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How Should Embodied Energy Factor Into Product Selection?




February 13, 2012 - Energy Efficiency

Today's tip involves weighing a building product's embodied energy as a criterion in a life-cycle assessment.

For facility managers interested in reducing the environmental impact of their buildings, life-cycle assessments for all building products that are installed in a building are increasingly important. This means looking at every phase of a product — from how it is manufactured, to its useful life in the facility, to what happens to the product when its useful life is over.

Embodied energy is a key tenet of this life-cycle assessment, and is more frequently being included on manufacturers environmental product declarations, or EPDs. Embodied energy is the energy required from a product's raw material extraction, through its manufacturing process, to its delivery and installation in a building. Facility managers who pick products with low embodied energy are making a statement that they're concerned not just about how the product performs in their building, but also the manufacturer's performance in making the product. Often times, building products with lower embodied energies are also less expensive, because the manufacturer's energy waste isn't being tacked on to the price of the product.

An important caveat, however, is that facility managers must examine all aspects of a product's life cycle and weigh the different performance criteria against each other. It'd be hard to argue that a product with a low embodied energy that only lasts for five years and must be replaced is more environmentally responsible than one with a bit higher embodied energy that lasts for 50.

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