Climate Cleanup Sprint Diaries: Sprint 2 — Development
Developing the building material impact tool
We’ve created a decision making tool to easily compare the impact of building materials on CO2 and nitrogen emissions, carbon storage, biodiversity, wellbeing and the weight of the house. This tool shows that bio-based materials can transform buildings into carbon sinks. In this Sprint Diaries Series we share how we did it.
The goals of Sprint 2
- Collect data for each material based on impact categories outlined in Sprint 1
- Redefine model houses from Sprint 1.
- Create an open-data api to serve data to the tool
- Design and build an interface for the tool based on insights gained in Sprint 1
- Communicate outcomes of Sprint 0 & 1 on the LifeLab
In week 1 of sprint 2 the team defined the requirements for the dataset on bio-based building materials. The dataset was filled with existing data from NIBE and Holland Houtland and expanded to include new materials and new impact categories. In the absence of nationally recognized frameworks for specific materials, desk-research was used to ascertain which data source is most appropriate, also considering EU (EN-norm based) data. All data sources were recorded and entered into the database for reference. The Open Data bio-based, hybrid & conventional materials are stored and structured in a google sheet that will be available for public use.
Impact categories and indicators
The current assessment model is based on 5 impact categories divided into two groups, social and ecological. Each category has one or more impact indicators. The main task of sprint 2 was to ensure that each indicator is assigned a unit of measurement and a value based on a reliable source. These sources need to be defendable in the face of scrutiny as the credibility of the tool will be based on the rigour of the dataset.
The main challenge was to find datasets which represent each of the impact categories for each of the materials. As there are no existing datasets, we needed to find creative ways to fill this knowledge gap. This task becomes much more approachable when we take inspiration from the drawdown method of meta-analysis which takes into account the lack of data sometimes available. It is important to bear in mind that this database will evolve over many iterations and become more precise and detailed over time.
Stored carbon reflects the total CO2 equivalent that remains stored in bio-based materials on site after construction. It remains stored (out of the atmosphere) for as long as the building stands and the material exists.
Carbon taken out of the atmosphere by biological or technological processes. Once a reasonable duration of storage is expected (IPCC standards prescribe 100 years or more), sequestered carbon can be considered stored.
Life Cycle CO2
The Life Cycle Carbon dioxide embodied carbon dioxide reflects the total CO2 equivalent emitted from cradle to gate. This data is included in the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of each individual product. Many analysts use the term embodied carbon, however this is becoming increasingly confusing as actual carbon storage is considered, because ‘embodied’ sounds like the carbon that is in the actual ‘body’ of the material.
Now increasingly confusing term used by LCA analysts to describe all energy and other emissions that went into the production of a product or material. See ‘Life Cycle CO2’.
Nitrogen Transport Emissions
The nitrogen emissions for each material are based on the total weight of the material and the distance travelled.
Biodiversity impact is measured in kg 1,4 dichlorobenzene (1,4-DB) eq. This is based on the ReCipe approach developed by RIVM, but is a lighter implementation due to data gaps across materials databases. We use the ReCiPe method to create a compound score to be derived from LCA impact categories. This lightweight approach allows us to create a basic preliminary assessment based on existing EPD and LCA assessments. Indicators used are land toxicity, freshwater toxicity and saltwater toxicity. Data is obtained from product LCA’s.
- Including biodiversity in life cycle assessment — State of the art, gaps and research needs
- PBAF: Paving the way towards a harmonised biodiversity accounting approach for the financial sector
In this case we consider wellbeing as a psychosocial indicator based on consumer preferences towards climate positive goods and services. Empirical evidence indicates that practices linked to reducing the environmental impact are compatible with high levels of wellbeing. A positive score is given when negative carbon emissions for the whole house are reached.
- Guillen-Royo, M. (2019). Sustainable consumption and wellbeing: Does on-line shopping matter?. Journal of Cleaner Production, 229, 1112–1124.
- Qualitative comparative analysis (QCA)
- Hout en de mens, Daan Bruggink.
Alternative building materials come at a higher monetary cost than traditional materials due to market demand and scalability. Due to the fluctuation of building material prices per project we have omitted affordability as an impact category in this version. Initial research suggests that alternative building materials carry a premium of around 8% above average.
Open Data API
In week one of sprint #2 the team defined which information technologies should be used to create the biobased building materials database. This choice was made based on the expected size of the database, data-structure, expected database queries load vs cost per query, future proofing for python integration etc. The choice was between SQL vs noSQL approaches to structured and unstructured data. In the end we made the choice for the Firebase Realtime Database. This is a cloud-hosted NoSQL database that lets you store and sync data between users in realtime and remains available when the app goes offline.
Assessment model visualisation
We incorporate the Doughnut of Kate Raworth into our assessment framework, with the main impact categories CO2, nitrogen, biodiversity, well-being, and affordability. The indicators required for each material are organized in a sunburst format diagram showing nested impact categories. There are three category levels: Impact category > Benefit Pathway > Assessment Indicator. This is to create layers of simplicity within the tool.
Assessment tool UI
In this Sprint we also created a material wiki with product descriptions and additional technical data of all the different building materials in the tool. The images, descriptions and current pros of cons of each material will help visualize the benefits of bio-based materials. The data will be available inside the tool.
During the developmental process we’ve been in contact with numerous knowledge partners, amongst others NIBE, NEN, The Green Village, Bloc, Nice Developers, Sawa, TNO, Platform M3 Architecten, ORGA architect, Stichting Nationale Koolstofmarkt, Dutch Green Building Council, ASN bank, gemeente Capelle aan den Ijssel, BouwN, EkoFlin and Strotec.
Next up in Sprint 3
- User Testing on function, content, navigation, interaction and lay-out, especially with workshops etc.
- Look at a real world test case scenario
- Link back to Oncra transactions — possibly creating Carbon Certificates
- Data Validation by third parties
- Write-up assessment methodology
- Delivery of the LifeLab website
This tool is commissioned by the Province of South-Holland and is collaboratively executed by Holland Houtland and Climate Cleanup. Stay up-to-date by subscribing to our newsletter and learn more about our interventions on https://lifelab.oncra.org/.
Go to previous Sprints
- Why we built a building material impact assessment tool
- Sprint 0 — Exploring the bio-based building ecosystem
- Sprint 1— The conditions for change in the building industry