This week on the podcast we have Jane Anderson, who is an expert in Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), EPD and Embodied Carbon for construction.
We discuss what LCA's and EPD's are and how they are created, sequestering carbon in construction and greenwashing!
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Jeffrey Hart 0:00
Welcome to building sustainability podcast with me your host Jeffrey Hart, aka Jeffrey, the natural builder every fortnight. Join me as I talk to designers, builders, makers, dreamers and doers. Exploring the wide world of sustainability in the built environment by talking to wonderful people who are doing excellent things. Hello and welcome. This is episode 79. And it's the 29th of May 2022. My guest today is an expert in lifecycle analysis, environmental product declarations and embodied carbon in construction. It's Jane Anderson. We are of course talking about lifecycle analysis, also carbon sequestration and greenwashing. Just before that, I want to say a gigantic thank you to the following building sustainability heroes. They are Brody McIntyre, Jake Eldridge, Ali Samling, Hudson architects row, Andy Hales, and Alicia Morton Perkins, this incredible bunch of humans have signed up via the building sustainability Patreon page to support the podcast. And I couldn't be more thankful you can join email@example.com forward slash building sustainability. And you can get yourself 10 hours of bonus audio, as well as an opportunity to ask questions for the upcoming guests, and some other bits and bobs. If you listen right to the end, then I will give you a little update on the tiny house build. But just before we go into this episode, there are a few little dog gaps. In the first few minutes her little dog does settle down quite quickly and so shouldn't cause you too much audio discomfort. All right, many thanks back at the end.
Jane Anderson 2:06
My name is Jane Anderson, I have my own consultancy called construction LCA. And I've been working on embodied carbon and the environmental impacts of construction materials lifecycle assessment since the 1990s. So yeah, I did a master's at the University of East London before it moved to cat. And that was when I first had a lecture about embodied carbon and embodied energy and thought, oh, gosh, this is interesting. Nobody knows what's going on here. And yeah, so I did my thesis looking at whether we should be knocking down housing and rebuilding it or renovating it in terms of kind of embodied energy. Although it turned out it was more to do with the performance gap and stuff like that. So we didn't really come to a conclusion. And then I was lucky enough to get a job at BRS. I worked at Bre for just over 10 years working on the green guide and environmental profiles, methodologies. And then I went into kind of serious consultancy. And pen I moved out to serious consultancy and started working for myself.
Jeffrey Hart 3:28
So nice. The 90s That's early for, for this kind of thinking, isn't
Jane Anderson 3:33
it? Yeah. I mean, there were quite a few people doing it. And it's quite interesting. Now, there's quite a few papers that are coming out sort of the sort of early history. But yeah, kind of Norway, Sweden, the UK, the States, Canada, people were looking at these things and working on it. In fact, our government in the UK were quite active. So it was it started in the Building Research Establishment when it was part of kind of government, we're looking at embodied energy quite seriously. And then gradually sort of lots of different methodologies. And then we got 1504 and as your common methodology, and hopefully, yeah, starting to, it's quite odd now, when everybody knows what it is when you you know, it's I spent 10 years telling people what I did, and everyone going, Oh, Jack, people do that. Now, it's like, Oh, I've heard of that. Yeah, so right.
Jeffrey Hart 4:31
Yeah. You were there from the obscure first album?
Jane Anderson 4:37
Yeah. Well, I'd say actually second album, but okay. First,
Jeffrey Hart 4:42
and then it seems like it's become really important, recently embodied are becoming more of a focus. It seems like operational carbon was was the big thing for a long time and, and sort of their balances is coming back now.
Jane Anderson 5:01
Yeah. I mean, the figures are all the bits, it's at least 10% of energy and greenhouse gases. So is it for embodiment boarded? Yeah, so it does seem a bit odd that kind of there hasn't really been any, any emphasis on it in, at least in the construction industry. So there have been sort of initiatives that have been trying to drive down emissions, sort of industrial level with cement and steel, but in terms of actually trying to, to engage with with the design community and construction to reduce that it is quite recent.
Jeffrey Hart 5:41
I'm very pleased that you're doing this. So we're going to talk about LCA as well. My first question, does it matter if it's lifecycle assessment or analysis?
Jane Anderson 5:53
Not really, it's the same thing. Okay. Thank you assess, and then you analyse, so it doesn't really end. Okay.
Jeffrey Hart 6:00
I was struggling to find out whether they were two separate things, and I was just not not getting it.
Jane Anderson 6:06
No, I think it's the same, exactly the same thing. Just two different words. And luck. Luckily, the same acronym. So yeah, yeah.
Jeffrey Hart 6:16
Great, well, you're new to explain what an LCA is.
Jane Anderson 6:19
Yeah. So basically, it's a way of assessing the environmental impacts of a product or a system or a service, or city, really anything, ideally over its whole lifecycle. So it has to be said that quite often, when we look at construction materials, we do focus on maybe just a part of the lifecycle, sort of in kind of what we call the cradle to gate sort of just in manufacture. But it should really be looking at the whole lifecycle and trying to take into account everything that that's, that's influencing those impacts, because lots of products, let's say, like insulation has impacts to make them but then they have benefits in the use stage. And then we similarly have products like timber that have impacts at the end of life stage, so kind of need to take account of everything, transport as well. So yeah.
Jeffrey Hart 7:18
And so. So they don't include the performance too, they,
Jane Anderson 7:24
you should really be looking at the use stage as well. But this is where kind of construction, maybe kind of considers it a slightly special case. So we obviously have construction products, but really what we're trying to create is a building are a piece of infrastructure. And it's the performance of that, that we're really trying to, to optimise and to consider the impact for so you could you could kind of optimise individual materials as much as you like, that doesn't mean that you'll end up with buildings that are good. So the actual sort of processes is more of, let's say, with EPDs, environmental product declarations, were doing the lifecycle assessment for the products, so that we then have the kind of building blocks, which is not really the right word, that the information to then be able to assess the whole building. And that will include the performance of the building, during the use stage. And to make sure that it's it's safe and kind of useful and accessible and usable. Yeah. But ideally try and reduce the impact of that building, rather than just focusing on the materials.
Jeffrey Hart 8:42
So what sort of things are you looking at, within the LCA, the kind
Jane Anderson 8:48
of concept of lifecycle assessment, you should really be looking at every any significant impact. So within environmental product declarations, now we look at about nine environmental impacts, and then a whole series of what we call resource indicators. So things to do with energy, water, waste, kind of use of recycled materials, things like that. So I think there's about was over 30 kind of indicators that we actually track for each of the different lifecycle stages and modules that we're measuring. So there's quite a lot but yeah, I say, unfortunately, I think kind of climate change is the most pressing issue that we have at the moment. So genuinely, people are just focusing on on carbon. That's the LCA and the EPD gives you all the other information as well,
Jeffrey Hart 9:42
and what sort of output I guess, are you getting a number that can be compared against other things or as a sort of written report or how's it what's the form it takes?
Jane Anderson 9:53
So there's two different things one is is if you if you're the manufacturer, for example, then you will get a much longer report In the EPD, that might see as a consumer or an architect. And that should, it should give you the information that actually enables you to understand exactly what it is that's causing impact and where in your supply chain that might be coming from. That's the kind of the ideal, so you should be able to not just see I've got a big impact for carbon in a one, two, a three, it should actually identify that that carbon is coming from electricity production or one of your raw materials. So you get a much fuller report. And that's confidential, you can make that open if you want the very few people do, because it will also include all the information you've given to the to the LCA practitioner, and that the verifier uses to actually check the results so that there's potentially parts of it that you can make public that you might not want to actually put, for example, your production data and exactly what raw materials and how much energy you're using. That might be something that it's that you don't want to make public. Sure, yeah. But yeah, so that's, that's your kind of project, what we call the project report. But then the EPD is normally about eight, nine pages. Now, typically. And that will have a little bit of information about the product, technical performance of the product, how it's made, kind of what's been assumed over the lifecycle for it. So what if it provides information on transport or end of life, most products now have to provide that end of life data, what's been assumed for that, and then the actual results, and quite often there'll be a little bit of interpretation. So it might tell you what's causing impact. That's, that's kind of optional. Yeah, so that's what you kind of get as a consumer. And that, that number effectively, or those numbers will be one of the kind of key pieces of information in EPD, something called the declared unit. And that's basically what everything is being measured. For. So it could be one kilogramme of cement or one metre squared or plasterboard or one metre cubed of insulation. So you have to kind of take that into account. And quite often, for something like insulation, there'll be different declared units or functional units that are used, actually, that that's generally a quite a logical reason for that. So something like stone will rock will. Basically, the impact of making it is fairly constant per kilogramme, but they produce lots of different thicknesses and lots of different densities. So it makes sense for them to provide an EPD for one kilogramme of product. The same, you know, another product might really only be provided in a typical thickness, you know, provided in 100 millimetre sheets, in which case, maybe it makes sense to do it for that, or you also set for units of thermal resistance. And then that again, so you have to kind of check that and quite often then you have to work back so that you can convert if you want to start making comparisons between products, then you have to make those conversions so that you're dealing with a common unit. And say for insulation, that most sensibly would be thermal resistance, because that's what you're presumably using your insulation for. So if you select a common unit of thermal resistance, then you can then start to make those comparisons between Okay, so it isn't just a question of looking at the numbers. That's bigger than that one.
Jeffrey Hart 14:00
Yes. Yeah. It's that sort of the dream isn't it that line all the materials up next to each other and choose the the biggest or smallest number who who are using LC A's and EPDs.
Jane Anderson 14:13
So it does vary. I suppose the the kind of worst case ones are where literally, somebody's got a tick box they've been told they need to check that the product they're using has an EPD so they just ask has it got an EP D and that gave them one and they take the box and and that's kind of it. And that does happen as well in in things like lead and bream that it's about whether your product has an environmental product declaration, not about what that product declaration says. So yeah, there's a kind of the worst product in the world can have any PD doesn't. Having any PD doesn't mean your products good. It just means that you know what impact it does have So yeah, that's that's sort of one end of it. I mean, people definitely are there are some archetypes that are using them to actually select products and to make these these types of decisions and kind of creating these Excel spreadsheets and tables. And we also see a lot of EPDs have been integrated into building LCA tools, things like one click LCA and the ACB tool that Tim Martel's signed that I can't remember the name of now.
Jeffrey Hart 15:36
We are, I'll find it and I'll put a link in the show notes.
Jane Anderson 15:42
Yeah, I can't remember it. But yeah, so they've got lists of EPDs in them. And they're. So for example, Tim has been through and checked all the functional declared units and converted them so that when you select that product and put it into your building, it will automatically know from, from what you've told it about how thick or how much of it you're using, it will be able to take that information. So that takes that sort of calculation side out of it. So yeah, definitely people are using them. There, they are being used in regulation. So for example, in France, and in Belgium, you can't make environmental claims about construction products without having an EPD that if you like proves your point. So if you want to say my product is low carbon, you actually have to have an EPG that demonstrates that it is like carbon, although you could fight over
Jeffrey Hart 16:41
Yeah. To a certain amount of interpretation. Yeah.
Jane Anderson 16:45
Yeah, there isn't a line that says this is this is high carbon versus low carbon. But you'd be able to say, Here, it's my EBT. And based on this evidence, I think, you know, this claim is it's fine. Yeah, and then we have kind of people doing these, these building assessments. And again, that happens in in kind of regulation. So in the Netherlands, in France, in Germany, that not all buildings. So in the Netherlands, it's actually all housing and larger office buildings have, they've actually had to do LCA since 2030. So whenever all these people say, oh, there's not enough data, or there's no methodology, or we can't do it, it's like, oh, they seem to have managed for nine years. So so there they they have national databases, which are a combination of kind of generic data that you use and EPDs. And then you do your building LCA and submit it as part of kind of building regulations or planning. Yeah, in kind of Germany, it's all public buildings. I've had to do it since I think 2011. Yeah. As part of, they had to do something like, what's the German kind of bream called DGNB. And then the government had a version called BNB. And that, yeah, that requires an LCA to be done. And you get credits based on achieving target values for that. So people have been there's, there's a lot that's, if you look, that's why there are lots of EPDs in France and Germany, not so much the Netherlands. Actually, it's interesting, but haven't quite worked out.
Jeffrey Hart 18:33
Do you think, do you think that will be the way that things go here?
Jane Anderson 18:38
I would like to say that, but I suspect from what I can see from things like the industrial, decarbonisation strategy and things like that, that they're looking to kind of mandate EPDs first, at least for kind of high carbon products, it sort of seems, and that that kind of regulating embodied carbon at building levels kind of take a lot longer, which to me is a bit I think it's kind of doing it the wrong way around, if you like, because, as I say, it's about the buildings. You know, you can use an awful lot of very low carbon steel or concrete inefficiently in a building and end up with a much higher carbon building than if you used a higher carbon steel more efficient. Yeah. Obviously, the optimum is that you use a low carbon steel efficiently. But if you like that, there are lots of different parts of the cake to try and cut the emissions and reducing the impact of the products is just, let's say one quarter of it. You've got kind of reducing the number of buildings that we build, because we don't need necessarily to build all the buildings that we build. We could be reusing buildings. And then you've got actually the design processes and designing more efficiently. So there's been kind of lots of work looking at structures, for example, and we tend to design all the beams in a floor based on the kind of the the worst case loading, rather than Yeah. maybe being a little bit more specific. And so that's the yeah, there's lots of evidence that that there's over specification, with good reason, you know, that can be very dangerous if somebody accidentally put the wrong being in the wrong place. And if they're all the same size, there's no danger of that. But hopefully, we can overcome things like that. Or try to work out really why the worst case beam is so bad. And maybe there's a better way of doing avoiding one beam having such a much higher load loading. But yeah, yeah. So there's lots of different ways of coming at it and just coming at it from sort of saying, Oh, you need an EP D? is, I'm not sure. I could imagine it would be frustrating for people to produce EP ds that they're not always asked for. Yeah, that there's lots of kind of kind of questions about how that would actually work with imports and setting levels, for example. And, yeah, just having the EPD I'm not sure whether that would really make a difference. I feel that if everybody was actually measuring the embodied carbon of their buildings, then we might kind of more quickly get more manufacturers producing EPDs and more buildings actually reducing an impact. But yeah, yeah. That's, that's the hope.
Jeffrey Hart 21:41
Yes, of course, how do you actually go about producing an EPD, or an LCA, it seems to me like a ridiculously complicated thing to work out.
Jane Anderson 21:55
It's kind of quite logical, really. So effectively, now, I mean, it's changed. But now there are databases that effectively have information on the production of kind of everything, right? More or less. So, so long as you've got access to one of these databases, then that makes your life simple. If you haven't got access to those, then that is a much more problematic process. And when we kind of look back to sort of the 1990s, when I started, you know, you'd asked a manufacturer, what are your input materials, and then you'd be going like, I haven't got any data for that, we'll just have to use this nasty chemical, kind of generic nasty chemical data. But that sort of that now, that happens much, much less if you like, because there's just been a massive kind of expansion of data to use. So effectively, what you do is the manufacturer tells you, if you like for, for one year of their production, what they produce, and then everything that they used to produce it, and then everything else that kind of leaves their factories, so the wastes and the transport information for the things that are coming and leaving our factory and all that energy data. And if they're only making one thing, then that is nice and simple. And it's literally just then a question of linking all this data up to an upstream kind of impact for manufacturing, say cement or sand or treated water, trustee, whatever. And then, effectively, you have tools, but you could do it in an Excel spreadsheet. If you're making 700,000 tonnes, you just divide this impact by 700,000. And then you've got the impact per tonne. So that's the kind of this very simple kind of way of doing it quite often factories make more than one thing. So then you've got to kind of go in and try to work out exactly which input materials and wastes and energy are being used for which products. And sometimes that's simple because it is just maths based sometimes it's not so simple and it's based on the area of production or APB you've basically got to find something that logically kind of fixes to, to that, so that if they were just making one thing, you would have that impact. But then it's the same sum. And then it's just a question of kind of writing the report to explain what you've done. Getting it verified. So basically checking that you followed the standards that are in place to make sure that you do it in a consistent way and then publishing it,
Jeffrey Hart 24:54
okay. And the verification is that is it sort of externally verified. Ah, because one of the things I've heard as a sort of criticism of the LCA is and EPDs is that if if 10 Different people did 10, you know, 10 different reports, they'd all be slightly different. There's no sort of standard answer,
Jane Anderson 25:16
yes, probably, they would be slightly different. So there is potentially a difference depending on which of these, there are two big databases that are used, for example. And you will get different results from those. And there are assumptions that you can make as you go along. So for example. So when I say there is no lots of data, there is now lots of data. But for example, you might only have chemicals data for Germany and China. So then you've got to decide which of those two is the most appropriate because you might have got your data for or your chemical from Spain, or Russia, I don't know. So there's, there's bits like that where people will make choices and assumptions and different people make different assumptions. And as a verifier, you're basically checking that those assumptions are justifiable and sensible, and don't seem to have missed something. But you can't. There isn't. You know, until we have perfect information for for everything, there's always going to be that level of assumption. But the verifiers, basically to be a verifier, you have to be external to the process. So you can't work for the manufacturer, or the LCA practitioner. And you're either in some of the systems, you're actually employed by the EPD programme, so you kind of completely independent. In others, you are appointed by either the LCA practitioner or the manufacturer to do the verification. But you're acting independently in that process. And the verifiers basically have to be experienced LCA practitioners. So they've got to have demonstrated that they have, you know, a good knowledge of the standards and the types of processes and products that are being assessed. So it's a reasonably rigorous process.
Jeffrey Hart 27:34
And then these have to be repeated every every so many years, don't they?
Jane Anderson 27:39
Yeah, they they lost. Any EP D is kind of valid for five years. It can be shorter. So for some, if it's a very new product, and your production lines just started something like that. It might be shorter than that. Or if there's, yeah, sometimes we see people that are using green energy certificates or an EPD for another process, then you might have a slightly shorter validity, because you want to make sure that that's ongoing. Yeah, that those kind of commitments are ongoing. But yeah, they last for five years. At the end of that five year period, it is possible to say, Actually, I have not changed anything. So I'm still doing exactly the same thing. I've got same equipment in my factory, nothing has changed, I want to carry on using it. And we tend to say that's fine. Because if you like there's a disadvantage in doing that, because things like electricity production, and very often production of raw materials, is becoming less carbon intensive. So if you carry on with a validity for kind of another five years, you're probably taking a hit. That if you were to redo your LCA, you would get an improvement, not because you've done anything different, but just because the world has become slightly less carbon intensive, potentially. Yeah,
Jeffrey Hart 29:08
yeah, I suppose. I mean, I was thinking that in a five year gap, the chances of there being more accurate data or more relevant data to what you're doing would be the big reason.
Jane Anderson 29:22
Yeah, that there genuinely is an improvement in data, you might find that, for example, your raw materials suppliers have got an EPD that you'd be able to use that would be better than the kind of generic average. But there is a what's the word? It if you were then to stop using that supplier, you would have to redo your EPD so there is a kind of risk and kind of using other people's EPDs that you put to kind of have know that that relationship is is going to be ongoing. Otherwise, it's a bit of a kind of a rod, maybe that you've got to keep redoing your EPD. If you were to change suppliers.
Jeffrey Hart 30:09
Sure, yes. Got you. We talked a little bit about the stages of life. So with that cradle to gate, Cradle to Cradle to gate, cradle to grave or Cradle to Cradle, are they the sort of three? Three options? Or is there is it more complicated than than that
Jane Anderson 30:27
Cradle to Cradle this is not really, when you do an EPD, you you will take account of any recycling that that typically happens. So when we say cradle to grave, we're not actually assuming that the product is going into landfill. Potentially, when all this started in the 19, sort of 70s. That was what happened. So cradle to grave kind of made sense, because that's where Coca Cola bottles, Coca Cola cans, when and to be honest, it's still where 45 cent of Coca Cola cans go. It makes me very angry. Anyway, so. But so so we say cradle to grave, but effectively, we are looking at recycling. So it isn't this assumption that everything is is is waste and not used, we do try to look at what's what's being recycled and reused. So the other stage is basically cradle to gate is to when it leaves the factory gate cradle, that there's kind of cradle through construction, cradle to site cradle. Which, which basically take transport and the kind of construction process into account. And when we talk about carbon, we now talk about upfront carbon, which is that kind of the whole manufacturing through to actual construction and kind of practical completion. Yeah, and then we have the use stage. So actually using the building, refurbishing it, maintaining it, operating it, yeah, then the end of life stage. And then EPDs do have this this mysterious, what we call module D, which is basically. So effectively what we do, in LCA, you one of the kind of core rules of LCA is that you have what's called a system boundary. So you decide what's in your system. And if you want to do it kind of correctly, that system boundary has to be the same at both ends. So it's, it's not, right, if you like to say that I'm going to start my system boundary for when something has been recycled. And I'm going to end it before it's recycled. If you if you're starting it when it has been recycled, you have to go through at the end of life until it has been recycled, so that you have a consistent system boundary. So we have kind of this this system boundary. But what we want to show is if something has been recycled at the end of life, what is the benefit of that? Because we can't show it as part of that end of life. Otherwise, we would be we can't move the boundary at the beginning. So yeah, so we have this module D, which basically shows this this benefit, as if you like this, just this additional piece of information about what will happen normally and in a long time. So this is again, the difference between sort of the original LCA is worth for things like Coca Cola bottles and cans of Coca Cola were the kind of big companies that started it off. But but a Coke can, you know, it, it's there no more than a year, you kind of make your coke can out whatever you make it out of and then you recycle? Well, you recycle it, we put it into the landfill. And that's its its lifecycle. And that's so sort of short that you can kind of take into account that recycling because if you are kind of using the recycle cans to make cans, then it's all kind of happening at a point at which the amounts that are going in and coming out are kind of balancing each other. The problem with construction is that you put whatever you're putting into your building now and what comes out of your building in 60 years time. You know, when we look at what comes out of demolish buildings today, it's about a 10th of what we're putting in. Even though it is everything that went in, when those buildings were made kind of 60 100 years ago 30 years ago, sometimes more worryingly.
We've just got this kind of this this growth curve that means that that we're always kind of catching up so the the amount of recycled material even if we recycled and reused everything it would never meet current demand. If we continue To demand as much as it's, as we are, that's part of the reason why we have a kind of different way of looking at it and construction. So we, we don't kind of look at this kind of closed loop altogether, we, we look at the system, and then we show this benefit that that's potentially going to happen in the future. But again, there's lots of reasons why, I mean, hopefully, in 60 years, when you're building is kind of reused or kind of recycled, the benefit of recycling is going to actually be very small, because you're going to be avoiding the production of kind of zero carbon steel or zero carbon aluminium or zero carbon concrete. So these benefits that we're showing are actually maximised because they're based on today's production, and we would hope that they will be much lower. So that's when you look at this module D, it's, we do say it's for kind of information. And it, it does give you a good idea of, of what happens today, in terms of the benefits, but it's, it's it is more informative. I mean, what I'd like to see is far more people using module D for buildings today. So actually, when you've got a building, and you're trying to decide what to do with it, well actually assess your Module C and your module D, if you are going to demolish it, what is the impact? And what are the benefits? And how could you improve those benefits and reduce those impacts? by different choices? Yeah. And that's what things like kind of demolition audits are about. But that's really kind of the where module D really is, is isn't being used at the moment and should be
Jeffrey Hart 36:47
okay, would module d be sort of encouraging people to design for deconstruction? Yeah, so it's because my understanding is that you don't get if you use recycled materials, there's a sort of it's, it's a good thing. But enabling the reuse of your materials. So far isn't so well kind of encouraged?
Jane Anderson 37:10
No. And that that would be shown in Module D. So effectively if you're recycling, as you say, so for example, for concrete, if you're recycling the concrete, then you're basically only showing the benefit of avoiding aggregate production, because that's what you're genuinely crushing the concrete up to use it to replace. But if you were able to show that you could reuse it, for example, then you'd be avoiding concrete production. So that would be a much bigger benefit. Same with steel, if you're reusing the steel, you're actually avoiding production of the steel rather than just having to have the impact of recycling it and then showing that benefits that there is a bigger benefit if you can reuse.
Jeffrey Hart 37:54
Yeah, this this is a question that came from John Butler. Well, here's his question, you know, sort of where is the incentive now for design for reuse? And can it be encouraged more?
Jane Anderson 38:05
Yeah. I mean, I think that's where it comes through, is it would be in Module D being able to show a bigger benefit in Module D. Yeah. I mean, I think design for a uses is a clear one. I think sometimes some of the things like designing for adaptation and flexibility. There's a danger sometimes that you put too much more kind of additional material in to try and make something flexible that. I don't know. I mean, it's fascinating, when you look at you know, that the kind of Georgian terrace, I don't think anybody designed the Georgian terrace to be flexible and adaptable, but they are among the most flexible and adaptable buildings. And they, you know, they, it is interesting, what it is about those buildings that makes them so useful and valued now. And I'm not entirely sure that designing something to be flexible, necessarily will be there will be the flexible building that you want. I mean, very often, it's just where that building is and how things change.
Jeffrey Hart 39:15
Yeah. Yes, it's sort of trying to predict a future that you don't you haven't got any idea of what the what it's going to be so. Yeah. Sequestration of carbon. This is sort of one of the big things. I was just chatting to a guy who lives out in the States at the moment, and he was saying that all of this sort of big Berkeley design, things are all about how much can we sequester carbon? Do you think there's too much emphasis being put on C sequestration? That's difficult.
Jane Anderson 39:55
So I think the problem is that it gets Miss kind of misused, misunderstood. So, yeah, basically one of the benefits of kind of wooden and bio based materials is that they have stored carbon from the atmosphere within the product, and quite a lot of carbon. And there is a benefit, there's definitely a benefit in using that carbon. And if you like storing it in our buildings, rather than using it for energy and releasing that carbon. Where I think there is a problem is that timber, and indeed, bio based resources are finite, and well, they're not finite, but that they're not limitless. And we should be using them just as efficiently as we should be trying to use all of our resources. And I think there is a danger that people start kind of stuffing their buildings with kind of timber or bio based materials, because the more you put in, the more carbon you are storing, and then the more of this kind of negative carbon figure that you could then potentially say, is offsetting any other impacts from from your building. And I personally, I don't think that's the way to do it, I think you should be using all of the materials as sparingly as you can to build the most efficient building. And you should be trying to reduce your impact rather than just sort of stuffing it with carbon, or bio based carbon to offset. Yeah, so that's sort of where I'm coming at it from, and I think some of the arguments are a little bit problematic. And you see these, these, you do see these claims of kind of net zero, you know, or my building is carbon negative, because it's basically got more of the sequester carbon and the emissions. And we basically try to, when we, in the, for example, the RSCs methodology, we're we're basically saying when you measure your upfront carbon impacts, you can't take account of this sequestration, to avoid people kind of doing this, sort of, like offsetting with additional kind of timber. So that's kind of that. And the issue is that the end of life of the building to kind of, even if you keep reusing the timber, which is obviously the best thing to do. If effectively, in a kind of carbon balance way, you have to emit that carbon or pass it, transfer it to the next lifecycle. So you don't over the life of your building, you don't get this kind of carbon negative results. And there are lots of people that argue that we should come up with ways of allowing it, I think, to me that the best way of kind of actually showing the benefits Bath University have been doing work on it showing these the radiative forcing and the actual impact, but kind of over time, so it's what they call dynamic LCA approaches. But there is a big difference between emitting carbon today and emitting carbon in 100 years. It's the same kilogrammes of co2, it gives you exactly the same results in an LCA. But when you look at the radiative forcing, releasing it today will have much more impact than releasing it in 100 years time. And the carbon that you released, like 100 years ago, has much more impact
Jeffrey Hart 43:54
is that because of the hope of that will decarbonize the grid, and you will have kind of that that end of things a bit more sorted out that in the future?
Jane Anderson 44:06
No, it's It's more just to do with the fact that that carbon stays in the atmosphere. So whenever you release it, it it has more, that the longer it's in the atmosphere, the more impact it has, if you like, yes, because it doesn't really disappear. So yeah, that's the kind of problem and they've done really, that they can kind of they show these these curves that that look at the different impacts. And I think that would almost be it would always be a kind of third, or not the third indicator, but another additional indicator, another piece of additional information that would show the difference because I think we do need to start having these questions about you know, should we be using biofuels you know, somewhere like Drax that is using timber like there's no tomorrow and just burning it and saying is carbon neutral? You know, whether there are the Yeah, whether we should be having a more kind of informed debate about what happens to timber, you know, at the end of life, it can go into particle board it can be used for energy can be recycled, while recycled into particles reused, and you know, too much of it, I think, in my view is being used for energy recovery and energy recovery. It's, it's not really very, you know, they don't recover a lot of energy and energy recovery. It's kind of less than 50%. So it's not hugely efficient. And, and I think we do, I have interesting kind of conversations with my counsel who tell me that, you know, they want me to put plastics into my blue bin, but soft plastics, they want to go into my black bin that will be used in energy from waste plants. And I'm, like going well, I know, you want lots of energy and your energy of wastes or inputs of your energy and waste pump, but you can actually recycle this at my local supermarket, which would be a better option. But they actually need us to waste because they've got a contract to deliver waste. So I think they've got you know, I think a lot of these things when we're talking about recycling it, you think it just is fascinating whether you actually need people to carry on wasting in order to feed your desire for recycled content, for example. There's some quite interesting sort of things going on.
Jeffrey Hart 46:52
I rant about this quite a lot. But it seems like you can capitalism and you know, this, this contract to feed them waste. That's that's sort of going against what we actually need to do. But because money's changing hands. That's the thing they're doing. Yeah, I find it infinitely frustrating. But so I guess it sort of leads on, I want us to talk a bit about greenwashing. And sort of following on from the, you know, can you have a carbon negative building a lot of people? are you shouting that look at my carbon negative building? And it's one of the reasons I very much enjoy your Twitter feed is it's you. You're calling out all of these claims?
Jane Anderson 47:42
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think I don't I mean, it's good that people are trying. But yeah, it does. It does annoy me sometimes when I see some of these claims, and you're trying to work out, you know, what? I mean, have they really found a product? That is clever? Or? Or are they have they just not done? The sans at least according to the, to the ROC? S standard, or or they haven't looked over the whole lifecycle? Or? Yeah, so that the, there's misunderstandings about it. But I think I mean, I think it's going to become increasingly an issue is it's, there's some quite interesting kind of products now. But when you start getting into this sort of using co2 for kind of emissions as an input, and you're absorbing them into your product, which is sequestering them, sort of mineral kind of type products. But you're sitting there going, well, who's actually who's going to be able to claim that benefit? How are you going to divide it up because you can't, if you like, if it's the cement manufacturer, who's allowing his co2 fumes to be absorbed into your product, he's going to want to go I don't have any co2 emissions. But the person at the other end is going to go my products fantastic, because it's it sucked up all his co2 emissions. You know, they can't they can't both be claiming that they're, they're kind of sucking up emissions, they've got to either split it between the two of them or Yeah, and that's going to be quite an interesting one, I think, to see how that works out in, in kind of developing LCA methodology to to decide who should have it and even Yeah, just kind of politically but but yeah, you know, are you going to be allowed to do that kind of if governments that emissions levels what what are they going to allow? So the French, for example, are quite yeah, there's lots of things that are not allowed In terms of
Jeffrey Hart 50:02
do they allow offsetting in terms of, you know, like an offsetting scheme,
Jane Anderson 50:07
offsets in terms of product labelling now you can talk about the fact that you have then offset, but you have to say this is the, this is the impact of my product. But yeah, I don't add, luckily, I haven't had it yet. But it will definitely happen, I think, where we will have people and then you'll have to decide who's able to say, what
Jeffrey Hart 50:34
i It seems ridiculous that if you could, you know, I could create a giant cube of concrete and then spend lots of money on an offsetting scheme. And to claim I'm you net zero, it's you. I don't see how the benefit real well, it's not, not true accounting, is it?
Jane Anderson 50:56
No. I mean, I think what it's good is that everything that I'm seeing coming through at the moment is, is becoming increasingly clear that if you want to be net zero, it's not just a question of ops offsetting your emissions, you've got to have demonstrated that you've reduced your emissions in line with the kind of Paris obligations, which is quite hard to do. And then it's only the residual emissions that you, you can offset if you'd like. And that will hopefully bring some clarity. That's, yeah, it's too easy to say lots of things. And I think part of the problem I mean, I know the Competition and Markets Authority are kind of having it clamped down and the Advertising Standards, but I don't think they have the the knowledge and expertise to really understand some of the complexity of these things. So they get told, you kind of complain, and then they go. No, I think that's right. That's right. I think it is.
Jeffrey Hart 52:11
Is there any sort of legislation or sort of things happening in the future, which would stop people just making these these sort of poorly accounted?
Jane Anderson 52:20
Well, so I don't know if you've seen the draft construction product regulations that the UK bringing in to replace or not, I think they're actually to replace but in addition, so it's basically they've come from the fire kind of safety side of it. But that at the moment does have a little section on mislead or claims and misleading claims, and it will be illegal to mislead people. But, yeah, to mislead people about anything that is covered by the end of the work requirements. So that does include kind of greenhouse gas emissions. And it's also at the moment, it says it's misleading to emit anything that significant. But I'm not entirely sure that that is what will end up there. Because there's lots of questions about what they actually whether they mean, what they say, because and also then what that does is these use words relevant and significant thing. Can you just like, well, what, what is significant? How would you define significant? Does that mean everybody has to have an EPD? If there is potentially some significant environmental impact from the product? And yeah, so I'm not sure what will come out? I think it's definitely it seems it's on their agenda. But whether that will actually cover greenwashing. I'm not sure. But hopefully, they'll be I mean, they're certainly stronger on it through the Competition and Markets Authority.
Jeffrey Hart 54:10
Yeah. Well, I'm conscious that we're at an hour. But I did just want to say one of the things I really enjoyed, again, on your Twitter feed was the city bench. So they it was a bench, which has some vertical moss panels, and they claimed that the bench will absorb 240 metric tonnes of co2 per year.
Jane Anderson 54:37
I think there was I think there was an error somewhere in their calculations, because I wouldn't want to sit anywhere near that bench.
Jeffrey Hart 54:43
Yeah. Really, or what would that actually kind of physically mean?
Jane Anderson 54:49
Well, I mean, wood is wood is about four or 500 kilogrammes per metre cubed. So 240 metric tonnes is 480 metres cubed. Yeah, there was definitely something wrong somewhere in the calculations. But yeah, you'd have to be going on and kind of cutting them off. Yeah, it was. Yeah. It's a mystery. I mean, I think they're great. And I'm sure they do improve air quality, but I'm not entirely convinced that there's questioning that much carbon. And even if they are, what are they doing with it? So it's like, I mean, it grows and it grows. And, you know, and if they then came in, trimmed it, and they took it away, what would what would be happening with it? Majan it would just be going back into the atmosphere again. So yeah,
Jeffrey Hart 55:47
yeah, it's good. I recommend everyone follow you on Twitter. So you get the the updates on calling out inaccuracies and just fraudulent claims?
Jane Anderson 56:00
Yeah, that I do. I mean, that's the thing people need to call people out on these things. I think, you know, just ask the question. How did you measure it? Really?
Jeffrey Hart 56:11
Yeah, I think it comes from a place of, you know, the the people publishing that they, they'd really liked it to be true that there's this desire to sort of save the world. Yeah. Through sort of miracle cures, maybe rather than Yeah,
Jane Anderson 56:28
and I mean, I like this idea of not instead of having kind of grey concrete, nice, Mati green buildings that I do have I have a feed somewhere. That's that's dead living walls. Oh, yeah. We had we had a dead living wall at Bre. And it's not they're not very pretty. And that they, I mean, it hopefully they're getting better. Yeah, sort of if your pump isn't maintained or something gets blocked or dead and quite ugly.
Jeffrey Hart 57:10
Many thanks to Jane, sharing her knowledge and time with us. I particularly enjoyed some of her little side rants, there is a link to Jane's Twitter, which I clearly love. And to her website, and some other bits and bobs. In the show notes, be sure to check those out. I'm pretty sure the LCA tool she mentioned, but couldn't remember the name of is pH ribbon, alongside one click LCA. Again, links in the show notes. I will say a big thank you as well to Mr. John Butler for supplying some question inspiration, be sure to check out episode 63 and 64. To hear John himself speaking. Again, I'll stick some links in the show notes. And then a little tiny house update. So some of my family came to visit last weekend. And so instead of having a moving in celebration, we had a moving the tools out celebration, I have been living in the building site that is my house since the first of January. And oh my goodness, it feels great to have the space just be full of things that I want around me for my general living. If I feel so much more settled, and of course in true self build fashion. I now have zero enthusiasm to finish the last little bit with any luck, then I should have my solar power sorted this week. I feel like I've said that before. I'm ever hopeful. Electricians are hard to come by at the moment. But always ending on big good news. I've installed my bird feeder. And right now there's a woodpecker just jumping away on the peanuts, so life's pretty good. Okay, big love to you all. Until next time, bye bye
Experienced Consultant and Researcher with a demonstrated history of working in sustainable construction. Strong Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Practitioner skilled in Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) development and Verification, benchmarking of construction assemblies, Building level LCA, digitalisation of product environmental data for use in BIM and circular economy and resource efficiency for construction. Co-author of The Green Guide to Specification (various editions) and A Guide to the Embodied Impacts of Construction Products, and experienced in ISO and European Standards development.