Standardisation of Life Cycle Assessments (LCA)

Examining the end-to-end impact of buildings

For a climate-neutral development project, it’s crucial to conduct a thorough assessment of the end-to-end environmental impact of a building, spanning from the design phase to the recycling phase. A comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) considers the entire environmental footprint of the project. However, the current state of LCA predominantly focuses on greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption, starting from raw material extraction, component manufacturing, the construction process, operational stage, and concluding with the demolition phase.

Despite nature’s vital role in human health and well-being, the current LCA framework lacks aspects related to biodiversity loss and ecosystem damage, primarily stemming from raw material extraction and ground-sealing. These critical areas should also be taken into account to fully evaluate the environmental footprint of buildings and infrastructure. An accurate LCA result can serve as a blueprint for a compensation mechanism, with 100% representing the project’s footprint and ‘X‘ reflecting the impact of existing buildings.

Under the current EU regulatory framework for LCA, there aren’t yet requirements for conducting such assessments for every new building and infrastructure project. Nevertheless, there is recognition of this issue, and three main frameworks constitute the existing rules on LCA:

Fit for 55 Program: This framework focuses on increasing the carbon price on oil and gas and promoting cost-efficient and effective carbon-efficient technologies. In the real estate sector, it aims to enhance the framework for renewable energy usage in buildings and the construction of “zero-emission buildings” by 2030.

Renovation Wave: This framework seeks to double the rate of building renovations by 2030, integrating them into the circular economy. It also advocates for LCA standardisation by 2030 to account for all emissions throughout a building’s life cycle.

Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP): The CEAP aims to improve product durability, reusability, and fixability through changes to the eco-design directive. This is vital for the building sector’s transition to the circular economy, as building and infrastructure demolition contribute to 35% of waste in the EU.

To promote sustainability and the circular economy in the building sector, the EU Commission has introduced Level(s), a unified mechanism for assessing and reporting on the sustainability performance of buildings. It evaluates and reports on six macro-goals: resource use and environmental performance, health and comfort, and cost, value, and risk. Level(s) is applicable from the building’s conceptual phase to the detailed drafting phase and the monitoring of the completed building. However, it has not yet seen widespread implementation and lacks a direct connection to a compensation mechanism.

Many believe making building LCA standardisation mandatory for all new developments. This could is essential for accurately estimating the environmental footprint of projects, enabling early planning to minimise impacts and later compensation for unavoidable ones. Implementing this strategic approach in building codes as a legal policy measure can be a potent catalyst for transformation, with a high compliance rate. A practical step would be to require an LCA submission before granting a building permit. For global comparability and accountability, LCA methods should be standardised and extended beyond current EU plans.

12 Jan 2023
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