News Brief

Life-Cycle Information on Building Materials

When The American Institute of Architects’ Committee on the Environment first convened, it immediately identified as a top priority the need for information about the environmental impacts of building materials. With funding from the U.S. EPA and the technical expertise of Joel Ann Todd’s Scientific Consulting Group, AIA produced a series of life-cycle-based technical reports that became the core of the

Environmental Resource Guide (ERG).

EBN first reviewed that guide in November 1992.

From the 11 technical reports in that first edition, the

ERG grew to contain a total of 27 reports. Along the way,

EBN’s Alex Wilson and Nadav Malin were hired to develop “Application Reports” for the

ERG, comparing material options in a format that was more accessible to designers than the raw technical information. Shortly after John Wiley & Sons took over publication of the

ERG in 1997, its funding ran dry and further development ceased.

Meanwhile, life-cycle analysis (LCA) of materials in general, and building materials in particular, has come a long way. The evolution of database software and personal computers has made direct access to life-cycle data possible. The Athena™ Environmental Impact Estimator, version 2.0, is leading the way in North America (see page 15 for a review). Another leading tool, Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, has just been released as version 3.0, the first to include product-specific information from manufacturers (look for a full

EBN review soon!). In Europe even more powerful tools are available (see


Vol. 11, No. 3 for further details).

While the power and accessibility of all this great data is exciting, it can also seduce us into confusing information with knowledge—the assumptions used in interpreting the data can affect the results of an analysis, in some cases, as much as the data itself can. There is still no substitute for reading those original

ERG reports or other resources that describe materials’ life-cycles and how they affect the environment.

– NM

Published November 1, 2002

(2002, November 1). Life-Cycle Information on Building Materials. Retrieved from

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