Barriers for implementation of the Environmental Load Profile and other LCA-based tools

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH

Abstract: The building sector is a vital part in the progress towards environmental sustainability, because of its high potential to decrease the environmental impact. However, the building industry remains one of the most critical industries for the adoption of environmental sustainability principles, because of several unique characteristics in terms of e.g. long-lived products and many stakeholders involved. Environmental assessment tools have an important role to play in implementing environmental sustainability in the building sector, as they provide a clear declaration of what are considered the key environmental considerations and also provide a way of communicating these issues. The Environmental Load Profile (ELP) is a Swedish Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) based tool for the built environment, originally developed as an instrument for evaluation of the environmental performance of Hammarby Sjöstad (HS), a new city district in Stockholm, Sweden. The ELP is facing implementation, aiming to be established as an instrument of common acceptance. Experiences and results from the ELP has revealed that it can be applied to give a comprehensive picture of the environmental performance of a city district, but also that the tool has a number of weaknesses and there is much to improve in the practical procedures for the use of the tool in environmental assessments.This research project has the overall goal of making the ELP a stakeholder-accepted methodology for LCA-based assessment for the built environment. The overall goal includes two subgoals: (i) a research goal is to find an acceptable compromise in the design of the ELP tool between a natural science and technology based scientific accuracy and a social-science based acceptance of the tool and (ii) an implementation goal is to study and report experience from the use of the tool as developed today. The thesis consists of three papers: (i) the first is a study of two Swedish LCA-based tools for the built environment, which is based on comparative assessments using the ELP and EcoEffect (EE), (ii) the second is based on a questionnaire and interview study, in which we have investigated responses on LCA-based tools for the built environment among stakeholder representatives of Sweden’s building sector, with the purpose to identify barriers and opportunities for increased use of such tools and (iii) the third is based on case studies in HS using the ELP. We have identified the dominant environmental aspects in the ELP and also investigated the accuracy of the results. The study is completed with a development of a simplified version of the ELP, which also is applied in HS.Findings show that despite applying the comparative parts of the ELP and EE on an equal basis (i.e. the object specific data), differences in results were found. The following factors give rise to the differences: (i) differences in material grouping and life expectancy for the construction materials used, (ii) diverse Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) data and (iii) different impact assessment. The required level of knowledge to compare, analyse and evaluate assessments made with the ELP and EE, is relatively high, which creates an educational barrier towards increased tool use. A number of other barriers that could mitigate a fruitful implementation of LCA-based tools in Sweden’s building sector have also been identified. We have found barriers between: (i) the current and the desired environmental work within the sector, (ii) the knowledge of and the use of LCA-based tools and (iii) the developers of the tools and the potential users. Other barriers further identified are especially connected to: (i) data (availability and credibility), (ii) costs, (iii) time, (iv) customer pressure, (v) knowledge and (vi) incentives. We have also identified the following opportunities for increased use of the tools: (i) different design of the tools for different actors and situations, (ii) combine LCA with LCC, (iii) involve environmental assessment in the implementation of the EU Directive on energy performance of buildings, (iv) develop reference values, (v) simplify input-data collection, (vi) improve environmental labelling and (vii) provide incentives. In the development of a simplified ELP we have noticed that the most important aspects contributing to the environmental load at a city district level (50 % of the total amount), covers 91-99 % of the total environmental load. The thesis shows that different simplifications of the ELP-tool are required for different purposes, actors and situations. A simplified version of the ELP, “ELP-light” was developed and applied in HS. In the development of ELP-light, we have used some of the identified opportunities and bridged some of the identified barriers.