Applying the Life-Cycle Assessment to the products you specify will help you and your client comprehend the product's green story.
What does it mean to be a steward of the environment?
The life and work of William McDonough is inspiring for any kitchen and bath designer. In the early 1990s William McDonough took steps to create a new paradigm by which to evaluate how impact buildings and interior remodels have on the environment. McDonough’s book, “Cradle to Cradle,” explores the concept of complete recycling of building materials from structural members to carpet. McDonough takes his inspiration from nature, in that there is a closed-loop system: Whichever materials are created by the earth are absorbed by the earth. Of course, the presence of landfills and barges of garbage show this is far from the truth when it comes to human consumption.
From McDonough’s book, a cradle-to-cradle (C2C) rating system was developed to help people make choices based on care for the environment. The C2C labeling on many materials adds to their desirability for many consumers. C2C ratings let the consumer or designer know how mindful the creation of material is in regards to environmental impact. This labeling means the product has undergone considerable testing and consideration. Kitchen and bath designers can source more information at the website: www.c2ccertified.org.
This clearinghouse aligns itself with the work of William McDonough, author of “Cradle to Cradle.”
Products are rated across five categories (Material Health, Material Reutilization, Renewable Energy and Carbon Management, Water Stewardship, and Social Fairness) and awarded one of four levels (Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum). The methodology for rating has been in effect since 2005 and currently over 400 products have achieved C2C certification. Products that have been certified include Building Materials, Interior Design Products, Personal and Home Care, Paper and Packaging, Fabrics and Textiles, and more.
Next begins the discussion of embodied energy where the picture is completed. First, the parameters and definitions:
- Cradle-to-Gate: an assessment of a product life cycle from the manufacture to the factory gate. Used in the calculation of embodied energy.
- Cradle-to-Site: an assessment of a product life cycle which continues on Cradle-to-Gate and includes all of the energy consumed until the product reaches its point of use.
- Cradle-to-Grave: an assessment which continues from Cradle-to-Site to include the life of the product in the client’s home to the end of its useful life and the disposing of the final product.
- Cradle-to-Cradle: a design protocol that advocates the elimination of waste by recycling a material or product into a new or similar product at the end of its intended life, rather than sending the product to a landfill. Embodied energy calculations start with the extraction of the raw materials, transportation of the raw materials to the manufacturing plant, the energy it takes to run the plant, and creating the packaging the finish product requires for shipping.
The decision to set the boundary for determining embodied energy from Cradle-to-Site to stopping at the gate was based on the assumption that in “many cases, transport from factory gate to construction site would be negligible.”
While this may be true for many materials, and normally true for high-embodied energy and carbon materials, this is not exclusively the case. In the case of very-low embodied energy and carbon materials such as aggregates, transportation can be significant.
For these reasons, the boundaries have been modified from cradle to gate. Because many materials travel long distances to get to the project site, the kitchen and bath designer should determine if this is a factor in the final product decision.
The transportation of a product to the project site factors in as a buying decision for many clients. It is commonly referred to as “buying locally.”
Embodied energy assessments do not consider the life of the product once it leaves the factory and arrives at the client’s home. It also includes maintenance and the product’s end of life—is it recycled or does it go to the landfill?
A more complete way to look at your material selections is through Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is an evaluation of the environmental impact a product has from initial sourcing of raw materials to the product’s eventual disposal. According to the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute, life-cycle analysis includes resource extraction and product/materials transportation; material processing and product manufacturing; onsite building construction requirements; occupancy and maintenance considerations; building decommissioning and demolition; and materials disposal, reuse or recycling.
Incorporating LCA in the decision-making process is a successful tool for both governments and industry for determining the Cradle-to-Grave impact of a product. Government agencies are moving towards the incorporation of LCA in regulations. Businesses are voluntarily incorporating initiatives, which contain LCA and product stewardship components. Finally, the consumer is interested in knowing about a product’s environmental qualities. LCA is a holistic approach to the selection of materials, fixtures, and appliances.
There are three aspects kitchen and bath designers should consider when reviewing a product through LCA:
1. Goal Definition and Scoping: Identifying the purpose and what to include or exclude from your process. This is where you define your client’s goals for sustainability. During your interview process you can determine your client’s focus:
- Is indoor air quality the most important factor?
- Is it sourcing products locally, or high-recycled content?
- What about water conservation?
- High energy-efficiency or low maintenance?
2. Life-Cycle Inventory: This phase determines the energy and raw material inputs and environmental outputs during each stage of production. Which resources are used in the creation of the final product? What about transportation?
3. Impact Assessment: Determines which wastes are produced during the production stage that have an impact on the environment and human health. Does the processing release waste that contributes to global warming, acid rain, or fossil-fuel depletion? This is where we assess the VOC emissions and the products impact on IAC, including the products needed for installation and continued maintenance. At this stage, we assess the end of life of the product. Can it be recycled? Reused? Does it go into the landfill? PR
This article is excerpted from the NKBA Professional Resource Library Volume Kitchen & Bath Sustainable Design, scheduled for publication by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., in 2014.