LCA for the Humanitarian Sector

Developing an LCA calculator for the humanitarian shelter sector

The Research

According to the World Green Building Council, building construction accounts for about 6% of estimated global energy consumption. As well as this, post-construction building operations through to end-of-life accounts for 30%. Similarly, building construction is estimated to contribute 11% of global emissions, but once constructed, this figure rises to almost a third of global emissions per annum. In the construction industry, life cycle assessment (LCA) is a core part of optimising the embodied and operational environmental impacts of a development before, during and after its usable life. There are many tools and methodologies to measure this, which are key to establishing the long-term viability of projects and considering the wider environmental impact of construction. In the humanitarian sector the construction context is very different and humanitarian actors are increasingly looking to quantify their environmental impact – but what do these different contexts mean for the capacity to measure both immediate and longitudinal impact? A focus on purely material selection and construction methods will likely miss a very large proportion of the impact of humanitarian operations, and yet there is only limited research available in the sector looking at the long-term environmental impacts of different shelter and settlement interventions, particularly in relation to asset operation, adaptation and end-of-life.

Why is this relevant to the shelter and settlements sector?

The Sphere Shelter Standard 7 focuses on the importance of limiting the environmental impact of shelter solutions, including methods which reduce the embodied and operational carbon of the materials selected. However, in order to adequately measure and compare different shelter options, humanitarian organisations need to be able to calculate environmental impacts of the material components. The BRE Trust is looking to support the adaptation of an LCA tool for use in the humanitarian sector which will help to quantify the environmental impact of shelter solutions allowing organisations to make informed decisions appropriate to the nature of individual situations. Beyond just meeting requirements for the Sphere Standards, it is becoming increasingly clear in the context of the climate crisis that a lack of understanding of the environmental impact of humanitarian action could result in directly undermining the humanitarian principle of ‘do no harm’. Both localised and international harm to the environment in the form of contribution to climate change and environmental degradation is something that it is currently not possible to systematically quantify in the humanitarian sector, and an analysis of the ways that this can be better understood is key to ensuring that humanitarian principles are upheld.


To Get Involved, Contact George Foden

Life Cycle Analysis and Improving Shelter Outcomes

This video was recorded at the Global Shelter Cluster Meeting on LCA in Humanitarian Settings on 27th October 2020. Find out more here:

LIST – BRE’s LCA assessment tool for shop fit-out

Learn More About LIST

LIST is BRE’s sustainable fit-out tool, originally created for supermarkets allowing them to evaluate and compare the environmental impacts of interior fit-out designs.

The tool measures individual components which could be installed in a shop re-fit against 13 environmental impacts:

  • Climate Change
  • Water extraction
  • Mineral resource extraction
  • Stratospheric ozone depletion
  • Human toxicity
  • Eco toxicity – land + Water
  • Nuclear waste
  • Waste disposal
  • Fossil fuel depletion
  • Eutrophication
  • Photochemical ozone creation
  • Acidification

Each of the compared components is given an ecopoint score and an embodied carbon values (kgCO2eq). The lower the eco point score and the embodied carbon values,  the better the component for the fit out.

The tool is a good way of comparing 2 solutions to each other, however it does not consider the lifetime running of individual components.


Adapting LIST to a humanitarian context

Following an initial review by our shelter cluster partners, along with LCA experts at BRE who were responsible for the development of LIST, it was decided that LIST could potentially be adapted to fit a humanitarian context, particularly in relation to the procurement of temporary and transitional housing. This project aims to identify the current limitations of LIST in a humanitarian context, and help BRE to adapt different elements within the tool in order to make it applicable for use by humanitarian practitioners.

Upon the initial review, the following necessary adaptations were identified:

  • The development of a new materials database, along with any proxy data that is required for specific components when relevant data is missing
    • Identification of key materials used by the humanitarian sector
    • Identification of materials treatment that may take place (painting, insect protection measures, etc.)
  • Identification for the relevant metrics to measure scale of use of a particular unit
  • A focus not just on carbon and embodied energy, but also material toxicity
  • The inclusion of guidance and warnings on additional consequences of specific material selection
  • An analysis of end-of-life scenarios to include in analysis
  • The development of an easy-to-use instruction manual for the tool

What do we need?

BRE is looking for support from humanitarian practitioners to aid us in identifying the exact requirements of the tool, so that it can best be suited to the needs of shelter practitioners. We will need to conduct an in-depth review of what type of tool would be most useful in the sector, and the needs the tool should fulfil in order to be successful.

To Get Involved, Contact George Foden