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Conselho Brasileiro de Construção Sustentável
Information
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Submission Document: Download
  • Additional Document:

Global Platform for Simplified Life Cycle Annalysis

Relevance of the theme

According to UNNEP SBCI, globally, buildings are responsible for 40% of annual energy consumption and up to 30% of all energy related greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. Collectively, this sector is responsible for one third of humanity?s resource consumption, including 12% of all fresh water use, and production of up to 40% of our solid waste.

According to UNEP?s - Climate Neutral Network Personal and commercial transport consumes about 20% of the global energy supply, 80% of which comes from fossil fuels. Transport infrastructure contributes to social and economic development by enabling trade and providing opportunities for employment, education and leisure.

This data is a global estimate. More specific and detailed information is needed to enable the sector to obtain information of the main impacts of each sector by country and by productive system.

Proposal

We propose the establishment of an international panel, bringing together companies, governments, academy and NGOs, to establish a Global Platform for Simplified Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which prioritizes thee main challenges of the global socio-environmental agenda and can become a tool for decision making based on the sustainable development of the construction industry.

The vision

The promotion of sustainability requires that the decisions to purchase products consider the multiple environmental and social impacts throughout their life cycle. Today the amount of information of these impacts are very limited, expensive and of difficult access. In most developing countries information of local products are nonexistent. This lack of information affects all levels of decision making, as strategic plans at national and international levels, individual and community decisions, and even decisions including the international commercial trade. This reality severely limits the effective engagement of industry, commerce, public sector and consumers in general in promoting sustainability as proposed in Agenda 21.

The context

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), promoted by UNEP for several decades, is already a standard tool too quantify the environmental impact of products. The integration of social impacts within the scope is being carried out. Its concept is well established and standardized. The tool integrates all environmental flows (inputs and outputs of materials in production processes),

which allows calculating the environmental impacts and identify the most relevant to each product, as can fundament correct interventions in the process. However, with the proposed scope of the LCA, its implementation process is expensive and complex because it requires the measurement of a large number of variables, many of which require complex equipment and highly specialized human resources that are unavailable in many regions and beyond the financial reach of the majority of economic agents.

These facts have limited the spread of thee LCA. A few commercial databases are available in the international market. These data bases include mainly information from developed countries and even fewer companies that detail (environmental product declarations). Only a few countries have public and free databases. In general, the process to update the information is slow, what leads to a decision making based on outdated information. Most data is not detailed to the companies level ass its application is beyond most of their technical and economic reach. This lack of information eliminates the supplier?s choice based on environmental criteria. Consequently the selection based on price and technical performance remains predominant. This lack of information restricts competition based on sustainability and in many cases suppliers with unsustainable practices gain in market. Finally, the absence of information on company level environmental impacts is an obstacle to market promoted sustainability.

The challenge

It is therefore a priority to build a free public system open to all society that manages a minimum set of information which are consistent, verifiable and reliable, that is able to support decision of acquisition of products based on multiple criteria, based on simplified life cycle assessment - LCA s. This system should be developed, implemented and managed in a transparent way by bringing together a coalition of government, businesses and the third sector. The effectiveness of this system grows with the number of products and companies that take part on it. The chance of success grows as the system has a simple implementation and simple maintenance which makes it feasible for small businesses in developing countries. The simplicity makes it easy to update the data, another key to its effectiveness.

To have an easy adoption throughout various countries, its implementation should be gradual, starting with basic resources data on a national scale evolving too cover a growing share of the products, and finally incorporating the results of individual companies. A number of aspects or impacts should be included gradually, allowing countries, companies and their customers to learn with the process. International trade level involvement demands standardized methodology, an interconnected data base and universal access.

Although this type of support for a decision system is important too all sectors of the economy, it is particularly a priority for the construction sector, which accounts thee largest share of consumption of natural resources, waste generation, energy consumption and life quality. Analysis of environmental performance of products are still being made using methodologies (labels), based on criteria that promotes solutions considered of less impact and which were elected by their authors. Consequently these tools give inconsistent results when compared with each other and do not allow too minimize negative impacts on all projects. In markets where there are multiple labels available it is possible for market players to select the most convenient tool to reach the target. The adoption of labels produced in foreign countries with different realities reduces even more the effectiveness of these initiatives, and can lead to incorrect decisions because of the huge differences between socio environmental agenda between countries and regions. A simple comparison of the CO2 content in electricity which varies an order of magnitude between different countries expresses thee limit. Certification methodologies that are based on quantitative information of the impacts along the life cycle of products used in the construction, maintenance and operation off buildings are likely to provide consistent and relevant results. BIM tools can facilitate this analysis, once the data exists.

A successful example of successes is the GHG Protocol. It has an approach to quantification impacts that has gained support of companies, eleven in developing countries. The method opens the possibility of using data that can be collected with relative ease, but also offers generic models to estimate the application, although with more conservative results. The methodology has a growing number of manuals and tools dedicated to specific production processes and adaptations for different countries, which facilitates its application.

Having as a model the GHG Protocol Methodology, the development of a Simplified Methodology for Life Cycle Analysis is a viable alternative too: measure the environmental impact, make the data accessible and introduce a multiple environmental criteria decision as a habit for decision makers.

Conclusion

Therefore, we propose the establishment of an International Panel that congregates business, government, academy and NGOs, to establish a Global Platform for Assessment of Simplified Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), through a methodology that addresses the main challenges of the socio environmental global agenda and that to becomes a tool for decision making with a focus on sustainable development of the construction industry.

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