Small is beautiful – Minimizing the ecological footprint of buildings
How many litres of water does it take to produce a window, until the finished product comes off the line, is transported to the building site, installed on site and, after the building has been demolished, is at best recycled and thus returned to the production cycle? Which construction material is more sustainable - a material that is capable of storing a particularly high degree of heat, or a material that requires the least use of energy for its production, and that is manufactured in close vicinity to the building site? It is not easy for builders who have ambitious objectives regarding the sustainability of their project to find construction materials that comply with the manifold requirements on sustainability. Builders who want to observe eco-friendly criteria need to weigh various requirements – like recyclability, low-emission options or durability – against each other. It is true that some years ago several European countries established certification procedures or quality labels for sustainable buildings. In practice, however, these systems do not ensure reliable comparability, since previous standards for the life cycle assessment of buildings and construction products give room to a wide range of diverging interpretations. According to data provided by the European Commission, the construction and maintenance of buildings (including heating, air conditioning, lighting, and electrical equipment) accounts for 40 percent of the energy consumption. The European Union is responsible for one third of CO2 emissions. However, the converse conclusion may be drawn that Europe still has a huge potential for more efficiency and sustainability regarding construction products and buildings.
Along with Fraunhofer IBP, several other European institutions were involved in the project: Building Research Establishment (BRE) from the UK, Centre Scientifique et Technique du Bâtiment (CSTB) from France, from Spain the UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change at Escola Superior de Comerc International (ESCI), 'thinkstep' company from Germany, and from Sweden Prof. Ch. Sjöström Consultancy. This body joined members from industry and research who intensively discussed the requirements on calculation rules that are to be applied in future when conducting comprehensive LCA analyses and studies on the environmental impact of energy efficient buildings and construction products in Europe. "We document any material and energy flows in connection with the product, and we evaluate the related environmental impacts", Gantner explains the methodology.
One core item of this project was given special priority, namely the practical applicability of the guidelines. "To ensure practical application, we have done many case studies of real buildings", Gantner explains. "And we have provided an opportunity for users to give feedback. The expertise of building professionals and LCA experts should not remain unexploited." This scientific method is known as Public Consulting, targeting relevant interested parties to get them involved in specified processes. A specially provided online platform supplied templates and forms for current updates, thus enabling every user of life cycle analyses to actively contribute, without having to overcome excessive barriers or bureaucratic obstacles.
The result of these efforts is an interactive guidance document that promotes transparency and consistency. Two manuals entitled " EeBGuide Guidance Document – Part A: Products" and " EeBGuide Guidance Document – Part B: Buildings" were recently published, both of which were compiled with significant participation by Johannes Gantner. The guidance document was split up into two separate documents – one relating to products, one to buildings – to provide better support to users. In many European research projects, life cycle analyses were not seen as a central part of the project, which is why they were not included right at the beginning. When integrating LCAs at a later stage, it becomes difficult to optimally use the ecological optimisation potential, as it is no longer possible to integrate the results of the analysis in the technological process. The guidance document EeBGuide is designed to address this problem. It works as a kind of adviser that enables the user to quickly access profound analyses, which are based on definitions, calculation rules, assumptions and comparable results.