LCA of Buildings and the Built Environment

Research output: Research - peer-reviewBook chapter

Abstract

How we design human settlements has a profound influence on society’s
environmental pressures. This chapter explores the current state of LCA applied to two scales of human settlements; individual buildings and the built environment, where the built environment is understood as a collection of autonomous buildings along with the infrastructure and human activity between those buildings. The application of LCA to buildings has seen growing interest in recent years, partly as a result of the increased application of environmental certification to buildings. General findings are that the use stage of the building tends to dominate environmental impacts, though as buildings become increasingly energy efficient, life cycle impacts shift towards other stages. LCA of built environments has been a useful supplement to mass-based urban environmental assessments, highlighting the importance of embodied environmental impacts in imported goods and showing interesting trade-offs between dense urban living and the greater purchasing power of wealthy urbanites. LCAs of human settlements also face difficult challenges; the long use stage (often decades) introduces high uncertainty regarding the end-of-life stage; evolving electrical mixes throughout the use stage; gaps in consumption data at the city level. This chapter endeavours to elucidate the strengths, research needs and methodological shortcomings of LCA as applied to buildings and the built environment, showing that they can act as complimentary tools to help society’s shift towards a sustainable future.
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How we design human settlements has a profound influence on society’s
environmental pressures. This chapter explores the current state of LCA applied to two scales of human settlements; individual buildings and the built environment, where the built environment is understood as a collection of autonomous buildings along with the infrastructure and human activity between those buildings. The application of LCA to buildings has seen growing interest in recent years, partly as a result of the increased application of environmental certification to buildings. General findings are that the use stage of the building tends to dominate environmental impacts, though as buildings become increasingly energy efficient, life cycle impacts shift towards other stages. LCA of built environments has been a useful supplement to mass-based urban environmental assessments, highlighting the importance of embodied environmental impacts in imported goods and showing interesting trade-offs between dense urban living and the greater purchasing power of wealthy urbanites. LCAs of human settlements also face difficult challenges; the long use stage (often decades) introduces high uncertainty regarding the end-of-life stage; evolving electrical mixes throughout the use stage; gaps in consumption data at the city level. This chapter endeavours to elucidate the strengths, research needs and methodological shortcomings of LCA as applied to buildings and the built environment, showing that they can act as complimentary tools to help society’s shift towards a sustainable future.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLife Cycle Assessment : Theory and Practice
EditorsM.Z. Hauschild, R. Rosenbaum, S.I. Olsen
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Publication dateSep 2017
Pages695-722
Chapter28
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-56474-6
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-56475-3
DOI
StateE-pub ahead of print - Sep 2017
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes
ID: 227002087