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Life cycle / EPDs

A measuring system based on a complete life cycle is essential for the proper evaluation of the real sustainability of buildings and other structures. An assessment of environmental performance based on embodied energy alone is not sufficient. A tonne of steel has high embodied energy, but because of its strength, lightness and durability, a little goes a long way and it can do the job of several tonnes of other materials. At end of life many materials become costly demolition waste, but steel retains a high value either as components for reuse or as recyclable scrap. Also steel’s capacity to accommodate radical modification with minimum fuss, dust and waste is often able to extend the life and life cycle of a building or structure.

Measuring systems taking account of this ‘whole of life’ life cycle assessment (LCA) concept are either in use or being developed around the world and the ASI strongly supports their development here in Australia as does the IISI internationally. Both organisations believe that basing evaluation on an LCA mindset will allow a genuinely fair assessment of materials and building systems.

LCA/LCI

For the proper measurement of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), a set of data known as the Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) is needed. For Australian steel products this will be available from the Building Products Innovation Council (BPIC) who have coordinated a joint program to produce data for all Australian building materials. Also to ALCAS.

Eco labels and Environmental Product Declarations

Eco labels, Environmental Product Declarations and other similar forms of certification are designed to convey the environmental credentials of a product. They can contain an assessment of embodied energy, greenhouse gas estimate, global warming effect and very often have an environmental impact rating which takes account of, for example, varying regional factors – water use might be a key factor in one area but not in another for instance. They also track the so called stewardship of a product i.e. the relative sustainability of mining, transport, energy use, manufacturing, waste disposal and other factors involved in its generation.

In some areas, notably Europe, EPD’s are becoming mandatory for products. In Australia this has not yet happened. There are a variety of systems emerging however, and the ASI is keeping a watching brief on these, as some could have serious implication for the use of steel in Australian construction depending on their full adoption of Life Cycle Assessment methodology, and their treatment of such elements as making due allowance for the likely reuse and near certain recycleability of constructional steel.