Low Impact Materials and Life Cycle Assessment Methodologies

Life Cycle Assessment Analysis At BRE

Quantifying sustainability in any project can be hard, especially if there are multiple components to a product, all of which could have different suppliers. A Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is seen to be one of the most useful way of measuring and comparing materials/ potential materials for any project. Life cycle assessment analysis, sometimes referred to as cradle to grave analysis describes a methodology which measures the environmental impacts of a product, process or service from design to disposal . This method of analysis has been used in the construction industry for many years and is increasingly becoming more important in the planning, decision making and delivery of products in other sectors, such as the retail and manufacturing industries.

LCA tools can help make procurement and supply decisions on any project, from the material component to the environmental impacts of the completed product. The analysis provides a holistic overview of all the materials and can be used to optimise the overall environmental impact of a project in any sector.

BRE Global and the BRE Trust have carried out several research programmes over the last 25 years, refining LCA methodologies and adapting them to different areas in the Built Environment.

BRE research road map

In the late 1990’s BRE started work on Life cycle assessment analysis for construction products, this was largely desk based research and much of the work centred around the materials commonly used in construction at that time. In 1996 the first edition of the Green Guide Specification was published as part of BRE’s Environmental assessment method (BREEAM) for construction. The guide offered a simple guide to the environmental impacts of building materials for over 1,500 specifications of 6 generic building types; Commercial, educational, healthcare, retail, domestic and Industrial. Since the initial publication, there have been 3 further editions, released in 1998, 2003 and 2008 respectively.
In 1999 BRE published their ‘methodology for environmental profiles of construction materials, components and buildings’. The environmental profile assesses the environmental impacts of building materials against 13 categories:

The knowledge and findings from this publication informed the green guide to housing as well as the 3rd and 4th editions of the green guide to specification. In the early 2000’s BREEAM added integrated the green guide into its methodology and added sections on materials to its assessment method for construction. The latest Edition to the green guide was released in 2008 and engaged with over 30 trade associations and tested over 1,000 products against the A+-E rating system, BRE’s Environmental profile was also updated.

In the early 2010’s BRE developed IMPACT, the only standardised specification data set available in the UK. IMPACT can be incorporated into 3D CAD/BIM software tools as well as bespoke life cycle analysis tools, the outcomes and results of which can be used to gain credits in BREEAM schemes.

In 2011 BRE developed a simple web-based tool in partnership with Display plan, FITCH and Marks and Spencer. The tool, LIST allows was specifically made for shop fitters, retailers, designers and manufacturers to evaluate and compare the environmental impacts of shopfitting display materials and equipment from the initial design stage.

In 2015 BRE updated IMPACT to include an updated data set, EN 15804, the new specification and dataset was used in the creation of BRE LINA, a easy to use LCA tool developed to help speed up the verification process for BRE’s Environmental product declarations.

The IMPACT specification and data set are continually used to help develop LCA tools for different sectors, in 2017 the e-tool and one click LCA were developed and can be used for whole building LCA’s.

The BRE Trust are interested in adapting the wealth of knowledge and expertise on LCA analysis at BRE to different sectors across the built environment. Using an LCA tool could help identify areas where adopting more sustainable practise could add value to business.

One such sector where the BRE Trust hopes to make a difference are convenience stores, with 46,388 buildings and a yearly revenue of ~£ 40 billion these businesses are usually family owned or independently rented. The majority have little power over their refurbishing, maintenance and operational schedules, which can make it difficult to implement sustainable practises. Businesses such as these play an important role in local communities and are often hard for the government to legislate and control through policy due to their high turnover rate and small profit margins.

The BRE Trust hopes to work with stakeholders such as the Alliance of Convenience Stores to create case studies and disseminate knowledge, this could include a LCA tool for retrofit, supply chain analysis as well as energy optimisation techniques for appliances such as those used for food storage, refrigeration and cooking.

The BRE Trust is also working closely with the Global Shelter Cluster Environment Community of Practice to develop an LCA tool for shelter and settlement operations in the humanitarian sector.


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