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BEES 2.0--Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability


It’s really exciting to be able to simply jump on the Web and download for free the second version of BEES—a software tool that uses detailed environmental and economic data to compare the relative performance of competing options for 15 common building components (See EBN Vol. 7, No. 5 for a detailed review of BEES 1.0). Improvements to the software tool include a doubling of the number of materials covered, four new environmental impacts, more detailed physical flow reporting, updated environmental and economic data, and lots of user-friendly changes to the workings of the software tool. The Welcome screen now makes important limitations of the program very explicit, and the new Technical Manual and User Guide is worth reading for its introduction to the science of environmental life-cycle analysis alone. There is no question that the software and manual will move any serious user into a better understanding of the issues and methods of this rapidly evolving field.

Unfortunately, there are still a number of serious weaknesses that make BEES more like an interesting work-in-progress than a published tool from a government agency known worldwide for setting standards. These weaknesses involve transparency, methodology, and data quality.

Oddly, the BEES Web site claims that it is designed to be transparent. While some data tables are accessible, they represent only one layer of information and are poorly labeled. The formulas that would explain how the data is used in the program are not provided. Also, because much of the data is proprietary, it is impossible to explore upstream impacts. Our experience was that it is very difficult to verify even simple questions about the source of particular numbers (see bulleted items below). Even people who supplied data to NIST for the program have difficulty determining how their information is being used: “It isn’t transparent, it’s a black box,” reports Martha Van Geem of Construction Technology Laboratories, Inc., who helped provide data on cement and concrete to BEES on behalf of the Portland Cement Association.

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