The construction of built assets demand a large volume of natural resources and results in significant effects on the natural environment.

Sustainability and the Built Environment

As part of our ongoing commitment to sustainability the MSD Makerspaces has taken a look into the impact our materials have on the environment both during their production and their disposal.

The construction of buildings and built infrastructure assets is a major contributor to global resource demands, waste production, greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions. Therefore, the construction industry has an important role to play in reducing the current and future effects of human activities on the natural environment.

Environmental Flows

The use of natural resources, such as energy, water and raw materials, the generation of waste, and the release of emissions and pollutants are integral to the production of most goods and provision of most services. These environmental flows cover a broad range of resource inputs (i.e. embodied energy, and water) and outputs (i.e. embodied greenhouse gases)to the environment and are considered to be ‘locked in’ once the goods are produced. For example, the embodied environmental flows of a construction project include all flows associated with the production of construction materials, construction activities and the provision of services that support the entire construction process.

Construction results in a broad range of environmental effects that are geographically and temporally dispersed. The type and extent of these effects depend on the scale and type of direct and indirect environmental flows associated with a construction project. Each environmental flow can be converted to an effect on the natural environment, using tools such as a life cycle assessment. This conversion, also known as life cycle impact assessment (LCIA), is necessary as different flows will have different environmental consequences. For example, energy from fossil fuels contributes much more to global warming than renewable energy sources do.

Recyclable: This pertains to the recycling methods available through the MSD Makerspaces

Embodied Energy

The primary energy required by all of the activities associated with a production process and the share of energy used in making equipment and other supporting functions (i.e direct and indirect)

  • Process - Bottom-up industry data of inputs and output to a product system related to specific process, processes or activities

  • IO - Inputs and outputs. Inputs = the resources required by a processes (e.g. energy or raw materials) Outputs = The waste, emissions, materials and products produced by a process

  • Hybrid - The material coefficient based on combining the process and input-output data to produce the hybrid environmental flow coefficient.

Embodied Water

The water required by all of the the activities associated with a production process and the share of water used in making equipment and other supporting functions (i.e. direct and indirect)

Embodied Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The greenhouse gas emissions (in carbon dioxide equivalent) release during all of the activities associated with a production process and the share of emissions associated with making equipment and other supporting functions (ie. direct and indirect)

An Architects Responsibility

The construction sector provides buildings and infrastructure, and ultimately habitat for humanity. But our homes and cities come at a cost, economically and environmentally. Buildings account for more than a third of global energy use, 39% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and create a huge demand for freshwater resources. Construction and demolition waste together, are the largest contributor to landfill.

This represents a unique opportunity to communicate values through the built environment. We can shift from being the problem to being the solution if we dramatically change the way we design and construct our buildings and cities. Understanding how they perform and all environmental flows is the first step.

This starts with a greater awareness of the resource demands and environmental effects that result from our use of construction materials:

  • Select materials with the lowest environmental effects for one or across a range of environmental flows, informing design aimed at maximising project environmental performance;

  • Quantify the embodied environmental flows associated with a construction project or a larger development, and identify areas with greatest potential for improvement;

  • As part of a life cycle assessment to understand the life cycle environmental performance of a construction project and identify areas or life cycle stages with greatest potential for improvement;

  • Demonstrate compliance with specific performance benchmarks.

Material Impact

As part of our ongoing commitment to sustainability the MSD Maker Spaces has taken a look into the impact our materials have on the environment both during their production and their disposal.

This table shows the energy used to make the materials and their disposal methods ranging from the best (green) to the worst (red).

In the early 1990s the late Graham Treloar developed a passion for assessing and improving the environmental performance of buildings. This led him to develop a new method for quantifying the resource flows associated with materials, specifically their embodied energy. He went on to combine process and input-output data, pioneering what is now known as the Path Exchange hybrid approach, which he subsequently used to develop embodied energy coefficients for a range of construction materials.

Embodied Energy (MJ/kg) : This is the amount of energy in Megajoules (MJ) that is required to make one kilogram (kg) of material.

Recyclable: This pertains to the recycling methods available through the MSD Maker Spaces

Biodegradable: Whether or not the material is capable of being broken down by bacteria and other living organisms.

materials with this green tick are recommended.

Materials with this orange sign are alright to use.

Materials with this red sign should be avoided if possible.

All timber types have low embodied energy, they are biodegradable and recyclable.

Any unused timber can go into the free materials shelves or into the firewood bins, these are regularly emptied by people for heating their homes.

Scraps that are glued or painted can go in the blue construction waste bin for landfill as it cannot be burned.

Database of embodied environmental flow coefficients

Waste Management

The waste management hierarchy (WMH) is a tool used in the evaluation of processes that protect the environment alongside resource and energy consumption from most favourable to least favourable actions. The hierarchy establishes preferred program priorities based on sustainability. To be sustainable, waste management cannot be solved only with technical end-of-pipe solutions and an integrated approach is necessary.

The WMH indicates an order of preference for action to reduce and manage waste. The hierarchy captures the progression of a material or product through successive stages of waste management, and represents the latter part of the life-cycle for each product.

The aim of the WMH is to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to generate the minimum amount of waste. The proper application of the waste management hierarchy can have several benefits.

  • help prevent emissions of greenhouse gases

  • reduces pollutants

  • save energy

  • conserves resources

  • create jobs

  • stimulate the development of green technologies

Further Reading

EPiC Database 2019

Open-source modelling tools for Life Cycle Assessment

Academic papers

  • Crawford, R.H., Stephan, A., & Prideaux, F. (2019) A comprehensive database of environmental flow coefficients for construction materials: closing the loop in environmental design. Paper presented at the Revisiting the Role of Architecture for 'Surviving’ Development, Architectural Science Association, Roorkee, India.

  • Stephan, A., Crawford, R.H., & Bontinck, P.-A. (2019) A model for streamlining and automating path exchange hybrid life cycle assessment. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 24(2), 237-252.

  • Crawford, R.H., Stephan, A., & Schmidt, M. (2018) Embodied Carbon in Buildings: An Australian Perspective. In F. Pomponi, C. D. Wolf, & A. Moncaster (Eds.), Embodied Carbon in Buildings. Cham: Springer.

  • Crawford, R.H., Bontinck, P.-A., Stephan, A., Wiedmann, T., & Yu, M. (2018) Hybrid life cycle inventory methods – A review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 172, 1273-1288.

  • Crawford, R.H., Bontinck, P., & Stephan, A. (2018) Establishing a comprehensive database of construction material environmental flow coefficients for Australia. Paper presented at the Engaging Architectural Science: Meeting the Challenges of Higher Density, Architectural Science Association, Melbourne, Australia.

  • Bontinck, P.-A., Crawford, R. H., & Stephan, A. (2017) Improving the uptake of hybrid life cycle assessment in the construction industry. Procedia Engineering, 196, 822-829.

  • Yu, M., Wiedmann, T., Crawford, R., & Tait, C. (2017) The carbon footprint of Australia's construction sector. Procedia Engineering, 180, 211-220.

  • Crawford, R.H., Bontinck, P.-A., Stephan, A., & Wiedmann, T. (2017) Towards an automated approach for compiling hybrid life cycle inventories. Procedia Engineering, 180, 157-166.

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