Life Cycle Cost Assessments (LCA) provides benefits which increase process knowledge, lower overall environmental impact, and ultimately increase ROI for building owners striving to bring value to asset management and/or desiring to provide important environmental data to stakeholders.

LCA is a technique which collects a wide array of building/energy data in order to determine the overall cost effectiveness of selected systems over a lengthy period of time. LCA also assesses what effect a particular product, process, or service will have in a number of Impact Categories. These categories include but are not limited to: climate change; human toxicity; acidification; eutrophication; water depletion; and use of fossil fuels.

Since its standardization by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 2006, LCA has been a valuable tool to help assess asset depreciation, determine holding costs, and evaluate environmental impacts. Regarding environmental data, when asking questions regarding the multi-faceted effect of human activity, LCA has proven to be essential in providing answers to these concerns.

LCA has the ability to evaluate any phase of a product’s life cycle, spanning from extraction and processing of raw materials, to manufacturing, distribution, use, recycling, and final disposal. Each phase of a life cycle comes with its own unique set of inputs relating to the Goal and Scope of the phase in question. These inputs can be very limited, but the more inputs included in the model, the more reliable and varied the results will be.

Standards in ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 – the documents outlining widely recognized procedures for conducting LCAs – outline four main phases of LCA:

  1. Goal and Scope
  2. Inventory
  3. Impact Assessment
  4. Interpretation

Input requirements are dictated by an LCA’s Goal and Scope. If, for instance, you only wanted to evaluate the amount of Carbon Dioxide emitted for transportation of lumber from a factory to a construction site, you would only need the weight of the lumber, the type of transportation used, and the distance traveled. However, even that single trip can be evaluated further in LCA; the time of year, weather conditions, type of road being traveled on, and density of traffic can also be accounted for.

As LCAs increase in Goal and Scope, the amount of inputs can increase significantly, and the different “flows” of inventory can become quite complex, numbering in the hundreds. Once the Goal and Scope of an entire life cycle is established, the Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) is determined. LCI accounts for the flows from and to nature for a product system, including inputs of water, energy, and raw materials, and releases to air, land, and water.

Once the model is constructed, calculations are run to provide an Impact Assessment result. Depending on which impact categories are selected, which inventory parameters they are assigned to, and how those categorized LCI flows are measured, the Impact Assessments can be varied. Life Cycle Impacts also have the ability to be categorized by phase, broken down by development, production, use, and disposal of a product.

LCA is an invaluable tool for building owners, particularly with regards to sustainability goals. Given that buildings have many hundreds if not thousands of products and processes varying in composition, energy demand, and use, the need to interpret how those products and processes impact the environment is important for any owner attempting to establish a project baseline. All building projects have their own unique sets of characteristics, and LCA has the ability to consider all these characteristics with efficiency and reliability. There are several requirements within third-party green building programs such as LEED which look to LCA for verification that a project is meeting its sustainability goals.

Building owners who utilize LCA on their projects also benefit from knowing what the true environmental cost of their project is. This information can be used to inform decisions in the future, reducing overall environmental impact and providing substantial, quantifiable results. Those results can then be used in the form of marketing material to investors and tenants showing that the building owner is operating with sustainability in mind. Future occupants will likely pay higher rates for a project which has hard data indicating a dedication to environmental preservation.

LCA provides benefits which increase process knowledge, lower overall environmental impact, and ultimately increase ROI for building owners who strive to make sustainability a core value of their practice. This tool has invaluable potential, and VCA Green’s consultation services can provide you and your business the opportunity to maximize that potential. For more information on how to best capitalize on your sustainability efforts, contact Moe Fakih below.

Contributing Writer: Daryl Dingman, LEED Green Associate

Moe Fakih, Principal

714-363-4700 x 501