End-of-life modelling of buildings to support more informed decisions towards achieving circular economy targets

Sahar Mirzaie, Mihaela Thuring, Karen Allacker

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Abstract

Purpose: Life cycle assessment (LCA) is an internationally accepted method to assess the environmental impacts of buildings. A major methodological challenge remains the modelling of the end-of-life stage of buildings and allocation of benefits and burdens between systems. Various approaches are hence applied in practice to date. This paper compares the two methods widely renowned in Europe—the EC product environmental footprint (PEF) method and the CEN standards: EN 15804+A1 and EN15978—and offers insights about their fitness for achieving circularity goals.

Methods: The EC PEF method and the CEN EN 15804/EN 15978 standards were methodologically analysed with a focus on the end-of-life modelling and allocation approach and were applied to a building case study. The EN 15804+A1 standard explains the guidelines but does not offer a modelling formula. Accordingly, this paper proposes a formula for the CEN standards using identical parameters as in the end-of-life circular footprint formula (CFF) of the EC PEF Guidance v6.3 to increase consistency among LCA studies. The calculation formulas were then applied to a newly constructed office building. A comparative analysis of both the implementation and results are described, and recommendations are formulated.

Results: In the absence of databases compatible with the two LCA methods and comprising all building products, the Ecoinvent datasets had to be remodelled to enable a comparative modular assessment. This proved to be a laborious process. The EC PEF method and CEN standards showed similar impacts and hotspots for the case study building. The module D in the CEN standards includes a significant share of positive impacts, but due to collective accounting, it does not clearly communicate these benefits. The summation of burdens and benefits in the EC PEF method reduces its transparency, while the allocation and quality factors enable this method to better capture the market realities and drive circular economy goals.

Conclusions: The construction sector and the LCI database developers are encouraged to create the missing LCA databases compatible with the modular and end-of-life allocation modelling requirements of both methods. More prescriptive and meticulous guidelines, with further harmonization between the EC PEF method and the CEN standards and their end-of-life allocation formula, would largely increase comparability and reliability of LCA studies and communications. To improve transparency, it is recommended to report the module D impacts per life cycle stage as per the CEN standards and the burdens and benefits separately for each life cycle stage as per the EC PEF method.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2122-2139
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Volume25
Issue number11
Early online date15 Sep 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

Keywords

  • Circular footprint formula (CFF)
  • EN 15804/EN 15978 CEN standards
  • End-of-life (EoL) allocation
  • Life cycle assessment (LCA)
  • Product environmental footprint (PEF)
  • Sustainable building

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)

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