australia’s largest developers. In 2014, Mirvac released a Sustainability Report stating a new mandate requiring all new projects commencing after June 2014, to undertake a full life cycle assessment.

This move to incorporate LCA was a first for a major developer in Australia. Their requirement for LCAs on each of their developments is a component of their commitment to reduce carbon intensity by 20% by 2018.

Large infrastructure projects are also requesting LCA as part of tender documentation, and the new Perth Stadium is among them. Long-term analysis is crucial to understanding the environmental impacts associated with asset operations and maintenance.

“There’s only one way to quantify the environmental performance of a project and that is to conduct an LCA and quantify the total carbon emissions,” Mark McKenna, Sustainability Leader at NDY

Consultants such as Umow Lai and Cundall have also been monumental in pushing life cycle assessment to their clients and offering it as a valuable service they provide. In 2014, Richard Stokes of Umow Lai took built form LCA software eToolLCD in house and began offering it as a service to clients. Umow Lai has since worked on the notable University of Melbourne School of Design development, which achieved a carbon saving of 34% compared to the benchmark and used the Materials Life Cycle Impacts credit to work towards their achievement of 6-Star Green Star rating.

Local WA property developers such as Psaros have gone that step further and have incorporated LCA into their BAU operations and marketing messages for their multi-residential developments in the Perth metro area.

“We find that buyers are continually impressed and interested in our methods of defining sustainability for our properties. They like that we are doing something innovative and appreciate that it goes beyond traditional sustainability,” said Psaros.

Danny Psaros, CEO, notes how buyers’ preferences are changing. Instead of what would be considered flashy elements of a property, buyers are more interested in the longevity and sustainability of the property.

Sven Robertson, Real Estate Sales Director of Psaros added “Sustainability is the new operating system for apartment buildings. A bit like Nokia or Ericson the paradigm has changed profoundly and it’s not a case of degree – its binary – you will either be on or off the list depending on your green credentials.”

Global consultant Cundall has recently worked on the Kings Square developments, a prominent component of one of Australia’s most significant urban renewals, Perth City Link. Their incorporation of LCA into the Kings Square developments enabled major builders such as John Holland, Broad and ProBuild to consider using Life Cycle Design methodology on the design of future projects. The Kings Square Building One (KS1) received a 5-Star Green Star rating.

On a smaller scale, home-builders and renovators such as Interface Constructions have made LCA a normal aspect of shop fit outs, by quantifying the emissions related to every one of their jobs so they can purchase carbon offsets as part of the company’s zero emissions plan.

“We’re really passionate about sustainability and we believe that LCA gives us a really clear way to see how we can most effectively reduce the impact of the project we are working on. We’re excited to see more and more people take LCA on board – it’s great news for our environment.” Mark Masci, Director of Interface

From a council perspective, local councils such as the City of Vincent have incorporated LCA as a method for achieving sustainable performance within their precinct. This represents a large shift by councils towards more performance-based sustainability metrics versus the prescriptive approach.

With any adoption of a concept or technique, there is room for error and LCA professional Tim Grant has been the go-to expert in Australia to help establish correct practices and methods. The guidance of an LCA expert such as Grant is very important in ensuring that the growth of LCA is accurate and sustainable (in both senses).

From LCA’s early days as an academic practice, to now becoming commonplace for sustainable building performance for stakeholders of all scale in the building industry, it is without doubt that its uptake has been the result of ambitious and progressive builders, consultants, designers and individuals who chose to take a new idea on board before it hit mainstream. Now the tipping point has been reached and we will continue to see LCA become best practice across all industries, which is great news for sustainable building and our carbon threatened planet.

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