Niall Burke

May 30, 2023 • LCA

Why Life Cycle Assessment is Essential for Sustainable Construction

LCA is a catalyst for sustainable construction, guiding design choices and reducing the industry's environmental footprint


In recent years, sustainable construction has risen to the top of the agenda for architects, engineers, and developers alike. This isn't just a trend or buzzword. It's a crucial aspect of ensuring our built environment is moving towards a more sustainable future, but why is this so important, and where does Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) fit in?

The Built Environment and Its Environmental Impact

It's a well-documented fact that the built environment significantly contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions. As per the 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the construction and operation of buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of the total global carbon dioxide emissions. Additionally, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that buildings and construction together account for 36% of the global energy use. Clearly, the industry has a considerable impact, and therefore a significant responsibility to drive change.

Life Cycle Assessment: An Overview

Life Cycle Assessment is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of a product or service over its entire life cycle, from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling. In the construction industry, this means assessing the environmental footprint of a building from the extraction of raw materials to the eventual end-of-life phase.

Life Cycle Assessment and Sustainable Construction

So, how does LCA contribute to sustainable construction? To answer this question, let's look at three main aspects.

1. Comprehensive Environmental Impact Analysis:

LCA provides a holistic view of a building's environmental footprint. It goes beyond the operational phase and considers the impact of materials production, construction, use, and end-of-life. For instance, concrete, a widely used construction material, is responsible for approximately 8% of the world's CO2 emissions, as per a report by Chatham House. An LCA can highlight this impact, pushing designers to opt for lower-carbon alternatives.

2. Informed Decision-Making:

LCA serves as an excellent tool for making informed design decisions. By comparing different design alternatives using LCA, designers can make choices that reduce the environmental footprint of their projects. For example, an LCA could help decide between different types of insulation materials based on their embodied carbon and energy efficiency over the building's lifespan.

3. Regulatory Compliance and Green Building Certification:

Many jurisdictions are now introducing regulations around the embodied carbon of buildings, and LCA is a valuable tool in demonstrating compliance. Furthermore, green building certifications such as LEED and BREEAM award points for carrying out an LCA and implementing strategies to reduce environmental impacts based on LCA results.

In conclusion, LCA is not just a tool but a catalyst for sustainable construction. By providing insight into the environmental impacts of our building choices, it empowers us to design and build more sustainably. The construction industry is on a journey towards reducing its environmental footprint, and LCA is a compass guiding the way.

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