Introduction: What should UK Structural Engineers know in relation to LCA Carbon Assessments of Buildings?
Within the upcoming blog posts, we will explore the growing demand within the UK market specifically for LCAs, where that demand if coming from, and what opportunities it may present for your business to contribute to helping mitigate the Climate Emergency.
What is an LCA?
A Life Cycle Assessment or LCA (also known as life cycle analysis) is a methodology for assessing environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life cycle of a building (or commercial product, process, or service). The assessment is a widely recognised framework that requires a very thorough analysis and calculation of a product's (or building's) cradle to grave impact.
In the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14040, LCA has been defined as the following:
"LCA studies the environmental aspects and potential impacts throughout a product's life cycle (i.e., cradle-to-grave) from raw materials acquisition through production, use and disposal. The general categories of environmental impacts needing consideration include resource use, human health, and ecological consequences."
Why do Structural Engineers need an LCA?
According to a report by the World Green Building Council, the construction and operation of buildings account for approximately 39% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and studies have shown that the structural frame of a building can account for up to 50% of its total embodied carbon. As governments and jurisdictions throughout the world declare a climate emergency, Structural Engineers have a massive opportunity to contribute to providing solutions to mitigate this emergency.
In many instances, LCAs are mandatory as part of popular 'Green' certification schemes, which indicate the level of environmental friendliness for buildings. In this series of blog posts, we will highlight their significance, and explore the growing demand for buildings to adhere to these certification schemes, specifically in the UK, whether through client driven decisions, governments, or local authority requirements. We aim to help you understand these requirements and what opportunities it may present for your business as well as contributing to helping mitigate the 'climate emergency'.
Our institutions are pushing for commitment from Structural Engineers to do things better in their day to day professional roles and are asking the question: What are you going to do about it? - The Institution of Structural Engineers (istructe.org). As part of the response, the IStructE have also produced a set of embodied carbon calculation principles for the structural engineering community to follow:
How can Structural Engineers Change our Approach to Design using LCAs?
Many engineer's approach to, and application of sustainable design is via an economical one. We would like to design an efficient structure at a low cost which correlates to a reduction in material usage. And as time goes on, engineers get more efficient (or should) through the use of software, increased data and updated codes to help maximise efficiency, but an efficient structure is only part of the story when it comes to embodied carbon or the environmental impact of a structural design.
We may have heard about the 'strength to weight' or 'depth to strength' ratio of a structural material, but what about an 'environmental impact to strength' ratio as one of the factors that drive our decision for selecting a particular material, as part of the early design stage?
For us to carry out anything close to this, we need to employ a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as a technique used to evaluate the environmental impacts of our different structural designs throughout its entire life cycle, from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal to help us decide which structural design will give us the best 'environmental rating'.
MasterSeriesLCA allows us to carry out these Life Cycle Assessments, which are probably the single-most effective analyses that Structural Engineers can carry out to reduce the embodied carbon within their designs. As the demand for buildings with a low environmental impact grows, as does the demand for Structural designs which can come with Life Cycle Assessments.
Why and When do Structural Engineers need to take action?
Big Demand + Little Supply = Opportunity
As the demand for environmentally responsible design and construction grows, Structural Engineers can future-proof their businesses by positioning themselves to cater for this demand, by considering the environmental impact of their designs in line with upcoming regulations.
In the next of our series blog posts, we will be exploring some key information directly and indirectly surrounding the requirements to utilise LCA's going forward. We will also touch on some timelines and dates of targets set out by UK Authorities (Local and Government). We will outline information and guidance on:
- The financial incentives of being able to provide LCAs with your designs
- UK based Certifications that make LCA's mandatory as part of their assessments
- UK Government Regulations and policies surrounding LCAs (and the reduction of embodied carbon in construction)
- Local authorities' planning policies and their requirements for different development
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