Starting July 1, 2024, nonresidential projects of 100,000 square feet or more in California will need to submit a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) during plan check. But what is an LCA?

An LCA analyzes the total carbon (CO2 emissions or global warming impact) and other environmental impacts associated with primary building materials, such as foundation, structure, and enclosure.

The analysis compares embodied and operational carbon from the proposed building design and a baseline to identify opportunities for carbon reductions and quantify improvements. In broad terms, embodied carbon represents the carbon released into the atmosphere from building construction materials, while operational carbon represents the carbon released into the atmosphere during building operations.

Embodied carbon is determined through an LCA study, but operational carbon is estimated using energy models or measured based on utility bills. VCA Green’s recent results from a San Diego-based project demonstrate the benefits LCAs can bring both in cost savings and environmental stewardship.

Case Study: Project Background

This podium project is eight levels above ground, with a three-level underground parking structure and a courtyard on level two. The total enclosed space assessed was approximately 161,000 square feet, which includes all enclosed spaces except for the parking garage.

An original life cycle analysis was conducted to create a baseline for the building’s embodied and operational carbon to measure improvements via material selections to be specified during the construction documentation phase and through construction.

By assessing the LCA findings at the 100% design development phase, this project has established a project specific baseline to measure improvements via material selections to be specified during the CD phase and through construction.

Concrete Results

Incorporating more accurate concrete estimates and removing the third level of parking resulted in a 12% reduction (or 2,425 cubic yards) in concrete and an 11% reduction (194,000 pounds) in rebar. In an updated LCA, VCA Green – in partnership with VCA Structural – estimates an 8.25% reduction in the building’s overall CO2 emissions, from 6,019,145 kg CO2e to 5,522,415 kg CO2e.

More reductions could come after further updates to the materials are made. However, these initial changes produce the same savings as:
– Taking 118 gas cars off the road for a whole year, or
– Saving electricity equivalent to powering 98 homes for a whole year, or
– Diverting 172 tons of waste to the recycle instead of landfill, or
– The carbon sequestered by 580 acres of U.S. Forests for one year.

Between Schematic Design and Design Development, VCA Structural worked with the owner to produce a more efficient structural support layout, resulting in a concrete volume reduction equating to $500,000 in savings. An additional $400,000 reduction manifested after a subterranean parking level was removed and more accurate material quantities were incorporated.

Below is a comparison of the two designs, the blue indicating the original analysis and the orange showing reductions from the second analysis:
Results of a life cycle analysis

Why Conduct a Life Cycle Analysis?

As mentioned above, LCAs will be required for all nonresidential projects in California at or exceeding 100,000 square feet that enter plan check this summer. Plus, that threshold will decrease to 50,000 square feet starting January 2026.

Secondly, an LCA can largely benefit any internal Environment, Social, Governance (ESG) initiatives. ESG strategies assess a company’s legal, financial, and environmental risks based on operational performance, governance, and financial positioning.

Transparency in this effort is conveyed to the marketplace when companies adopt reporting protocols that provide a means of standardization for reporting practices, methodologies, and metrics, typically by industry. LCAs fit nicely into those tracking and reporting efforts.

Most importantly, there is a significant opportunity to save money through a life cycle analysis. The analysis allows developers to design for minimal material usage, translating to lower first costs without sacrificing building integrity or aesthetics.

Contact VCA Green today to complete your LCA and save on construction materials.

Moe Fakih, Principal
mfakih@vca-green.com

Robyn Vettraino, Principal
rvettraino@vca-green.com