Insights – Get a leg up using whole building LCA

Greenstar_LogoIn this article, Edge’s building sustainability life cycle experts provide invaluable insights on how to get a leg up using whole building Life Cycle Assessment, especially for Green Star.

Read on and we’ll explain why…

After several years of discussion with industry and other stakeholders, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) introduced and rewarded projects completing and using whole building life cycle assessment (LCA) as part of the design process.

At first, whole building LCA was trialled in the Green Star innovation category. The GBCA introduced the innovation category as a complement and extension of the core Green Star building rating tool in 2014. The Green Star Innovation category promotes holistic sustainable solutions in the built environment, and assists projects in investing resources into valuable outcomes.

As part of the recently launched Green Star Design & As Built rating tool (replacing all the individual building type rating tools), the life cycle impacts credit (credit 19) awards up to 7 points for projects, through a combination of the following criteria:

  • Comparative Life Cycle Assessment: Up to 6 points are available where a whole of- building whole-of-life (cradle-to-grave) life cycle assessment (LCA) is conducted for the project and a reference case. Points are awarded based on the extent of environmental impact reduction against six environmental impacts categories when compared to the reference case.
  • Additional Life Cycle Impact Reporting: 1 additional point is available where the LCA conducted by projects includes reporting of five impact categories in addition to those required under the whole-of-building whole-of-life methodology.

To claim the credits, the project must conduct the assessment in accordance with the whole building LCA standard EN 15978 and complete a peer reviewed by Independent LCA Practitioner.

Edge have conducted a number of whole building LCAs for projects targeting the life cycle impacts credit 19 on behalf of Australand, Watpac, Brookfield, Arup, ProBuild, the University of Technology Sydney, and more in the pipeline.

Our reflections and recommendations from this work can be summed up as:

Get in early

Start the LCA process at concept design to get the most benefit and bang for your bucks from the assessment. You will be surprised by how much insights and input to the design you can get from working with experts with experience from LCA and ESD.

Track your progress

Measure the changes (better/worse) and trade-offs in embodied and operational energy as your design evolves. Often LCA will help you evaluate and approach your design with more confidence and clarity around what the real environmental implications are from your decisions. This is also a great way to develop in house knowledge for the next project, to help you apply the right principles and initiatives even earlier and integrate life cycle thinking from the start.

Use LCA to drive the direction of other sustainability credits and initiatives

Your whole building LCA will give you clear direction for which Green Star credits and initiatives will provide the highest net benefit in terms of energy, carbon, water, waste and urban pollution. This is a great framework for rational and evidence based decision making.

Focus on energy from day #1

One of our key insights from conducting building LCAs over the years is that energy always matter. A good energy performance when compounded over 60 years (which is the nominated building life for Green Star LCAs) will be the single most effective area of improvement and differentiation for your LCA (see picture below showing the trade off between embodied and operational impact over the life of the building).

Equally, energy is often the main driver for environmental impact embodied in building products (with a few notable exceptions, such as timber products). Supplier with good energy performance and powered by energy from renewable sources will have a significant positive impact on your building LCA.


Reap the benefits from having good energy performance

Currently you will get the bulk of your LCA points in Green Star from good operational energy performance. Additionally, you will get the operational energy and greenhouse credit (credit 15). The GBCA deliberately allows for this double counting, use it while it’s allowed, chances are it will change in future Green Star versions as LCA becomes mainstream for building projects.

Use suppliers with Environmental Product Declarations

Make sure your building product suppliers have their EPDs available, preferably EN15804 compliant with the Australasian EPD Programme. The product EPD will give you consistent ISO compliant third party verified information about the product. EPDs are used straight into the whole building LCA as a custom made piece of the jig-saw puzzle, and the EPD will give you points in Green Star Credit 21 Sustainable Products.

For more details see our post Uptake of EPDs in Australia. There are several key building products with EPDs available (or imminent) from Bluescope Steel, Forest and Wood Products Association, Iplex, Vinidex, Kingspan, James Hardie, Allied Concrete, etc.

The time to embrace whole building LCAs and Environmental Product Declarations is here. In the next wave, we’ll likely see closer integration with circular economy and industrial ecology applications, and Building Information Modelling. This is the beginning.

If you want to learn more, check out GBCA’s video interview of Edge’s directors or contact our team of experts and authors of this post:

Authors: Jonas Bengtsson (LCA certified professional, Green Star TAG member) and Joel Clayton (ESD expert and Green Star Accredited Professional).




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