This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
Ecolect produces the Product NutritionLabel (www.ecolect.net) aimed at clarifying the data in LCA reports so that consumers can quickly make informed comparisons.


 


Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before LCA becomes the norm. The next step will be to try to standardize the information collected so that consumers, builders and architects can understand a product’s environmental pros and cons. One promising solution may be a simple score card such as the one designed by Ecolect (shown). It seems likely that the DOE or another national entity will embrace an approach such as this one as LCA becomes more widespread, making the information both accessible and affordable.


 


The Hidden Perks
Another aspect of LCA that needs refinement is the way it determines durability— which directly impacts maintenance and product replacement. LCA data tends to set product lifespan conservatively—based on industry estimates, warranties and other “soft” data—but not hard research. Longevity studies on U.S. building materials, especially on the residential side, have been rare. Are 35-year-warranty shingles being replaced at 15 years, or 50 years? Such information could have a major impact on the accuracy of LCA data.


That’s not to say LCA isn’t worth the effort. It can pay back on many levels. For example, companies often discover (or confirm) the weakest link in their sustainability story. This can create an “aha” moment that leads to action.


That’s what happened with CertainTeed’s LCA study of some brands of their vinyl siding. They used the findings to develop a take-back program for used PVC siding—to our knowledge the first major vinyl siding maker to take this step. That’s a major leap toward sustainability. The company has set up a network with recyclers who will take old siding and use the raw material in new vinyl siding products—a prerequisite of a closed-loop LCA. The recycled content is already being used in their CedarBoards D6 product.


The requirements for closed-loop LCA are quite specific in most measurement tools. You have to create the same type of product as the one that’s being recycled or reused. That’s a provision that may deserve a second look. For example, if you’re recycling old vinyl windows into vinyl siding, isn’t that close enough to earn closed-loop credentials? These are the types of details likely to be worked out as LCA matures. In the meantime, life-cycle testing ensures that we’ll become more conscious of the environmental costs and benefits of the products used in construction.


 


UNFORSEEN GAINS
A LCA often provides unexpected data that leads to unpredicted opportunities.


When the Canadian government asked the Center for Surface Transportation Technology at the National Research Council to look at the life cycle of roads back in 2000, they found something interesting. When heavily loaded trucks traveled at high speed on concrete roads, they used about 11% less fuel than the same trucks traveling on asphalt roads. Result: Clear environmental (and bidding) advantages for the cement industry.
Source: “What LCA can tell us about the Cement Industry,” 2002

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