In the realm of environmental and social challenges, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals* (SDGs), crafted by the United Nations, set a course for a more sustainable future. Complementing this, the Green Deal envisions a carbon-neutral EU by 2050, the Paris Agreement* strives to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, and the EU Taxonomy Regulation* aims to guide companies in aligning with the EU's environmental objectives.
These diverse political approaches share a common objective: steering nations, continents, and the world toward a sustainable and resource-efficient future. Our latest blog article delves into the intricate web of these global initiatives and their collective impact. Additionally, we explore the crucial role of building life cycle assessments in contributing to these objectives.
To shed light on this complex topic, we consulted with Lukas Röder, an expert from SCALE Umweltberatung GmbH. Join us on this journey as we uncover the connections and methodologies behind building life cycle assessments.
EU Taxonomy Regulation
The EU Taxonomy Regulation outlines 6 environmental objectives* established across Europe. These objectives are targeted through the development of a unified classification system, fostering transparency and comparability in investments for sustainable projects. The objective is to direct financial resources toward projects that prioritize environmental friendliness, social acceptability, and economic sustainability. Enacted on July 1, 2021, the regulation is currently undergoing a phased implementation.
As part of this initiative, life cycle assessment plays a crucial role, serving as one of several tools to gauge progress and achieve the 6 environmental objectives.
What is a life cycle assessment, and how is it conducted?
While life cycle assessments are common across industries, in construction, it is known as the life cycle assessment of buildings. This assessment is based on analyzing the life cycle of each material used in construction.
From sealants and paints to roof tiles, the life cycle is scrutinized, covering the extraction of raw materials, manufacturing processes, utilization, maintenance, and disposal. This comprehensive analysis is crucial for understanding the environmental impact of an entire building.
Though it may sound complex, the process itself is straightforward: building materials have established metrics for various environmental aspects (raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, construction, usage, maintenance, and demolition/disposal). These metrics are documented in standardized Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs).
EPDs, accessible in databases like Ökobaudat or Baubook, play a key role in computing the life cycle assessment of a building. Once all materials or EPDs are known, the life cycle assessment can be compiled.
"As of December 2023, manufacturers of building materials are not currently required to produce EPDs, but this obligation is expected to be enforced," explains Lukas Röder, who aids companies in conducting life cycle assessments for buildings.
BIM-Enhanced Life Cycle Assessment: Choosing the Right Time
The process of conducting a life cycle assessment for a building is comprehensive. Consequently, BIM-based software solutions with integrated interfaces to respective databases have been developed. These solutions operate by uploading a BIM model, allowing the software to identify materials and assign corresponding EPDs.
It is recommended to carry out a life cycle assessment before the commencement of construction to:
gain a deeper understanding of the environmental impact of forthcoming construction materials.
make necessary adjustments, if required.
"We embrace an Open BIM approach, streamlining the mapping of model content to life cycle assessment database entries using the open data exchange standard IFC," explains Lukas Röder. "This BIM-based approach offers the advantage of structured information on the materiality of individual components and their quantities, automating and expediting the linking of database entries."
What does the outcome of a building's life cycle assessment look like? Is it represented by a singular value? What scales exist, and what do these values signify?
"There are different methodologies. In Austria, for instance, the Oekoindex* OI3 is utilized – representing a single value (for boundary 3: <200 indicates an excellent life cycle assessment). Meanwhile, in the German Sustainable Building (GSBC) certification, the life cycle assessment is juxtaposed with reference and target values to establish comparability. Fundamentally, the life cycle assessment encompasses various impact categories like GWP, AP, energy, and water consumption, which can be extracted from EPDs," elucidates Röder.
Who needs to conduct a life cycle assessment and when?
The life cycle assessment of buildings is in line with the EU Taxonomy Regulation, applying to all companies within the EU. "As part of sustainability reporting, companies of a certain size must demonstrate specific environmental impacts of buildings throughout their life cycle from the year 2025, reporting for the year 2024.
Starting in 2026, companies exceeding an annual average of 250 employees, and/or 40 million euros in turnover, and/or 20 million euros in balance sheet total (meeting 2 out of 3 criteria) are required to report their contributions to sustainability in the areas of ecology, social responsibility, and corporate governance," explains Lukas Röder. Therefore, the life cycle assessment of buildings serves as a means to communicate contributions to sustainability.
What is the benefit if a life cycle assessment is not mandatory for me?
Primarily, a life cycle assessment aids in determining the sustainability of a building. If a building demonstrates a favorable eco-index, it can yield several additional benefits:
preservation of the property's value.
improved chances for (social) incentives.
moreover, it offers the opportunity to seamlessly integrate the structure into the circular economy after its service life, given an understanding of the processed materials.
"While there are currently no explicit guidelines for including life cycle assessments in the credit approval process for new projects (or benefits associated with life cycle assessment), it is anticipated that such guidelines will be introduced in the future," Lukas Röder evaluates the situation.
Are you interested in the topic of 3D modeling (BIM) and want to learn more about it or do you have specific questions? We would be happy to have a conversation about it.
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SDGs: 17 Sustainable Development Goals
Paris Agreement 2030: Almost all countries on Earth have committed to setting sustainability goals.
EU Taxonomy – 6 Environmental Objectives:
Environmental Objective 1: Climate Change Mitigation
Environmental Objective 2: Adaptation to Climate Change
Environmental Objective 3: Sustainable Use and Protection of Water and Marine Resources
Environmental Objective 4: Transition to a Circular Economy
Environmental Objective 5: Prevention and Reduction of Environmental Pollution
Environmental Objective 6: Protection and Restoration of Biodiversity and Ecosystems
EPD: Environmental Product Declaration - Standardized, transparent presentation of the life cycle analysis of an individual product in the form of a document. It includes, for example, the Global Warming Potential (GWP – impact on the greenhouse effect, measured in units of CO2 equivalents), resource consumption (energy, water, materials), air and water pollution (emissions that may occur during the life cycle), and other relevant environmental aspects for each product type. "EN 15978 regulates Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) in Europe, so the methodology for creating EPDs in the EU is always the same. Only the underlying databases are organized nationally," explains Lukas Röder.
Eco Index (OI3): The Eco Indicator (OI3) was developed by IBO in 2003. It provides a simplified, quantitative assessment method for building materials, constructions, and buildings based on ecological indicators and life cycle assessment data. The assessment is aligned with the guidelines of Baubook. The interpretation of these values depends on the objectives of the life cycle assessment and the environmental impacts. German Sources and additional information can be found here and here.
DGNB: German Sustainable Building Council
ÖGUT: Austrian Society for Environment and Technology
ÖGNB: Austrian Society for Sustainable Building – Part of the international network of Green Building Council
Circular Economy in Construction Industry: Optimizing resources through reuse, recycling, and sustainable design to minimize waste and reduce the environmental impact of construction projects.
Climate Neutrality 2040: National Austrian Goal
ESG: Environmental Social Governance – Approach to corporate assessment focusing on Environmental, Social, and Governance aspects (sustainability reporting)
Green Building Certification: There isn't a one-size-fits-all Green Building Certification globally. Various assessment systems and certification standards exist worldwide for buildings that have embraced eco-friendly and sustainable construction practices. Recognized Green Building certifications include LEED, BREEAM, DGNB, Green Star, WELL Building Standard, and the Living Building Challenge. Each system comes with its unique criteria, emphases, and assessment methods. The choice of a specific certification often hinges on the objectives and priorities of the construction project or organization. Certificates such as LEED and BREEAM have gained international popularity and are implemented in numerous countries, while others like DGNB or Green Star maintain a more regional focus; for instance, "European GreenBuilding" concentrates specifically on a building's energy consumption.
Sustainability Reporting: Companies meeting a certain size threshold are required to demonstrate specific environmental impacts of buildings over the building life cycle in their sustainability reports, starting from the year 2025 for the reporting year 2024. As of 2026, all companies with an annual average of more than 250 employees, and/or more than 40 million euros in turnover, and/or more than 20 million euros in balance sheet total (meeting 2 out of 3 criteria) must report on their contributions to sustainability, covering aspects of ecology, social responsibility, and corporate governance.
Ökobaudat/Baubook: Databases containing individual Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs).
Life Cycle Assessment vs. Ecological Footprint: While the Ecological Footprint assesses overall resource consumption and environmental impacts, measuring the biologically productive area necessary to sustain consumption and production patterns and absorb generated waste, the Life Cycle Assessment focuses on a product throughout its entire life cycle, encompassing manufacturing, use, and disposal.