Reaching net zero using whole lifecycle assessments

How comprehensive carbon calculations will deliver sustainable construction


As the construction industry edges closer to net zero deadlines sustainable construction processes must continue to be a priority, irrespective of new challenges arising along the way.


Embedding practices that deliver environmentally-sound projects is made more straightforward thanks to industry-wide guidance and frameworks for measuring and reporting for net zero targets. The information these methods deliver can help in overcoming or avoiding other, more recent, challenges facing the industry.


Lifecycle assessments (LCAs) can be an essential part of this. Whole lifecycle assessments calculate the whole-life carbon emissions of materials, through their production, construction, use and end-of-life. By collecting and sharing a wide range of data on materials and they can also inform other priority areas, such as procurement or pricing, in the face of supply chain delays or rising costs.


Whole lifecycle assessments review four stages, or modules, of material usage:


  • Module A: Looking at the impact of how materials or products are sourced, manufactured and delivered for the construction process – covering all emissions from extracting and manufacturing raw materials, through to transporting and erecting components.


  • Module B: Looking at the impact of a how a building is used – covering emissions from operational energy usage and maintenance or repair to replacement or refurbishment of materials.


  • Module C: Looking at the impact of processes at a building’s end-of-life – covering the deconstruction process and transport, disposal and processing of waste.


  • Module D: Looking at the potential benefits of further use of a building’s components or materials through recovery, reuse or recycling.


Whole lifecycle assessments give a true picture of a building’s carbon emissions and impact on the environment.


However, while the benefits from Module A and B calculations can be defined, it is important to be realistic that Module C and D calculations are potential benefits, rather than definite benefits since future events or requirements for buildings cannot be certain.


Nevertheless, completing all four modules will not only deliver more thorough calculations, over the original A-C assessment, but is also advised under the European Standard BS EN 15804. This Standard provides the framework and formulas by which calculations can be made and then reported.


Whole lifecycle assessments can be used for both new and retrofit projects, granting greater visibility of emissions from even buildings developed before net zero pledges were agreed.


And since net zero targets set out that carbon emissions should be cut by 40% by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050, the use of these assessments across all property types and ages is essential.


As such, whole lifecycle assessments are commonplace across the construction industry, allowing developers to assess the most appropriate materials and processes for a project. They are recognized as a driver for sustainable construction, as a tangible way to deliver on net zero pledges.


Collaboration in completing LCAs will also inform greater resource and process efficiency in the future. The wealth of data that can be gathered on the most appropriate materials and approaches to use depending on building type, location or usage will make for easier achievement of net zero targets.


For steel construction, whole lifecycle assessments show how structural steel delivers long-lasting net zero benefits. Able to be deconstructed and reused at a later date. Steel recyclability allows structural steelwork to be recycled into new products, which prevents a portion of Module A emissions on future projects.


To ensure a sustainable construction sector, all stakeholders – ranging from planning applicants and local authority representatives to designers, developers and architects – should understand and contribute to their usage.


Working with expert contractors will support the completion of comprehensive assessments, whichever form they take, allowing whole life carbon assessments guidance to be given on reducing emissions within each module.

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