Life cycle analysis (LCA) is something that's been 'almost ready' to integrate into LEED for some time. Many expected it in the LEED v3 rollouts, but that didn't happen. This afternoon session focused on the new LEED LCA pilot credit (a system which I'll cover in more detail later, for now you can read about it straight from the horse's mouth or rely on the few tidbits I gathered below) and then here was a series of questions/comments from the floor. I apologize for the piecemeal summary you're getting below, but there was minimal presentation and too much 'discussion' that didn't really focus on the topic at hand - getting LCA into LEED. Here's what I learned:
The Basics of the LCA Credit
The pilot credit for LCA is available now, and you can read the draft here. As you might have guessed, there are about a billion issues that go into play when defining life cycle impacts of a product, and defining a system that fairly scores individual products and assemblies was/is remarkably difficult.
The current model is based on the use of the Athena Insitute Ecocalculator, largely due to the fact that they have a system ready to go now. You'll input the products used into their system, which determines the impacts (water, energy, pollution, disposal, toxicity, etc.), and the USGBC has assigned weightings to those categories that determine the scores. The ecocalculator uses an assembly system (wall, roof, floor, etc) where you input your assembly type, then the calculator uses a national average of impacts for the materials comprising that assembly to determine the score. I would suggest reading the Athena site directly if you're interested in more detailed info.
From the manufacturer's end, they have to provide specific product data (embodied energy, greenhouse gas impacts) to the Athena Institute, and then that info is folded into the assembly level data. There was substantial concern in the audience about the transparency and consistency of this process, though there are checks within the Athena Institute.
The Pilot System
"The Pilot Credit system is not currently operational at this point. The way we envisioned it is that project teams would have access to these credits and can use it if they want to." Most notably, you would get awarded a point either way even if you don't earn the point provided the documentation and an additional evaluation that the USGBC would use to modify or streamline the credit process.
Right now only the language for each official credit is online, though the USGBC has developed support materials that will be online later. "We want to give everyone as much notice as possible, and as a result we're releasing thngs in stages... Information on the submission process will be up soon".
Assuming the system is figured out and perfect, it's time to consider what this will replace and how it will fit in to the existing Materials and Resources credit structure. According to the panel, the most likely near term solution will be an either/or 'alternative compliance path'. LCA considers multiple attributes of sustainability all at once, where the current MR credit system focuses on single attributes (recycling, regional sourcing, etc.). In other words you can do the LCA and get 5 points (proposed) OR you could follow the existing credits (the proposal is that it will replace MRc1.1, MRc4, and MRc5) but not both. This is similiar to many compliance paths in LEED-Homes today.
Unfortunately, the session involved a bunch of questions that didn't really clarify what it will take to incorporate this into the LEED project (i.e. the stuff you come here to learn about), and involved a series of passive aggressive comments framed as questions. It's surprising to me how much people focus on the wrong in any given system without seeing the bigger picture of creating a PRACTICAL system for measuring and scoring material impact (of course there were notable exceptions, which were already folded into the comments above).
I'm getting a beer, and anyone who saw the web session I moderated can probably understand why! A special thanks to those of you who stuck it out to the end!