The USGBC believes it’s time for a shift in materials thinking, and they’re starting to build that into their green building rating system by incorporating a lifecycle approach in the upcoming LEED v4, which is scheduled to be voted on in mid-2013. Looking at products beyond use and disposal, the idea of lifecycle addresses every stage in a products existence, from extraction of raw materials to processing those materials, manufacturing finished products to transporting them to market, consumer use to disposal (reuse, recycling included). This complete lifecycle approach to green materials ensures environmental sustainability is a focus throughout a product’s entire life. That’s good news for the planet and for consumers as well.
Benefits You’ll Experience with Sustainable Lifecycle Materials
Sometimes called “cradle to grave” thinking, lifecycle analysis of a product or building material looks both upstream (raw resources) and downstream (disposal) to examine a product’s impact from beginning to end. The goal is to minimize negative consequences at every stage for true sustainability. Thankfully there are benefits for the consumers, too, using such lifecycle-designed materials:
- Lower energy consumption
- Lower water consumption
- Improved performance
- Greater durability
You’ll see lifecycle come into play in LEED v4 in a number of ways, but most particularly through their new and improved Materials and Resources (MR) credits which now include Life-cycle assessment (LCA). Though LCA is a data intensive process, the idea is not that architects and builders have to become LCA experts or hire experts in LCA for their projects. On the contrary, the idea is that the project team will be encouraged to request an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) or other type of LCA-based report in order to determine an individual product’s lifecycle impact. The onus is on the product manufacturers to gather this information in order to market their products to LEED project managers. This will drive innovation in product development in a wide variety of industries, with the most creative, LCA-friendly products winning more contracts.
You’ll also see LCA thinking in LEED v4 through opportunities to optimize structure and envelope design to consume fewer materials with more efficient materials use. This has the knock-on effect of reducing materials costs as well as disposal costs. Though these new LCA methods have yet to be finalized, if approved it seems as though the age of lifecycle thinking may finally have dawned.
Images via Flickr: Jeremy Levine Design