Life Cycle Assessment in Commercial Building Construction: A Comprehensive Case Study in India

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In the contemporary age of sustainable construction, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) stands out as an indispensable tool. It provides an encompassing understanding of the environmental implications of building materials and structural components. At Firstgreen Consulting, we’ve rigorously executed an LCA for a commercial building, delving into the interplay between materials and energy efficiency, set against the backdrop of the Indian scenario.

The Nuances of Life Cycle Impacts

Historically, the operational phase of a building, encompassing heating and cooling, has been the prime focus of life cycle impacts. Yet, the embodied phase, which captures the environmental ramifications of material production and construction, is often underestimated, expected to contribute less than 10% of the impact. However, the evolution of energy-efficient materials and construction techniques has begun to challenge this perception. With the rise of ultra-energy-efficient buildings, the embodied phase can amount to nearly half of the entire life cycle impact.

The Architecture 2030 Challenge for Products underscores the growing relevance of embodied energy. The onus is now on gauging the environmental payback period of a project. In simpler terms, how many years will it take for the ecological benefits accrued during the use phase to counteract the initial embodied energy costs?

Building Materials: The Indian Landscape

Assessing building materials transcends their immediate properties—it unravels a comprehensive environmental narrative.

  • Timber vs. Brick: Studies underscore that timber framing has a relatively subdued environmental footprint when juxtaposed with brick constructions. The density of brick structures mandates reinforced foundations, escalating mineral extraction.
  • Wood vs. Concrete: Although wood, especially borate-treated variants, typically demonstrates reduced GHG emissions than steel alternatives, certain analyses highlight the ecological toll of wood to supersede that of concrete when incorporating deforestation dynamics. The narrative shifts favorably towards wood when carbon capture isn’t applied during its disposal.

Structural Elements: The Embodied Impact

A building’s structural layout, encompassing its floors, walls, and roofs, largely defines its embodied phase impact. A frequently overlooked facet is the longevity and periodic replacement needs of particular components. For instance, finishes for walls and floors, considering their abbreviated lifespans, can constitute up to 30% of the embodied phase impact over a century. Similarly, furniture and electronic appliances can represent over 25% of this footprint.

A Comparative Analysis: Embodied vs. Use Phase Energy in India

Case # Area (m2) Lifetime (years) Total Embodied Energy (MJ/m2) Annual Use Phase Energy (MJ/m2 per year) Lifetime Use Phase Energy (MJ/m2 per lifetime) Total Life Cycle Energy (MJ/m2 per lifetime) % Embodied Phase % Use Phase % Embodied Phase (Average Per Year) % Use Phase (Average Per Year)
1 1190 50 115.20 1188.00 59400.00 59515.20 0.19% 99.81% 0.19% 99.81%

Concluding Insights

The construction sector, especially in India, stands at a pivotal juncture. The equilibrium between operational energy savings and the ecological expenditure of building materials is vital. India, with its distinctive socio-environmental matrix, presents a plethora of challenges and avenues in sustainable construction. At Firstgreen Consulting, we are passionately navigating these avenues, ensuring that our architectural endeavors are eco-conscientious.

Categories: LCA