The complex but vital area of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was the focus of a recent training program sponsored by the Metal Construction Association.

The August 20 session in Chicago drew close to 50 attendees and was presented exclusively for MCA members by Jennifer Cooper and Jeff Yorzyk of Five Winds International, a multidisciplinary consulting firm specializing in working with clients on strategic decision-making that considers a range of environmental, operational and competitive factors related to sustainable development.

They describe LCA as an assessment tool that considers the entire value chain involved in producing a product. Creating an LCA for a product requires life cycle thinking, which Cooper and Yorzyk say involves looking at quantifiable areas and evaluating the total impact of a product on the environment.

In part, LCA’s increased visibility was brought about by the US Green Building Council’s intent to eventually award points in its LEED rating system for selecting construction products or entire buildings whose LCA values meet a certain level. An LCA calculation is generally based on an assessment tool that generates a single numerical value for assemblies or entire buildings.

“At this point LCA is not going to necessarily answer all the questions, but it will enable you to identify significant environmental impacts, as well as benefits and priorities, and put you in a better position to answer questions you may get about your products,” Cooper told MCA members.

MCA Technical Director Scott Kriner organized this initial session and identified a need for further work on the topic.

“Based on the very positive response and obvious need for additional information we will move forward on this program to bring LCA to the attention of our Sustainability Committee and our Technical Committee. It is important for our industry and for our members to get the correct data for the appropriate assemblies inventoried in the databases used by the different LCA calculators. As an association we need to identify the data that need to be collected and understand how the information can be used before we launch into any LCA program for our members,” Kriner said.