May 10, 2024
Journal Article

Strategies for connecting whole-building LCA to the low-carbon design process


Decarbonization is essential to meeting urgent climate goals. With the building sector in the United States accounting for 35% of total U.S. carbon emissions, reducing environmental impacts within the built environment is critical. Whole-building life cycle analysis (WBLCA) quantifies the impacts of a building throughout its life cycle. Despite being a powerful tool, WBLCA is not standard practice in the integrated design process (IDP). When WBLCA is used, it is typically either speculative and based on early design information or conducted only after design completion as an accounting measure, with virtually no opportunity to impact the actual design. This work proposes a workflow for fully incorporating WBLCA into the building design process in an iterative, recursive manner, where design decisions impact the WBLCA, which in turn informs future design decisions. We use the example of a negative-operational carbon modular building seeking negative upfront embodied carbon using low-embodied carbon and carbon sequestering materials as a case study for demonstrating the utility of the framework. Key contributions of this work include a framework of computational processes for conducting iterative WBLCA, using a combination of an existing building WBLCA tool (Tally) within the building information modeling (BIM) superstructure (Revit) and a custom script (in R) for materials, life cycle stages, and workflows not available in the WBLCA tool. Additionally, we provide strategies for harmonizing the environmental impacts of novel materials or processes from various life cycle inventory sources with materials or processes in existing building WBLCA tool repositories. This information is useful for researchers who are conducting WBLCAs on projects that include new or unusual materials and for design teams who want to integrate WBLCA more fully into their design process.

Published: May 10, 2024


McCord K.H., H.E. Dillon, P.K. Gunderson, S. Carlson, A. Phillips, D. Griechen, and C.A. Antonopoulos. 2024. Strategies for connecting whole-building LCA to the low-carbon design process. Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability 4, no. 1:Art. No. 015002. PNNL-SA-190501. doi:10.1088/2634-4505/ad17ce