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Green Construction

Looking at the Big Picture:
Life Cycle Thinking for the Building and Construction Sector

Hari Srinivas
Emerging Trends Series E-033. June 2015.

The breadth of meaning of the term ‘building and construction’ and the links which this implies with other major industries make the subject a complex one. The different stages of a building's life cycle are handled by different stakeholders with disjointed, short-term and incomplete links to each other. Long term sustainability obviously suffers as a result, leading to increased negative effects on the environment.

For example: Architects, civil engineers and developers, who play a key role in the design and construction of a building, very rarely have anything to do in the use and maintenance of a building and much less in its deconstruction and demolition.

The term ‘building and construction’ covers a wide variety of technologies and practices, on varying scales, but the activity can nevertheless be viewed as an industrial process. As in most industries, raw materials are obtained, there is a transformation process, energy is consumed, waste is produced and ultimately, the finished product has to be disposed. It is important to note a distinction here: Different stakeholders are involved in each of the stages, and there is little if any interaction among them.

Traditionally, buildings have been analysed according to their individual components and optimised separately. The inter-linkages between each stage - DESIGN, CONSTRUCTION, USE, MAINTENANCE, DEMOLITION, and the broader, collective effect of these components is often not considered, nor are their upstream and/or downstream impacts.

Sustainability within the building and construction sector is important. To achieve this, we need to move beyond the current model of just disjointed resource savings or using recycled materials or planting greenery. We need to take up a broader life-cycle perspective where cost, investor expectations, building function and flexibility, security, occupant productivity and health, environment and social impacts are all considered collectively, and in the long-term.

There is a need for lifecycle thinking as a primary approach to sustainability in the building and construction sector. What this means? Every action taken with respect to a building--purchase decisions; using equipment or materials; making investments--triggers a chain of events and impacts within the building, in the surrounding community and beyond that has real consequences on the well-being of people, land, air and water, plants and animals, and generations to come. These in turn have consequences on the future of the building itself.

Some examples of life cycle thinking include:

  • Comparing various types of products which offer the same service.
  • Identifying the processes or life stages of a product or service which show inefficiencies in the use of materials and energy, consequently allowing economic savings.
  • Identifying and quantify greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
  • Conceiving new products, processes or services in agreement with the principles of sustainable development (that is, designing for the environment).
  • Supplying information for a scientific and objective basis for impact analyses.
  • Instituting a green procurement policy.
  • Use of materials that have green label certification
  • Instituting an environmental management system for proper maintenance of buildings to ensure minimal impact on the environment.
One way sustainability can be achieved within this stage is by using material and design specifications that use green and recycled products
A feature or idea that will enable sustainability in another stage is by using fixtures and construction methods that enable easy replacement if necessary, with minimal destruction or demolition.
One way sustainability can be achieved within this stage is by using construction methods that reduces wastes, and uses water efficiency
A feature or idea that will enable sustainability in another stage is by ensuring high quality of construction that will reduce/minimize the amount of maintenance
One way sustainability can be achieved within this stage is by instituting conscious policies and behaviour patterns that ensure energy efficiency (switch off lights, use less water; reduced heating/cooling)
A feature or idea that will enable sustainability in another stage is by ensuring proper use and preservation enabling building components so that it can be reused after decommissioning.
One way sustainability can be achieved within this stage is through proper care of heating/cooling machinery and equipment to ensure maximum energy efficiency
A feature or idea that will enable sustainability in another stage is by redirecting waste heat sources to indoor heating
One way sustainability can be achieved within this stage is by deconstructing buildings so that materials and components (such as doors and windows) can be reused/recycled
A feature or idea that will enable sustainability in another stage is through pulverized wooden items from a deconstructed building used as ground cover to reduce ambient temperatures and heating/cooling needs.

Appendix: Sustainability Performance of Buildings Some of the criteria that can be used to measure the sustainability performance of buildings using the Life Cycle Thinking approach (LCT) include:

  1. Material selection:
    LCT helps evaluate the environmental impact of building materials across their life cycle. It considers factors such as raw material extraction, manufacturing processes, transportation, installation, maintenance, and end-of-life disposal. By assessing the life cycle impacts, builders and designers can choose materials with lower environmental footprints and identify opportunities for material substitution or recycling.

  2. Design optimization:
    LCT allows for the evaluation of different design options based on their life cycle performance. It helps identify design features, such as energy-efficient systems, insulation, and renewable energy integration, that can significantly reduce the environmental impact of a building throughout its life cycle.

  3. Energy and resource efficiency:
    LCT can guide decisions regarding energy and resource use during the operational phase of buildings. It helps identify opportunities for energy-efficient technologies, renewable energy generation, water-efficient fixtures, and waste reduction measures. By considering the life cycle impacts of these choices, energy and resource efficiency can be maximized.

  4. Construction and demolition waste:
    LCT encourages the consideration of waste generation and management throughout a building's life cycle. It promotes strategies to reduce waste during construction, such as optimizing material use and implementing recycling programs. Additionally, LCT encourages designing for disassembly and incorporating recycling or repurposing options to minimize waste during the demolition or renovation phase.

  5. Maintenance and operation:
    LCT supports decisions related to building maintenance, occupant behavior, and operational practices. By considering life cycle impacts, strategies for energy management, water conservation, waste reduction, and indoor environmental quality improvements can be implemented, resulting in long-term sustainability benefits.

  6. Renovation and retrofitting:
    LCT can guide decisions regarding building renovation or retrofitting projects. It helps assess the environmental impacts of various renovation options and supports the selection of strategies that optimize resource efficiency, energy performance, and occupant well-being.

  7. Assessing environmental certifications:
    LCT can be used to evaluate and compare different environmental certifications and standards for buildings, such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method). By considering the life cycle impacts of these certifications, stakeholders can make informed choices and select the most suitable and effective sustainability frameworks.

  8. Stakeholder communication and transparency:
    LCT facilitates transparent communication with stakeholders by providing data and evidence on the environmental performance of buildings throughout their life cycle. It enables informed discussions and allows for the integration of different perspectives in decision-making processes.
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