Editor’s Desk: Life Cycle Assessments

Evaluating the Environmental Impact of Construction Products

Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) analyze the impact that one object has on the world around it.  For the design and construction industry, an object’s LCA should be taken into account when determining if it’s the right fit for a project.  The purpose of an LCA is to measure the environmental impact of a product with the goal of allowing contractors, designers, and construction professionals to make informed decisions. The LCA of a construction product includes: which raw materials were involved in the production of the product; the country or countries the product originated from; the transportation process of the product, such as ground, rail, or air transport; usage; and waste disposal.  The first stage of the LCA centers on the extraction of raw material, then manufacturing and processing, transportation, how the product is used and repaired, and finally how its waste is recycled or reused. 

         Today’s building developers and homeowners are increasingly interested in sustainability and they’re incredibly informed.  That’s why a manufacturer’s marketing team would be interested in the LCAs of the company’s products.  By understanding and communicating how sustainable a product is, companies can create an edge over their competitors who might be overlooking the marketing and sales impact their LCAs can carry.

         Often when comparing different products, there are bilateral pros and cons.  For example, metal products can be heavier than their competition, but their length of use can sometimes outweigh the environmental impact of its transport.  Similarly, while stone can champion its strength and durability, its inability to be recycled must also be taken into account. 

         On this note, a project’s location should be considered alongside its LCA.  A product might have less of an environmental impact overall on paper, but if it’s going to be utilized in an area that is prone to earthquakes, for example, that factor should not be ignored.  Instead, designers should be looking to products that won’t crack or buckle with seismic activity. 

         Designers, contractors, and construction professionals can use LCAs of their products to help ensure that projects are not contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, ozone depletion, and ecosystem disruptions.  If a project is determined to have environmental concerns, LCAs can help find alternative, eco-friendly options that comply with green-building certifications.

Marcus Dodson

editor & publisher

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