December 16th, 2019
Reliable Embodied Carbon Data is Still a Ways Off, But Gaining Ground
In the building and construction industry, we put a lot of emphasis on carbon emissions that occur once a building is complete and operating. We think of it in terms of energy efficiency and ideally achieving a net-zero status. But what about the carbon emissions that occur during the manufacture, transport and installation of products?
The idea that we should be looking at the entire life cycle of a product from the beginning to end when calculating the impact of a building and its materials is known as embodied carbon.
This term shouldn’t be a foreign concept to most. In fact, it was all the rage a few years back when programs, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, began offering incentive points for using materials and components with environmental product declarations (EPDs) that quantify environmental information throughout the life of a product.
Frankly, I thought EPDs were a pie in the sky idea. In recent years, I’ve heard very little about them, and I thought the whole idea blew over. But after reading this recent article, I’m starting to think I was wrong, and the drive for EPDs to help compare the embodied carbon of products and materials has continued somewhat under the radar.
The article details the launch of the Embodied Carbon Construction Calculator, also known as EC3, that provides a whole-building life cycle assessment (WBLCA). According to the developer, rather than using generic averages for materials, EC3 uses EPDs released by manufacturers, enabling users to compare different products when making material selection decisions. But it does come with a caveat—citing data uncertainties in the 20–40% range.
The View from Here
The View from Here is that I can see the value in this type of information. However, the variables seem overwhelming and precision is almost impossible. With programs, such as LEED and the Living Building Challenge, providing incentives for incorporating products with EPDs, I expect the interest will continue to grow. In the fenestration industry, the American Architectural Manufacturer’s Association (AAMA) and other organizations have worked to develop generic EPDs for fenestration products, so we’re making small strides as an industry.
At the end of the day, with time and broader adoption, I am sure the reliability of the data used will improve, but we are not there yet. This concept is one to continue to watch as I believe its importance will grow in the coming years.
What’s your View? Email me directly at Eric.Jackson@Quanex.com.