Environmental Life-Cycle Assessments For Interior Products Gaining Traction

By Greg Zimmerman, Executive Editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Interior Product Standards Should Be Tailor-Made For Each OrganizationPt. 2: LEED Ratings Offer Specifications For Sustainable Interior ProductsPt. 3: This PagePt. 4: Managers Can Use LCA Data to Vet Product Manufacturers

The idea of an environmental life-cycle assessment (LCA) for interior products is gaining traction among facility managers interested in knowing more detailed environmental information about a product.

Webster defines an LCA as "a process where you rigorously examine the inputs and outputs from the extraction phase, through manufacture, use and disposal."

Holistic LCAs have many different aspects — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists eight environmental impact categories — including global warming, stratospheric ozone depletion, and human health, to name a few. Each of these is then broken into subcategories.

Calculating Carbon

It's a lot to consider when writing interior standards, so many facility managers narrow the particular criteria based on the policies and priorities of the organization. One of the environmental impacts that should almost always be considered, say experts, is global warming potential. Many organizations these days are looking to calculate their own carbon footprints, and therefore need to include the carbon footprint of the products in their facilities. These are known as Scope 3 emissions. Scope 1 and 2 refer to direct emissions and emissions from energy use, respectively.

Carbon footprint has overtaken the old criteria of embodied energy in product standards because it's more inclusive, says Webster. All energy inputs — whether fossil fuels or renewables— can be translated into carbon. Because there's a chance that carbon emissions will be regulated at some point, data that explain a product's carbon footprint tends to be more readily available from manufacturers.

In fact, even though much work is still yet to be done to help facility managers conduct LCAs and write standards for interior products on an environmental LCA basis, manufacturers are beginning to get the hint.

"Manufacturers have begun to publish ISO-compliant Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)," Baer says. "These are like a material safety data sheet, only it's a very comprehensive way to describe the environmental attributes of a product."

An EPD offers a complete picture of a product's environmental attributes in a form that allows a manufacturer to communicate easily to facility managers and other end users. Granted, the practice is not widespread quite yet, but it's gaining momentum as more facility managers ask for LCA data.

"It's sort of a chicken-and-egg thing," says Baer. "Manufacturers say they're not making the data available until they have to, and users are saying they can't make it a part of their standards until the information is readily available."

For an article that provides a more in-depth look at environmental life-cycle assessments, please visit: www.facilitiesnet.com/4808BOM

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  posted on 5/28/2010   Article Use Policy

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