Alex Ianchenko and Brie Jones will be on a panel discussing New Baselines of Carbon + Design in relation to their white paper titled “In Practice: Making Life Cycle Assessment Work for Design Teams.”
White paper abstract: Scientist-led think tanks have warned the world of environmental and socioeconomic damage caused by climate change since 1988 , . Thirty years later, members of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have come to a consensus that this damage will become irreversible if average global temperatures increase by 1.5&[deg]C above pre-industrial levels. This can be averted if annual global greenhouse gas emissions are halved by 2030; however, the building industry is not on track to meet this goal –. To quantify their environmental impact, building industry academics and professionals are rapidly adopting life cycle assessment (LCA) tools. In practice, three gaps remain – (1) the communication gap in effectively conveying LCA results, (2) the method gap in negotiating with uncertain data, and (3) the knowledge gap in understanding upstream emissions from other sectors. This paper describes three LCA analyses performed by [firm name] during, after, and before the project design process. The lessons learned illustrate how communication, method and knowledge gaps can be addressed when integrating LCA and design.
Case Study 1: LCA During Design
During schematic design of a project, the design team used Tally to investigate the global warming potential (GWP) impact of three alternative structural systems using concrete, steel, and wood. After an initial comparison, the client requested to understand how wood procurement and certification would affect the GWP. The design team partnered with the nonprofit Ecotrust and the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington to provide the client with a range of GWP impacts, as affected by varying forestry and transportation practices  (figure 1).
Case Study 2: LCA After Design
Opened in 2013, the Living Building-certified [project name] has been operating at net positive energy; however, its embodied impact was not quantified at time of design . Performed in retrospect using Tally, a whole building LCA of the project reveals that the top contributor to its embodied impact was [material/element], accounting for [xx] kgCO2e out of [xx] kgCO2e.
Case Study 3: LCA Before Design
In the early stages of master planning a campus, a client requested to understand the relative impact of high-level decisions in transportation, energy use, and material procurement. Using carbon as a common currency, the design team communicated the existing, proposed, and high-performance design case in all three areas simultaneously (figure 2). Quick access to LCA-derived benchmarks informed further decision-making.
In practice, LCA tools are only useful when design teams consciously overcome the communication, method, and knowledge gaps. These case studies show that raising teams’ level of comfort with data collection, visualization and use is key to overcoming the communication gap; the method gap can be addressed by performing sensitivity analyses and providing a range of results to clients, and finally, the knowledge gap can be closed when practitioners engage with scientists and professionals in adjacent sectors.