Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) are science-based studies designed to measure the environmental impact of a product through its entire life cycle. The objective of an LCA is to examine and uncover all the important environmental factors involved in the production, use and disposal of a product – a “cradle-to-grave” analysis that yields what is called an ecoprofile. In the case of roofing products, some of the important criteria an LCA examines include:
- Material Extraction Costs: Environmental impact of obtaining and transporting raw materials.
- Manufacturing Waste: The amount of wastewater and solid waste generated during the manufacture of the finished roofing product
- Hazardous Waste: The amount of toxic emissions resulting from the extraction of raw materials, manufacture and transport of the finished product, and installation of the roofing system.
- Embedded Energy: The amount of energy required to extract, transport, manufacture, deliver, install, maintain and discard a roofing product during its life cycle.
- Recycling and Re-use: The potential for a used roofing product to be recycled or re-used in another form.
LCAs are very complex, and results can vary depending on methodology, underlying assumptions and, unfortunately, the source of funding. LCAs are used today primarily as guidelines for establishing or defining standards, and in the design phase of product development. The U.S. Green Building Council has formed a task group to study the feasibility of applying LCA findings toward practical use in building and construction. Various other industry groups have already concluded that, while LCAs are interesting and useful as guidelines, they are not likely to be adopted for practical purposes by the building and construction industry.
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