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Low Carbon Assessment (LCA) tools and collaboration

Published on by Dr Paul Beckett

Grass footprint
life-cycle assessment (LCA) is an objective, quantitative evaluation of  construction, use and end-of-life energy consumption of building projects. It is a powerful tool that contributes to the promotion of sustainable construction as well as green certification of operational buildings. It analyses the environmental performance of products or processes during their life-cycle (including raw material extraction, manufacturing, use, end-of-life disposal and recycling). Thus, it is said to be a “cradle to grave” way to analyse the impacts caused by a product or process.
There are several software tools and databases that are already standardized and have inventory data available. They allow the user to provide certain data from a project, and execute an environmental assessment of the enterprise for the user, since the process of analysing a whole project can be very complicated and demands time and effort. It is important to understand that the construction process is interrelated, which means that different areas can impact on each other. These tools can evaluate a specific product or perform a whole building assessment.
Once the user knows the impact associated with their processes or products, it is possible to mitigate them or prevent some impacts from happening, since the software can evidence the impacts before the enterprise is started, which is an extremely important outcome of this evaluation.
Some examples of LCA tools are: GaBi, SimaPro, IMPACT, ATHENA Environmental Impact Estimator, Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability, EcoInvent, ATHENA EcoCalculator, Envest, Life Cycle Analysis in Sustainable Architecture, Eco-Quantum, Phlorum CO2 Estimator and others. Although they have well known objectives and processes, there are questions that can be raised when analysing them in more depth – e.g.: what is the collaboration between the developers of the tools and the users of these tools; how accurate is the information already available in the software; and what information needs to be provided by the user?
Those are relevant questions, because the results given by the tools depend on the data used to analyse the processes. Thus, dubious information may generate untrustworthy results. There is not much available literature on collaboration in the development and use of LCA tools, which evidences a gap between the usage of the tool and the result of the analysis. It is important to develop further and deeper analysis of the tools, so that the limitations can be found and maybe corrected. Also, work needs to be done on how well the software captures the impact of a building project so that the user can understand the tools’ limitations and how results relate to reality.
There is no doubt about the importance of LCA in the development and adoption of more sustainable construction practices. However, further work is required to improve knowledge on the subject in order to translate this into software improvements delivering more reliable analyses. This way, actions towards mitigation of impacts can be more specific and accurate.
By Ana Beatriz Vilela Felix – Brazilian Science Without Borders scholarship student from Universidade Federal de Viçosa, working with Phlorum and the University of Brighton.

About the author: Dr Paul Beckett

Dr Paul Beckett - picture

Dr Paul Beckett is one of the UK’s leading experts in Japanese knotweed and is a member of the Expert Witness Institute. He regularly provides Japanese knotweed expert witness services. He helped produce the RICS knotweed guidance for surveyors and was integral in the formation of the Property Care Association (PCA) Invasive Weed Control Group (IWCG).

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