Rating tool for building materials raises sustainability bar

The bar for sustainable construction has just been raised. Australia now has the first scientifically reliable and independently validated database for life cycle assessment of building products and its developers say the impact will be impressive.

The Building Products Innovation Council’s Life Cycle Inventory , flagged by The Fifth Estate was launched on 28 February.

It is free to all industry stakeholders from BPIC.

The BP LCI will provide life cycle environmental impact information on more than 100 building material categories as well as guidance on data use consistent with the internationally recognised standards for LCI and LCA work.

The BPLCI will also contribute to the larger scale sustainability initiative being developed by the Australian Life Cycle Inventory Database which takes into account other environmentally sensitive areas such as transport, water, agriculture and energy.

The BP LCI will next develop Environmental Product Declarations which create a benchmark for designers, retailers and consumers for comparing and assessing the sustainability of products.

BPIC, BRANZ, and the Australian Life Cycle Assessment Society in partnership with the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and the CSIRO conducted the three- year research project to develop the inventory.

It was jointly funded by the Building Products Innovation Council and AusIndustry, and conducted in partnership with ALCAS and BRANZ. The major contract suppliers to the project included Edge Environment and the CSIRO.

According to BPIC LCAs are vital to the building industry to achieve better environmental outcomes. Key benefits include:

  • Manufacturers need to know the environmental impact of their products and how they can be improved.
  • Policy analysts and researchers need to develop regulations and guidance for improved environmental outcomes from the built environment. For instance the embedded energy and the impact of building design on energy efficiency over the life cycle of a product are matters that LCA can contribute to.
  • Developers of building design tools want to incorporate LCA results in their tools so that designers can use these tools to optimise the environmental impact of buildings in concert with structural and cost considerations. Developers and users of LCA practitioner tools need the data to drive their software services.
  • Environmental assessment suppliers want to use LCA to produce environmental product declarations (EPD, Type III environmental assessment) and ecolabelling suppliers want to use the same data to set criteria for product certification (Type I, ecolabelling). These are important ways for a manufacturer to present and validate the environmental impact of their product.
  • Building buyers and owners want to be confident that the environmental impact of the buildings they buy are designed based on a thorough understanding of the environmental impacts and to meet regulatory requirements that reflect LCA findings.

The 10 major nationally represented building material associations from BPIC participated in providing data to the BP LCI:

  • Australian Steel Institute
  • Australian Window Association
  • Concrete Masonry Association of Australia
  • Cement Concrete & Aggregates
  • Australia Forest & Wood Products Australia
  • Gypsum Board Manufacturers of Australasia
  • Insulation Manufacturers Association of Australia
  • Roofing Tile Association of Australia
  • Steel Reinforcement Institute of Australia
  • Think Brick representing the Clay Brick & Paver manufacturers
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