Despite accounting for 0.33% of the planet’s population, Australia remains among the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) polluters per capita in the world. Under the Paris Agreement, the federal government has pledged to reduce carbon pollution by 28 per cent by 2030. The Climate Council chief executive Amanda Mackenzie notes, however, that at its current trajectory Australia increasingly risks becoming the “global climate laggard.” In 2017, Australian carbon emissions increased for the third consecutive year, a trend that has severely reduced the nation’s ability to uphold its Paris Agreement commitments and meet the ambitious reductions demanded by Australia’s own Climate Change Authority. Of this carbon footprint, the construction sector represents a substantial arena for mitigating carbon, accounting for 18.1 per cent of all emissions through its rapid consumption of materials. While the consistent aim of the federal government has been to reduce those emissions, there is often a misconception as to how this can be achieved.
Whilst many regulatory policies apply to cutting operation costs from a building, recent research highlights the strength of combatting carbon output through the analysis of indirect GHG pollutants, accounting for the embodied energy of all materials used in a project across their entire life. This information, known as a Lifecycle Assessment (LCA), can be independently verified and released as an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), which makes public the environmental loads of production processes, or – perhaps more simply – a product’s environmental impact from ‘cradle to grave’. This embraces all the energy and activities necessary to create, transport, use and dispose of the material, providing important input in the strategic planning of a building.
Many Council Development Control Plans (DCP's) have controls which require designers to reduce the embodied energy of buildings by selecting low carbon or recycled content materials. As a result, considering responsible material choice is a vital and mandatory first step in a building's design. The challenge is access to design ready information about the embodied energy of materials.
Of course, the presence of an EPD or LCA does not mean a product’s environmental impact is reduced, or that it performs better environmentally than its alternatives. Rather, EPDs and LCAs allow relevant stakeholders within the early design stages of a project to make informed decisions regarding products and materials to be used at a later phase. Designers must recognise that an EPD can also be presented as a marketing or ‘greenwashing’ tactic and must ensure that they have all information on hand prior to making critical specification decisions.
Environmental standards are an important responsibility for specifiers and architects to uphold. What’s more, an LCA can be used to save time and produce comprehensive research with fewer resources. The Footprint Company’s (TFC) LCA software and analytics provides assistance in reducing the embodied emissions of materials at the critical early stages of a project, identifying components and processes of a building that present opportunities to mitigate carbon pollution. Developed specifically for designers and architects, TFC’s ‘Greenbook’ expedites a project’s research and calculation process, providing an inventory of materials, products and assemblies. As Australia’s only online embodied carbon life cycle catalogue, it enables an efficient valuation of cost and emissions against performance benchmarks.
The building industry, researchers, designers, and specifiers are all impacted by developments in sustainable standards and production. LCA is a vital tool to help those in the construction industry to achieve sustainable and responsible building practices by evaluating risks to the public and natural environment as well as economic, social and cultural impacts. Applied as either a conceptual framework or set of practical tools supporting critical decisions within the design stage, access to material inventories and data provided by TFC streamlines research into important environmental requirements, ultimately accelerating the process of embodied carbon assessment.
For more information on LCA, visit The Footprint Company’s website at https://footprintcompany.com/whole-building-life-cycle-assessment-software/.