15 November 2012 — After the triumph of Australian sustainability projects at the World Architecture Festival in early October, international designers and urban planners are looking to Australia to identify exactly what has made these environmentally conscious designs so successful.

Within the industry, interest in ESD measures such as Green Star, eco equivalency and beyond continue to grow as architects and engineers compete for ever more creative ways of combining contemporary architecture with sustainable technologies.

One such technology which finds itself at the forefront is Life Cycle Assessment the key focus of a recent discussion paper released by the Green Building Council Australia. The plan to implement LCA into the council’s national rating system will generate fierce competition with US based LEED and UK’s BREEAM which already offer points for embodied energy data on materials and greater project accuracy.

The development of LCA for the built environment, as in other manufacturing industries, means that carbon emissions can be easily identified and reduced, both in operating the building as well as during construction through the materials and assembly.

Although carbon accounting has been around for a while, the results are often less accurate, as they are based on input/output data which doesn’t take into account the performance or relative costs of individual buildings. The more advanced and comprehensive LCA technologies coming onto the market have taken carbon accounting much further and are now pushing the envelope for greater transparency in an industry which has so far been shielded from such scrutiny.

In a recent study published by The International Journal of Climate Change on ‘Measuring Carbon for Urban Development Planning’, a team of PhD students and lecturers at Curtin and Murdoch universities in WA examined 34 global tools and established two Australian innovations as the clear leaders in the field.

Led by long time sustainability expert and lecturer Professor Peter Newman, the researchers found that the two Aussie front runners offered exciting capabilities to measure infrastructure, development and remote community housing and were internationally the most well equipped options to help designers and planners get to grips with the carbon impacts of urban development. The use of tools such as eTool LCA in mainstream building design will no doubt help to reduce the built environment’s global emissions to well below their current 35 per cent and offers consistent, replicable data to promote low carbon design as the norm.

The study, which set an ambitious and rigorous framework to compare the tools highlighted that “an improved understanding is required of all the components of urban carbon footprint and the sources of CO2-e emissions within the urban system”.

Rather than relying on guesswork and generalisations of true sustainability, these tools offer project specific information and hard data that can enable huge reductions in CO2 emissions and really develop the way we design and build.

Alex Bruce, one of the founding engineers of eTool, believes that LCA will revolutionise green building, saying “we’ve been in this space for three years and our software has gone global really fast because there are just so many people wanting to take building design to the next level. Internationally we’ve assessed all kinds of buildings and our users keep telling us that they can’t believe how quick and easy it is to get that all important low carbon outcome”.

With an estimated two in three people predicted to be living in urban environments by 2040, it seems many in the industry are already looking for innovative technologies such as LCA to start the adaption process for a sustainable future. As the two best tools on the world market turn out to be right here on our doorstep, we’re certainly well equipped to keep the momentum going and have our architecture outshine and outperform as sustainably as possible.

Siobhan McGurrin works at eTool, an environmental design company based in Perth, Western Australia.