THE METAL-CONSTRUCTION industry is working toward establishing an accurate understanding of metal’s role in sustainability. Life-cycle assessment, a tool that considers the entire value chain involved in producing a product, is on the rise because it may help identify how much impact a product or process has on the environment. Because of this, metal-product manufacturers are creating LCAs of their products. According to the Washington, D.C.- based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, LCA includes four components:
1. Goal definition and scope: Define and describe the product to be assessed and prepare boundaries and environmental eff ects to be reviewed.
2. Inventory analysis: Identify and quantify use of water, energy and materials, as well as the corresponding emissions and waste. Numbers used for this can be company or product specifi c or compiled from industry averages.
3. Impact assessment: Explain the human and environmental effects of the inventory analysis.
4. Interpretation: Evaluate the results.
Although the LCA of a product with a single attribute is easy to calculate, many metal-construction products have multiple attributes or are complex to manufacture, making calculating LCA more complicated. Going through the LCA process, however, can spawn a new way of thinking, including improved decision-making, opportunities for communication with supply-chain partners and end users, improved relationships with stakeholders and regulators, and production effi ciencies. LCA recognizes several attributes of metal, such as its long use, low VOCs, durability and recyclability. Metal generally is not downcycled, which is when a material loses quality during the recycling process and is made into components for something other than its original use. Metal’s recyclability also prevents the mining and processing of virgin materials. Despite metal’s sustainable attributes, there still are many questions surrounding metal and LCA. Th e Glenview, Ill.-based Metal Construction Association is working through its Technical Committee and newly formed Sustainability Committee to ensure the correct data about metal and appropriate assemblies’ inventories are included in databases used by the various LCA calculators. MCA Technical Director, Scott Kriner, says, “As an association, we need to identify the data that needs to be collected and understand how the information can be used before we launch into any LCA program for our members.” Manufacturers of metal-construction materials must be knowledgeable about the impact of their products as LCA continues to be examined in the design and construction industry.
Metal Construction Association Glenview, Ill., www.metalconstruction.org
• Sustainability Committee
• Technical Committee
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Washington, D.C., www.epa.gov/NRMRL/lcaccess/lca101.html