Rising interest for Circular Economy – How can Life Cycle Assessment tools help?



In order to help the construction sector reduce the environmental impact of buildings, the three Belgian regions (i.e. OVAM, Bruxelles Environnement and Service public de Wallonie) have recently developed a new Life Cycle Assessment tool TOTEM (short for ‘Tool to Optimise the Total Environmental impact of Materials’). As this tool allows analysing the environmental impact of building materials during their entire life cycle, it can play a major role in the construction sector in regard to circular economy.

TOTEM is a transparent, objective tool that provides valuable information about the environmental impact of materials in buildings during their whole life cycle. Based on the materials selected by the user, the tool analyses the environmental impact of the different life cycle stages according to National and European CEN(+) indicators. This enables the user to compare the environmental score of different material choices.

TOTEM’s user interface has been designed for anyone working in the Belgian building sector (architects, researchers, developers, publics authorities or even private persons). It can be used for any buildings or renovation projects from the production stage to the demolition stage. It can be applied to entire buildings, as well as to parts of them only.

The objectives of this tool are multiple. First, it aims to limit the environmental impact of building materials as from concept stage on a scientific and neutral methodology designed specifically for the Belgian building market. Second, this Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) tool intends to stimulate the creativity and innovation of architects and project promotors regarding material use. Finally, its objective is to support eco-design and projects that fulfil tomorrow’s environmental requirements.

Combined, these objectives play an important role towards a circular economy. Not only can the tool help to document all materials used in the building, it also opens the discussion in several aspects which today are often overlooked in contemporary constructions: What is the environmental impact regarding maintenance and at end-of-life? Is it possible to reuse or recycle the selected materials? Are there renewable or bio-ecological alternatives? etc.

Considering the necessity of a transition towards a more circular economy, 3E organizes trainings in collaboration with the ULiège and UGent to help actors in building projects to become fully acquainted with the TOTEM tool. During those trainings, the following aspects are discussed:

  • Presentation of the context, and the aims of the TOTEM-tool: fundamentals of the evaluation methodology;
  • Use of the TOTEM-tool: input, functions and calculation of the results;
  • Understanding and interpretation of the environmental results generated by the tool.

A few trainings were already given last year. As the interest is high, 4 more trainings are planned in 2019 on different locations. More information about those trainings and about the TOTEM-tool itself can be found on www.totem-building.be. 3E has also helped the Flemish government in their assessment of the buildings at <Martelarenplein, Brussels, with a detailed study with Totem and GRO.