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Elements of the Life Cycle Assessment

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is an end-to-end analysis technique that measures the environmental impacts associated with all stages of a product’s life. There are a number of factors that interested parties in an LCA of buildings and building materials should be aware of when considering an assessment.

The four phases of an LCA

An LCA study consists of four phases: 

  • Goal and scope definition
  • Life Cycle Inventory analysis (LCI)
  • Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA)
  • Interpretation.

The detail for each will vary depending on the information available and information sought by the client.

The setting of a goal and scope definition is usually undertaken with guidance from an LCA practitioner to ensure that the International Standards Organisation Standards 14040 and 14044 are adhered to and to ensure the client understands the type of information that will be reviewed and presented in the LCA report.

The strength and rigour of an LCA is dependent upon the accuracy and relevance of detail provided in the LCI phase, where energy, water and material that flow into and out of the environment are quantified using a unit of measure for the material. This ensures data is collected and presented in a consistent manner. This data can be generated by a manufacturer or collectively for an industry and input into a database for use in LCA studies.

The LCIA phase is aimed at evaluating the contribution to environmental impact categories such as climate change, ozone depletion, acidification, eutrophication, resource depletion, habitat destruction, human toxicity, etc. The first step is termed characterisation, where impact potentials are calculated based on the LCI results. It’s rare that a product or option scores better than others in all of the categories, so making decisions based on the LCA results may involve trade-offs.

The Interpretation phase is a systematic technique to identify, quantify, check and evaluate information from the results of the LCI and LCIA  phases and determine the level of confidence in the final results and communicate them in a fair, complete and consistent manner.

Australian LCI data

An important component of a rigorous LCA relies on access to local data and, until now, Australian building product data has not been readily available. The Building Products Industry Council – Building Products Life Cycle Inventory (BP LCI) provides two fundamental building blocks required for building product LCA work in Australia:

  1. Methodology – the recommended methods for measuring and reporting the environmental impact of building products and using this data for the LCA of building products
  2. Database – the information required to conduct the LCA of building products.

It is anticipated that the BP LCI will be used by LCA practitioners performing assessments; incorporated into LCA software tools; incorporated in building design tools; and be used for environmental assessment by the operators of a third party environmental accreditation scheme over time.

LCAs can be a valuable resource that, when performed as a ‘whole of life’ and ‘whole of house’, can provide the building industry with information for strategies to reduce a home’s environmental impact.

To find out more, contact HIA’s Building Services team.

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