12/01/2009

Lies, Damned Lies, and Life-Cycle Statistics

By

 
Chris Olson Editor in Chief

Chris Olson,
Editor in Chief

At November’s Greenbuild show in Phoenix, I attended a session where researchers from the University of Tennessee discussed their life-cycle assessment (LCA) of different cladding materials.

The researchers used two different assessment tools: the Athena Institute’s EcoCalculator and the BEES (Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability) 4.0 program, developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The results? Wildly different – the programs varied by a factor of more than 70 percent in assigning final environmental impact scores to stone, aluminum, and glass façades.

LCA is a complex business. It attempts to benchmark a construction product through the circle of raw material acquisition, manufacture, transportation, installation, use, maintenance, disposal, and recycling. Some LCA tools also provide a rating for economic performance by considering the costs of initial investment, replacement, operation, maintenance, repair, and disposal. At every step of the way, bundles of assumptions are made that affect the outcome, which is a numerical rating.

Of course, the authority and persuasive power of numbers can fool us into thinking that they’re final and objective. Or, for the sake of convenience when making a difficult decision, we accept a number as the final say. As that flinty journalist H.L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”

LCA is in its early stages. As manufacturers increasingly use various methods for qualifying their green building products, a welter of conflicting numbers will be tossed around. In time, LCA tools will be refined to yield more congruent ratings. In the meantime, the situation may remind us of Mark Twain’s complaint: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

But taking the long view – which is what LCA is all about – is good for business in the long run.

 

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Need portable cooling?

Rent or buy spot coolers from full-service locations nationwide. On call “24/7”. Primary, supplemental or emergency cooling. Atlas Sales & Rentals, Inc., or call (800) 972-6600.

Click here for more info


Visit our website today to learn about the design flexibility of a Morton building and the endless possibilities of partnering with our designBUILD team.


Wood construction is both cost and energy efficient. Check out Morton Buildings and our designBUILD team online today to discover all the benefits of post-frame construction.


When choosing a metal-clad building for your next construction project, consider Morton Buildings, Inc., and their designBUILD team, we’ll make your dream a reality.

Yaskawa drives offer quality performance for air handlers and cooling towers on the roof to secondary chilled water pumps in the basement

Bluebeam® Revu® simplifies digital facilities document management from design review to leveraging as-builts, maintenance manuals and O&Ms submittals.

We Can Help You Reduce Energy by 30%

Our mission is to help our customers manage their buildings' energy costs, improve reliability, and enhance performance while having a positive impact on the environment.
CLICK HERE to find out how.


 
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