Research to support establishment of a whole building whole of life framework using life cycle assessment and environmental profiling
BRANZ has developed a Plan for development of a whole building whole of life assessment framework for New Zealand, in order to provide a level playing field for assessment of the environmental performance of buildings (with an initial focus on offices).
The Plan is based on BRANZ research initiated in 2010 and industry feedback received during a consultation towards the end of 2012. A summary version (SR276) and full version (SR275) of the Plan are available here:
The work to develop the Plan has been informed by supporting research available here:
Please use the following links for more information:
BRANZ began researching environmental profiling in 2010 to help answer questions raised by the construction industry. The first stage of research sought to better understand the opportunities that exist for environmental profiling of materials in New Zealand. It piloted the development of draft New Zealand Environmental Product Declarations (EPD), recognising that EPD are increasingly being used and valued internationally to communicate environmental product information that is robust, credible and transparent, and set out a Roadmap for further research and development.
The second stage of research commenced in December 2011 and was informed by the Roadmap. It has focused on how EPD underpinned by Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can provide an optimal approach to a more robust and consistent evaluation of the environmental performance of New Zealand buildings across the life cycle - an LCA-based whole building whole of life assessment framework. These are the benefits of such a framework:
BRANZ and Arup International conducted workshops in 2010 with New Zealand designers and materials and product manufacturers in order to better understand their needs. During the designers' workshops, participants were asked to list key sustainability issues relating to materials when designing buildings on behalf of clients. These issues were grouped under four themes - resource efficiency, embodied impact, healthy and safe, and responsibly sourced. In total, 36 issues were identified under these four headings by workshop participants, of which nearly 80% could be measured and reported using LCA.
Of primary concern to designers was the need to more easily consider materials sustainability as part of the design process. Authoritative sources of locally relevant robust information and data about environmental impacts of building products are increasingly needed.
Information derived from LCA was supported as a means to address this issue, respecting that the practicalities of implementing an LCA step in the design cycle would need to be considered. Whilst NZGBC's Green Star is primarily a rating tool rather than a design tool, its development to incorporate LCA was recommended as a basis for driving industry participation, defining building performance thresholds and encouraging consistency.
Amongst manufacturers, there was a concern about the perceived cost implications and a lack of understanding about environmental profiling and therefore buy-in from executive management. The limited availability of New Zealand LCA-based data was also seen as an issue.
To address these issues, workshop participants made the following recommendations:
A credible authoritative body or process needs to oversee implementation.
Establish a credible body or mechanism.
The methodological approach needs to be robust enough to ensure unbiased fair comparison yet flexible to encompass different applications.
Examine the different options for establishing an LCA approach for New Zealand, recognising lessons learnt from international experience.
Suggested actions to address barriers
Green Star should be developed to incorporate LCA data, to encourage a consistent and robust approach to materials sustainability assessment in New Zealand using LCA.
Consult with industry groups and improve knowledge using training, coaching and workshops. Encourage the development of a working group to champion the LCA agenda.
Further design tools will be needed to maximise data uptake by practitioners. A ‘one tool suits all' approach is unlikely to be appropriate.
Develop a business case for the New Zealand building sector and promote case studies illustrating industry lessons from use of LCA.
The Plan seeks to address these recommendations made by the industry during the 2010 workshops and provide a pathway for establishment of a credible, robust system for assessing materials and products as part of a building level assessment in New Zealand based on international experience. This pathway uses data declared in EPD and is called whole building whole of life assessment.
The greatest environmental impact of buildings is typically incurred during their occupation, through use of energy and water, generation of wastes, maintenance and replacement of products. This has led to a necessary focus on improving measurement and understanding of utility use in buildings through, for example, BRANZ's HEEP and BEES programmes and incentivising energy efficiency as set out in MED's New Zealand Energy Strategy 2011-2021 (2011).
The environmental impact of building materials and products (or embodied impact) typically contributes 10-20% (Edwards and Bennett, 2003) of a building's overall environmental impacts. However, there are five reasons why this contribution is likely to rise, leading to an increased focus on materials in New Zealand and overseas.
It is therefore prudent to begin preparing now as is already occurring in other regions such as Australia, USA, Europe and Asia. We can do this by raising our understanding, knowledge and skills and developing our LCA data, EPD and whole building whole of life assessment method.
Whole building whole of life assessment is an LCA-based approach that calculates the environmental impacts of a building across its life cycle, taking into account the:
Data supporting this assessment may come from a variety of sources including EPD, bills of materials and building thermal performance models.
The assessment calculates a number of potential environmental impacts, which, for offices, are usually normalised to an "impact/m2 floor area/year". These calculated impact measures for a building design may then be compared to impacts for a benchmark building. In this way, building designs, incorporating the materials and products of which they comprise, are evaluated based on calculated environmental impacts across the building life cycle, rather than proxy measures of performance such as recycled content and transport distance.
EPD (or environmental profiles) are an independently verified public declaration of environmental performance of products for all or parts of the life cycle.
EPD are generally voluntary (with some exceptions) and may be produced for specific materials and products or an average of the same or similar products within a sector (e.g. at a trade association level). EPD for the same or similar products must be developed in accordance with specific rules for the product category (called Product Category Rules or PCRs) to ensure that there is consistency and comparability when calculating potential impacts of materials or products within a product category. Examples PCRs from the IBU EPD scheme based in Germany are shown.
The overall goal of EPD, according to the international standard ISO 21930 (2007) on environmental declaration of building products, "is to encourage the demand for, and supply of, building products that cause less stress on the environment through communication of verifiable and accurate information on environmental aspects of those building products that is not misleading, thereby stimulating the potential for market-driven, continuous environmental improvement".
There are several EPD schemes globally including, for example, the IBU scheme (http://bau-umwelt.de/hp481/Environmental-Product-Declarations-EPD.htm) based in Germany and the International EPD System (http://www.environdec.com/) based in Sweden. They operate in compliance with the international standard on EPD - ISO 14025 (2006). An Australasian EPD scheme is currently being planned by the Australian Life Cycle Assessment Society (ALCAS) and Life Cycle Association of New Zealand (LCANZ).
An EPD by itself does not provide an indication that a product is environmentally preferable but does when compared, for example:
EPD typically provide the following information: