UBC embodied carbon pilot

Addressing embodied carbon in buildings through LCA

The UBC Embodied Carbon Pilot, conducted by The University of British Columbia’s Sustainability Hub, was a multi-year research study on the practice of conducting life cycle assessments (LCAs) for quantifying embodied carbon emissions from building materials. Concluded in 2022, the objective of the Pilot was to identify issues and solutions for enabling more effective use of LCA in reducing embodied carbon on buildings on and off campus.

Key Learnings

  • There are multiple factors that affect the consistency, reliability, and variability of whole-building LCA (wbLCA) results, which means these results are rarely comparable. For this reason, it is important to determine the parameters for the assessment, such as the goal, scope, material data sources and assessment tool, at the beginning, ideally even before starting to collect project data.
  • There is a need for more standardization regarding data collection, LCA methodology, reporting and benchmarking to advance wbLCA practice and policy for reducing embodied carbon in the built environment.
  • Creating the bill of materials—the key user input for a wbLCA—requires a structured process to facilitate reliability, accuracy, and comparability of results. The proposed bill of materials generation methodology aims to address the need for more detailed guidance for BoM-based wbLCAs.

The UBC embodied carbon pilot resulted in the following reports

Summary report

This report summarizes the team’s work from April 2019 to March 2022, outlining key findings and proposes actions to improve wbLCA practice and leverage its full power for reducing embodied carbon in the built environment.

Bill of materials generation methodology

This report addresses the need for more detailed guidance for bill of materials (BoM) backed whole building life cycle assessment (wbLCA) by describing a set of procedures for establishing the parameters of the LCA and generating a building’s BoM for input into an LCA tool. The methodology describes how the assessment parameters should be set at the beginning of the data preparation process, followed by outlining a data preparation strategy as the first step towards a more standardized approach. The report also highlights the need to document the assumptions and decisions made throughout the BoM and overall LCA processes. Understanding the factors that influence this data collection and LCA process is essential to identify potential inconsistencies and improve future guidelines.

Policy review of carbon-focused life cycle assessment

The review focuses on policy improvements in the implementation of LCA at UBC as a means towards achieving meaningful reductions in embodied carbon emissions in campus developments. The report includes an overview of LCA concepts, environmental impacts, and tools; Canadian policy review; and discussion of challenges and opportunities in implementing LCA for policy decisions.

Embodied Carbon Pilot
Podcast with Diana Lopez on the UBC embodied carbon pilot

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national guidelines for whole building lca
National guidelines for whole-building life cycle assessment

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Embodied Carbon A Primer for Buildings in Canada
Embodied carbon: A primer for buildings in Canada

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Life cycle assessment at UBC

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Emobdies Carbon PathFinder
Podcast with Jennifer O’Connor of Athena on life cycle assessment and embodied carbon tools

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Demonstrating the benefits of whole-building life cycle assessment

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Carbon + climate

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Emobdies Carbon PathFinder
Embodied Carbon PathFinder

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