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Life Cycle Analysis, LCA, Recycled Materials, Environmental Considerations & Impacts, Eco-Friendly Advantages

Life Cycle Analysis

 

Choosing eco-friendly materials is a difficult task as it requires the review and evaluation of a variety of different factors. For example, should you choose a product made from recycled materials offering a long life cycle or a product requiring less manufacturing energy and producing lower levels of toxic waste? Also, there are several other factors that may influence your product decisions other than environmental considerations such as the cost of the product, its availability, its effect on indoor air quality, etc. 

 

Life cycle analysis (LCA) paints a more complete picture of the eco-friendly advantages of a product. It is a method, which is recognized worldwide, to objectively evaluate a product’s environmental impact. LCA is very objective  as it takes into account all of the consequences related to a specific product, starting with raw material selection and acquisition to manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance and waste management. 

 

Research in the field of LCA has yielded various softwares that can compare certain materials based on their effects on the environment throughout their full life cycle. For example, the BEES (Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability) software compares materials based on their impact on 12 key environmental problems: soil acidification, air pollution, ecological toxicity, eutrophication, fossil fuel depletion, global warming, habitat alteration, human health, indoor air quality, ozone depletion, smog and water intake. To obtain a global performance rating that takes into consideration all 12 of these factors, BEES compiles data by attributing percentages to each of these problems. The rating attributed to each problem is based on data established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

 

Practical application of computerized LCA is promising, but there are still very few materials available for evaluation since LCA often requires the voluntary participation of suppliers, who in turn must provide an enormous quantity of data. The problem is further complicated by the fact that several eco-friendly materials are new products for which there is very little verifiable data. Nonetheless, LCA is important since this approach forces us to expand our vision when assessing a product’s ecological advantages and features.

 

 

References:

• Web site for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States. www.epa.gov/greenbuilding/index.htm

• Sustainable Building: A Materials Perspective. 2002. Prepared by Wayne Trusty for the CHMC. www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca

• BEES 4.0 software. (Free Download) Website for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, USA, www.bfrl.nist.gov/oae/software/bees/

• Web site for the Athena Institute. www.athenasmi.ca

 

 

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