Life Cycle AsssessmentWhat is Life Cycle Assessment?

From cra­dle-to-grave – a life cycle assess­ment is the sys­tem­at­ic analy­sis of a prod­uct over its entire lifes­pan. Resources are tak­en from the ecos­phere, emis­sions released into air and water, and waste is generated.

Dur­ing the life cycle assess­ment of a prod­uct, each and every aspect is tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion, from raw mate­r­i­al extrac­tion to pro­duc­ing the mate­r­i­al and man­u­fac­tur­ing the prod­uct. Fur­ther­more, there is the use-phase and final­ly, every process at the end-of-life phase.  For the prod­uct port­fo­lio many data are to be col­lect­ed and stan­dards [ISO 14040] and [ISO 14044] pro­vide the respec­tive method­ol­o­gy and guidelines.

Life cycle assess­ments pro­vide detailed and trans­par­ent data on con­struc­tion prod­ucts and their envi­ron­men­tal impacts. Among oth­er uses, this data forms the basis for Envi­ron­men­tal Prod­uct Dec­la­ra­tions, which are an impor­tant com­po­nent for the well-found­ed eval­u­a­tion of a building’s sustainability.

Life Cycle Assess­ments – the Basis of the Envi­ron­men­tal View of Sustainability

The life cycle method­ol­o­gy accord­ing to stan­dards [ISO 14040] and [ISO 14044] is divid­ed into four phas­es: Defin­ing Goal and Scope, Inven­to­ry Analy­sis, Impact Assess­ment and Eval­u­a­tion. Accord­ing to stan­dards [ISO 14040] and [ISO 14044]. Appli­ca­tions of life cycle assess­ments are not specified.

LCA Scope and stagesDur­ing the first phase Defin­ing Goal and Scope, impor­tant para­me­ters are deter­mined. Two essen­tial para­me­ters are deter­min­ing the func­tion­al unit and the sys­tem boundaries.

Inven­to­ry analy­sis is the sec­ond phase, where in an Input-Out­put analy­sis, data of resource use and emis­sions are col­lect­ed for all process­es in question.

The Inven­to­ry analy­sis pro­vides a large amount of data on mate­r­i­al flow (emis­sions, resource use), as well as ener­gy usage, which are dif­fi­cult to man­age in a clear­ly struc­tured way. Impact assess­ment is the third phase, where data from the inven­to­ry analy­sis are brought togeth­er in regard to their poten­tial envi­ron­men­tal impact. This way, the eco­log­i­cal rel­e­vance of the results of the inven­to­ry assess­ment are eas­i­er to understand.

The impact cat­e­gories that are to be cov­ered by an analy­sis have to be spec­i­fied in the first phase (Def­i­n­i­tion of Goal and Scope). This is espe­cial­ly impor­tant since the data col­lect­ed in the inven­to­ry analy­sis fol­low the demand of the impact assessment.

The results from the inven­to­ry analy­sis and the impact assess­ment show the focus of the respec­tive envi­ron­men­tal impacts (e.g., cli­mate change/ glob­al warm­ing poten­tial, eutroph­i­ca­tion and acid­i­fi­ca­tion poten­tial), and it also shows the inven­to­ry analy­sis indi­ca­tors (e.g. cumu­la­tive ener­gy demand – CED). Accord­ing to each life cycle assess­ment phase, pri­or­i­ties for opti­miza­tion can be identified.

Dur­ing the fourth phase, Eval­u­a­tion, the results from the inven­to­ry analy­sis and the con­clu­sions for the impact assess­ment are tak­en and rec­om­men­da­tions are giv­en in regard to the goal of the analysis.

Life cycle assess­ment results are an impor­tant com­po­nent of the envi­ron­men­tal eval­u­a­tion of build­ings. The extent to which a build­ing affects the envi­ron­ment can be defined through the ener­gy and mate­r­i­al flows that devel­op over the building’s entire life cycle, and the prod­ucts used in its con­struc­tion. The life cycle assess­ment data from the indi­vid­ual build­ing prod­ucts used in a build­ing forms the basis for the envi­ron­men­tal analy­sis of that build­ing. EPDs are an estab­lished instru­ment of com­mu­ni­ca­tion for the entire con­struc­tion indus­try, in which this data – pre­pared for analy­sis at the build­ing lev­el – is con­sol­i­dat­ed and trans­par­ent­ly conveyed.

Guide­lines and stan­dards for Life Cycle Assessments

The Basis for the Life Cycle Assess­ment (LCA) are the Inter­na­tion­al Stan­dards ISO 14040 and ISO 14044.

For Envi­ron­men­tal Prod­uct Dec­la­ra­tions of con­struc­tion prod­ucts, Euro­pean stan­dard DIN EN 15804, “Sus­tain­abil­i­ty of con­struc­tion works — Envi­ron­men­tal Prod­uct Dec­la­ra­tions — core rules for the prod­uct cat­e­go­ry of con­struc­tion prod­ucts”, in which the cal­cu­la­tion method­ol­o­gy, sce­nario cre­ation and effect indi­ca­tors are pro­vid­ed, has been in effect since April 2012. It spec­i­fies the uni­form pub­li­ca­tion of life cycle assess­ment results for build­ing prod­ucts on a Euro­pean lev­el on the basis of ISO 14040 and ISO 14044.

For build­ing life cycle assess­ments, DIN EN 15978, “Sus­tain­abil­i­ty of con­struc­tion works — Assess­ment of envi­ron­men­tal per­for­mance of build­ings — Cal­cu­la­tion method” applies. This stan­dard describes all prin­ci­ples and require­ments for the eval­u­a­tion of build­ings with regard to their envi­ron­men­tal quality.

Life Cycle Assess­ment and Life Cycle

The life cycle assess­ment is a method­olog­i­cal tool that is orig­i­nal­ly used in oper­a­tional envi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment. The sys­tem­at­ic analy­sis of all input and out­put streams over the entire lifes­pan of a prod­uct, which pro­vides a trans­par­ent and detailed look at its poten­tial impact on the envi­ron­ment. In a life cycle assess­ment, the com­plete life cycle of a prod­uct, i.e. all stages, from the extrac­tion of raw mate­ri­als to pro­duc­tion, appli­ca­tion, waste treat­ment, and recy­cling, up to the final dis­pos­al, are assessed – “from cradle-to-grave”.LCA process

Not only are the envi­ron­men­tal effects of the pro­duc­tion process of a prod­uct con­sid­ered, but also its pri­ma­ry prod­ucts. Even aux­il­iary and raw mate­ri­als and sup­plies, such as glue or cool­ing agents, flow into the analy­sis, as well as ener­gy pro­duc­tion process­es, the pro­duc­tion and sup­ply of the nec­es­sary raw mate­ri­als, and all trans­port. Like­wise, anoth­er part of the life cycle assess­ment is the dis­pos­al and/or recy­cling of the prod­uct and its com­po­nents. Thus, a life cycle assess­ment is a type of “envi­ron­men­tal his­to­ry” of the prod­uct, which can help show the man­u­fac­tur­er and/or sup­pli­er the poten­tial for improve­ments in the raw mate­ri­als used and/or ener­gy effi­cien­cy, and for keep­ing the envi­ron­men­tal effects and stress as min­i­mal as possible.

In con­sid­er­ing the life cycle of a build­ing prod­uct, it should not only be viewed at the lev­el of the prod­uct itself, but must be extend­ed to the lev­el of the build­ing. Build­ing prod­ucts are not end prod­ucts; their envi­ron­men­tal effects unfold, there­fore, only in con­nec­tion with the build­ing for which they were intended.