Life Cycle Assessment is recognised internationally in standards, rating tools and even legislation.
Life Cycle Assessment is recognised by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) through standards 14040 and 14044 which deal directly with LCA. LCA is also heavily referenced or relied upon in many other ISO standards covering environmental assessment of products, services, buildings and civil structures. Essentially, when it comes to assessing environmental performance, ISO standards prefer the use of LCA.
The European Centre for Standardisation (CEN) also heavily rely on LCA for assessing the environmental performance of buildings and building products (standards EN15978 and EN15804 respectively). These standards are quickly becoming recognised internationally.
Of course this all makes sense, when you do stand back and think carefully about how to guarantee that a design decision you’re making truly leads to a net improvement in performance, you need to understand the life cycle impacts associated with that decision. It’s really the only way to be sure a design choice isn’t leading to poor trade off’s. The technical committees that were tasked with standardising “Assessment of the Environmental Performance of Buildings” had many existing systems and approaches to choose from around the world. LCA emerged as the best option available.
Building Rating Systems
The uptake of whole building life cycle assessment has been accelerating in recent times as it becomes more practical to implement. Even existing rating systems are quickly embracing and integrating it into their systems. These systems include:
- US Green Building Council: LEED
- BRE (UK): BREEAM
- Living Future Institute (US): Living Building Challenge
- BioRegional (UK): One Planet Living
- Green Building Initiative: Green Globes
- German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB): DGNB System
- Green Building Council of Australia: Green Star
LCA is utilised differently by these different systems. In the case of the DGNB it’s a very significant part of the total scoring system, where as other systems are only just starting to introduce LCA. Whole of building LCA has only become practical reasonably recently, and it’s uptake is accelerating, both in the number of systems that are incorporating it, and also the weighting.
Governments are beginning to recognise that the way we are running our economy is unsustainable, particularly with the issue of climate change. The world needs to reduce GHG emissions per capita by approximately 80%, and developed countries by 95% to achieve sustainable levels of greenhouse gas emissions. In the construction sector, although no regulations have yet specified LCA of whole buildings, this avenue is being seriously considered. Washington State Senate commissioned a study to explore the potential of integrating life cycle assessment methods, data and/or standards into the state building code. Findings supported implementation but not immediately as the industry needs time to develop LCA skills and data. External to building regulations a number of product labelling programs have also unfolded to introduce transparency regarding embodied carbon of products. These programs rely on LCA to determine a product’s carbon footprint. The following programs are all using LCA to quantify and compare environmental impacts of consumer products.
- France introduced a national pilot program of LCA based environmental labelling under the Grenelle 2 Act.
- South Korea initiated a carbon labelling program for consumer goods and services. The system is voluntary but instigated by “The Fundamental Law for Low Carbon Green Growth, 2010”. 600 goods and services currently certified and labelled.
- Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry started a pilot labelling program in 2008. Over 300 retailers and manufacturers are involved across 53 product categories.
- Thailand have introduced a pilot CO2 labelling program through the GHG Management Organisation. Launched in 2010, 458 products from 100 companies are carrying the label.