Learning in Action: Op-ed from an LCA Intern
At Entuitive, we have a great team of creative, collaborative, and advanced people, and that includes our talented co-op students. Audrey Yan, our summer Structural intern, wrote an op-ed sharing the insights she learned surrounding performing life cycle assessments (LCAs) and how they provide designers with the ability to see the environmental impacts of their design decisions. Check out her full co-op diary to read more about her summer at Entuitive here!
Performing a life cycle assessment (LCA) of a building’s structure or envelope is an experience that I would recommend to anyone. After a summer of completing LCAs, I am all the more convinced that the insights revealed by performing life cycle assessments are integral to guiding designers towards low-carbon solutions in the future.
While the prospect of calculating the embodied carbon of a complex project and all its component parts may seem daunting, the Sustainable Performance team has invested formidable efforts in streamlining the LCA process. They have turned what I can imagine used to be a laborious and inefficient procedure into a matter of simple spreadsheet manipulation in Excel. Material information can be extracted directly from the project Revit model using schedules and importing it into Excel is as easy as copy-paste. Performing an LCA from there on is just a matter of some critical thinking, a bit of Excel knowhow, and bit more elbow grease (polishing everything off in OneClick LCA, our LCA software of choice).
During my time here at Entuitive, I’ve completed at least a baker’s dozen of structural LCAs and have dabbled in some building envelope ones as well. Among my most salient takeaways from the experience are some that seem blatantly obvious: for one, when choosing a product manufacturer, go local. Transportation of materials can be an extremely carbon intensive process. A noteworthy incident of this: for one material I encountered, which is produced at only one location in the world, transporting it from there to Calgary comprised nearly a quarter of the material’s total embodied carbon. It is not only the material manufacturing process that matters, but the location of the manufacturer.
Contrarily, I’ve gained other insights which were perhaps less self-evident to me. I didn’t know the first thing about building envelope or insulation types before this summer, but now I know that certain extruded polystyrene insulation (XPS) products are on average 20 times more carbon intensive than expanded polystyrene insulation (EPS) products. For one building envelope project, the XPS insulation on the roof alone accounted for almost 50% of the project’s embodied carbon.
What I mean to convey with these examples is that there are undoubtedly more lessons to be learned from the LCAs of past projects. LCAs offer designers the opportunity to see the environmental impacts of their design decisions explicitly and quantifiably – an essential step towards making more sustainable design choices in the future.
~ Audrey Yan