The growing importance of life cycle assessments for buildings



As circular economy gains importance in the building sector, the environmental impact of building products becomes an additional design driver for buildings or urban developments. Measuring the environmental impact of a product, system or building during its entire lifetime – generally described as a Life Cycle Assessment or LCA – is making its way to the top of the agenda.

Main users are evidently building product manufacturers, as they have the legislative obligation to provide Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) for each of their products. Architects use monetarized LCA-data in their design to compare different product types.

Let’s take a look at three representative cases, all of which participate in the increased use of LCA-data:

  • For building certification schemes like BREEAM, HQE, LEED,… LCA is an objective way to quantify the environmental impact of the selected building components. Considering the increasing number of certified projects, and the fact that mainly larger and thus interesting projects projects aim for certification, this has become an important driver for the use of LCAs in the construction sector.
  • On a legislative level, Belgium will be implementing a specific tool to enable the evaluation of the environmental performance of building elements, based on applicable European standards, but tailored to the Belgian context. This MMG-tool (‘Environment-related Material Performance of Building Elements’) will significantly impact material choices in the Belgian construction sector. 3E is one of the parties mandated to test the tool in pilot phase. As a first pilot project the MMG was used in a project for the Flemish government, where 3E is technical advisor for the renovation of several buildings located at Martelarenplein (Brussels), known for their valuable heritage. The tool is used here to determine the environmental impact of different levels of interior and exterior insulation. In 2018 the tool will be publicly available and training sessions will be organised regarding the use the LCA-software.
  • A third element increasing the use of LCA-data to choose environmental friendly materials is a new European legislative measure. The current Ecodesign is expanding from mainly energy related topics to also include impact of used materials (circular economy,…) amongst others. This evolution will push manufacturers to go form merely providing EPDs, to actually improving the actual environmental impact. This will also lead to an increased use of LCA-data, and to a higher energy and material efficiency in production plants.

3E strongly believes that these drivers will help the building sector to become more accustomed to circular economy principles. 3E, as a sustainable design project manager and consultant, is guiding their clients to implement these aspects in their sustainable building projects.

Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.