Below is the text version of the video "Challenges of Assessing Life Cycle Impacts of Buildings." See the video.
Good morning, or early afternoon, everyone. You are joining the Building Technologies Office webinar series on the life cycle energy and related impacts of buildings. We are seeing some more and more folks coming online. We're going to give them another minute or two before we get started, so stay tuned.
OK, everyone, we are going to get this party started here. You are joining the Building Technologies Office webinar series on the challenges of assessing life cycle impacts of buildings. My name is Karma Sawyer. I'm the program manager for emerging technologies in the Building Technologies Office. It's a great, great day for a webinar on a new topic for BTO, and we're really excited to see so many people joining us. Before we jump into things, I do want to let you all know that this webinar is being recorded. So you're welcome -- you're all muted now and you're welcome to stay on mute, but if you turn your webinar or your webcam on or speak, that is consent for being included in the recording that will be posted after the webinar is complete. So consider this your warning. You can choose to conduct yourselves however you see fit. But with that disclaimer aside, we're going to go ahead and get started. Next slide, please.
So here is the agenda for today. As I said my name is Karma Sawyer and I'll be giving some opening remarks before handing it over to my colleague Lyla Fadali, who will be talking about an introduction to life cycle carbon assessments for buildings. Then we have an exciting panel of experts that we've invited to join the discussion today. Jennifer O'Connor is the president of the Athena Institute and will be talking about the whole building life cycle analysis. Hao Cai is a principal environmental analyst at Argonne National Lab. He'll be talking about building life cycle analysis with the Greek tool. And then Joshua Kneifel is a research economist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who will be discussing metrics and tools for sustainable buildings. There's a Q and A session that Cedar Blazek, one of my colleagues at BTO, will be leading at the end of the webinar. So please stick around for the whole discussion because after these great presentations from experts in the field, I think there'll be a lot of good, good Q and A to be had. Next slide, please.
So as I said, this is a webinar in a series. We are in webinar number two of a five-webinar series on the topic of building life cycle impacts. We'll be discussing today the challenges of assessing the life cycle impacts of buildings. We had an overview webinar two weeks ago that I would encourage you to go check out. It's on BTO's website. And we have three more coming on the pipe. So we're hoping that you are going to be able to attend as many of these as possible, but we do want to make the slides and recordings available for everyone to see. So if you're not able to make it, you will still be able to get the materials, because what we really want to do here is open up a conversation with all of the stakeholders of the Building Technologies Office on this area the BTO hasn't been engaged so much yet. So we want to share what we've learned, and we really want to open up a conversation with all of you. So don't miss it. Next slide, please.
OK, we have a poll to get us started. So question: What industry are you from? Who is this that we are talking to today? So please take a minute to select one of the bullets we have here so we can see who's joining us today.
All right, we have a great mix of people. It looks like most are government folks with a number of people coming from the corporate and consulting world. So this is great. A lot of different perspectives coming into the conversation. And I'm looking forward to seeing what we can learn from each other. Next slide, please.
Another question: How familiar are you -- I'm sorry, how familiar are you with life cycle assessment tools or other resources for addressing the life cycle impact decisions in buildings?
Don't forget to enter the tools that you have worked with into the chat so we can get a sense of what people are doing up there in the world.
All right, it looks like we have a number of people that are kind of like me, that are aware of some of the tools, or have limited familiarity with the tools but get the idea. I'm glad that we have some folks that are more familiar with it. We look forward to hearing what your thoughts are on these two things and how BTO can help advance your work. Thank you all for giving us this feedback; it's super, super valuable for me and certainly for our panelists so they know who we'll be talking to later. So I'm gonna just switch gears a little bit now, give you a bit of an introduction to the Building Technologies Office. So Building Technologies at the Department of Energy is focused on energy efficiency and buildings. And that is because our homes and buildings use more energy than any other sector. I love to say that at BTO, and I'm saying at EERE, efficiency is clean. We care deeply about it and we're really proud of the impacts we've made in advancing energy efficiency at the Building Technologies Office. Next slide, please.
So at the Building Technologies Office we work across a broad spectrum of activities to advance energy efficiency in buildings. That includes R and D, that is research into pre-competitive technologies, next-generation technologies, to advance energy efficiency and demand flexibility in buildings, technology validation, testing and market integration activities in both residential and commercial buildings, as well as codes and standards work, some of which is regulatory authority where we have binding minimum efficiency standards, some of which is technical assistance on the code side. It's a large budget. We managed 285 million dollars in fiscal year '20 to cover this huge suite of activities that are have been very -- been really impactful in changing energy use in buildings because of this work. Next slide, please.
So one of our favorite stories to talk about in how DOE research has saved energy and saved money in many of your lives is the refrigerator. Years ago, you'll remember the refrigerator -- it probably looks like the one that I had as a kid -- that was small, had very few purchases, was expensive to purchase and expensive to operate. And today we are looking at refrigerators that have more features, are less expensive to buy, less expensive to operate, and are bigger. This is exactly what I want to see in in the world of energy efficiency. We want to save people money and energy and give them more services, because we're investing in technologies and in market transformation activities that can really meet the needs of the American taxpayers. So we're talking here half the price, 20 bigger, 75 percent less energy, and more cool things that these refrigerators do. You want to think about ways that all sorts of different technologies and buildings can tell a similar story. This is like sharing pictures of our grandkids here. We love talking about kind of the stories you can imagine in buildings. Another great one is solid-state lighting, LEDs. DOE has had a great impact in lighting energy used in buildings because of our investments in research on solid-state lighting. But I'm not going to go on and on about this stuff. You can check out our website. Next slide, please.
Oh, oh, look at that, the future. I didn't even go that far, but the future is better. Yeah, but I want to talk about our impact on national scale, though. Just the energy-efficiency standards that have been completed through 2016 are expected to save 142 quadrillion Btu through 2030. That is more energy than the entire nation consumes in one year. Energy efficiency matters a lot. It's saving money and energy and having a huge impact on climate change. And we're really proud of our work at BTO. That all being said, next slide, please.
We are missing part of this picture, and that's what we're here to talk about today. BTO does not generally look at a full life cycle picture when we think about energy and carbon impacts of buildings. So we've been doing some research. We've been thinking a lot about what we can do to have a more comprehensive picture of the impacts we can make in buildings. Today's discussion is going to be about data, tools and measurements that need to be done to be able to make a real impact on this larger framework for building. The idea here is that in order to act on carbon emissions in this life cycle thinking, we need to be able to actually understand what those life cycle emissions are. Decision makers, designers, they're going to need to be able to make reasonable comparisons between products. We need to be able to, in order to assign value to the lower carbon product, because their carbon and embodied carbon is lower. You can't measure -- I'm sorry, you can't manage what you can't measure. So we've been thinking quite a bit about this. It's one of the areas of BTO, this area of data and measurement, one of the areas that BTO could be involved in and could help advance the work around, but it's something that we need to be able to think more and more about, and getting feedback and having discussions with stakeholders like all of you is a key part of it, which is why we wanted to have this webinar series. So that's all for me. Thank you all for letting me kick off this awesome webinar. I'm going to hand it over to my colleague Lyla to explain some of our thinking and our preliminary research into this space. Thanks for the invitation, Lyla; I really appreciate it.
Thanks. Thank-you so much for the introduction, Karma. So before I continue I have a piece of business, which is that I'm a AAAS policy fellow in the Building Technologies Office at the Department of Energy. However, today I'm acting in my personal capacity and everything that I say represents my own view and does not represent the views of the Department of Energy, the U.S. government, or the other organizations associated with my fellowship, AAAS or ORISE. OK, take a deep breath after that one.
So as Karma was saying, the work that we've been doing in buildings has been making a difference, but there's part of the emissions picture that we've been missing. So historically our office has focused on operating buildings, the emissions associated with operating buildings. But you can see that there's a pretty big slice of of emissions associated with buildings that comes from building construction. It's really important that we address this because global building stock is expected to more than double by 2060. So if we want to be able to address the emissions associated with building those new buildings, we need to act now. So that's why we need to be looking at at the full picture. We need to look at life cycle carbon, which is simply the carbon emissions associated with all stages of a building's life. So it includes both operational carbon, which is where our office office has historically focused its efforts, and it includes embodied carbon, which is the emissions associated with all these other stages of a building's life, from extracting raw materials to demolition or reuse and recycling. So this idea sounds straightforward enough in the abstract. You just figure out what the emissions are for all of these different stages and you add them up and then you've got a number, and if you're like -- if you're a building designer and you're trying to choose between two building products like two insulation materials or two furnaces, you just choose the one with lower life cycle carbon, right? Well, when it comes to actually doing a life cycle assessment, things get complicated really quickly. So like if, let's say, we are thinking about something like insulation materials or furnaces. Where did the raw materials come from that went into that product? Like different mining operations have different carbon intensities. Same for manufacturing. So probably I'm not going to be able to pinpoint exactly which facility things came from. So maybe I'm going to end up using some kind of industry average. And then if I'm trying to distinguish between different products on the market, that can make it hard to really get an accurate answer. And if I don't know which facilities things are coming from, then how far am I going to assume that materials traveled from where they were extracted to the manufacturer and from the manufacturer to the construction site? What if I'm thinking about something like insulation? Different kinds of insulation materials may require different amounts of materials. I need to make sure I'm taking that into account. I'm thinking about a furnace. How am I going to assume that it's operating over its lifetime? Like how many hours a day is it running? How many months for the year? And like maybe I should account for climate change and the weather changing over time of the building's life. How long am I going to assume that the building stands, that it's functioning? Is it -- am I going to assume 30 years? Am I going to assume 100 years? You can imagine that's going to have a pretty big impact on the numbers that I get out.
And then finally when the building's life comes to an end, do materials go to landfill, or are they reused or recycled? And if they're reused or recycled is it all going to be reused or recycled? Probably not. Maybe at some percentage. But then what percentage am I going to assume history used to recycle? And then for that matter, if it's reused or recycled then do those emissions belong with this product, or do they belong with the next product? So this is really just scratching the surface, but hopefully I've gotten you to think about how many assumptions are involved in doing a life cycle assessment. So the the good news is that there are a variety of resources out there to help do this, and our speakers today are all experts working on different tools, different lifecycle assessment tools, so they can help us understand both the challenges and complexity of doing lifecycle assessment as well as how their tools can help with it, help with that process and help manage this complexity. Finally I want to emphasize something that Karma said, which is that it's really important that we tackle this complexity because if we want to be able to address life cycle carbon emissions, then we need to know what they are. If we want designers to be able to make comparisons between products and choose low-carbon products, they need to be able to do that in a reasonable and accurate way. And with that I will hand it over to our first panelist. Thank-you.
And can everyone hear me OK? Can I get a little thumbs-up or a yes? ... Super. I was just having trouble with my microphone yesterday and I wanted to test it out. All right, well, thanks, everyone. I'm Jennifer O'Connor and I'm with the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute. We're a long-standing non-profit research and advocacy group in LCA for the construction sector. And we do a lot of public service work like providing free software tools for the sector. So I'm going to build on that intro that we just heard from Lyla, do a speed introduction to whole building LCA, and talk about this free software tool we have called the Impact Estimator for Buildings.
Like an advanced slide, OK. When we do LCA we're going through an analytical process that ends up with a set of results that tell us something about the impact on the environment of the object we're studying. And those results are a set of metrics that express potential impacts on air, land and water due to the object that we're studying. I've shown some of the most common ones on the screen here. What we end up with in LCA, with global warming potential being of particular interest these days -- that's the metric that expresses carbon footprint. Sometimes we're calling that embodied carbon lately. And we call this life cycle assessment because ideally the study is encompassing the full life of the object from cradle to grave.
So LCA is a valuable tool to figure out where in the product system the big impacts are happening, where in the physical object or where in the life cycle. So we can focus our attention there and not get distracted by the small stuff. And it helps us rationalize sustainability decisions so we can quantify and validate them, instead of relying on things that sound like they might be green. But it's tricky and especially for a complicated and long-lived product like a building. And the reason it's tricky is, in a nutshell, because there are so many variations and gaps and inconsistencies in the information and the methods that we use that it means there's a big potential for uncertainty or even for error. And the bottom line is to remember that it's an estimating sign. So we use it as a guide post. It helps us make broad brush decisions and helps us raise our understanding of basic environmental impacts.
OK, here's a slide where I'd like to introduce some terminology that's really important to whole building LCA. LCA is about the life cycle, and it means we're doing a holistic complete assessment. And this slide is expressing that the language that we use to characterize the life cycle phases in a building. And it's really important to include all of those phases, and that's why we call it life cycle assessment, for a couple of key reasons that I'll highlight. One is so that we don't miss any impacts in any of the life phases, but also so that we don't shift a burden from one life phase to another. In other words, something that might look good. If we just focus on that cradle-to-gate product stage that A1 to A3 might look good there, but it might have huge impacts in terms of product replacement. And we wouldn't want to miss that. So this is the language that we use to describe the life cycle phases.
And then I want to roll here into how full building LCA works and doing this in the context of how we do it with our whole building LCA tool, the Impact Estimator. That tool, by the way, has been around since 2002 and is used widely for all kinds of projects at any project stage. I mentioned as well, we also have a web app called Pavement LCA that does the same thing for roadways and other paving projects. So LCA involves a number of steps and a lot of data. For a whole building LCA the primary input is the quantities of of materials in the building. For our software, we also take other inputs from users like location and kind of building and so forth, and that helps us with the assumptions we make about the other life phases. Then we tap into this big database where we have a life cycle inventory. That's the fundamental environmental data about materials, products, energy, transportation, so forth. And then we have data about what's called scenarios in LCA. And those are the assumptions about the other life phases, what's going to happen down the road. And then we end up with these LCA results. The data is really important in terms of how complete it is, how up to date it is, and how consistent it is. And not all tools work this way. We think that this is important for consistency and reliability of the results.
I'll just walk you through quickly a few screenshots of the impact estimator, give you a flavor of it. You begin by choosing the closest city, and that's so we can regionalize your results. And this is where you tell us about other things. And you can optionally enter operating energy if you want that included in your results. Then the software needs a bill of materials from you, so you can either let the tool calculate one for you, if you don't have one based on some fundamental information about loads and spans and so forth. Or you can import one from another source. Maybe you have a BIM file. And then you go through a process that's shown on the screen here where you're going to map those materials that you've imported to the kind of labeling that the software tool needs. You can add any materials you like. You can add custom concrete mixes, which is important. And then you'll get results that look something like this, not terribly exciting but there's your LCA results across all those like phases that I mentioned before. And the metric's probably not showing well on your screen because it's quite small. Let me show you a graph that might read better. So all those results that we can put out here can be displayed any number of ways, or export it to Excel and you can graph it or display it any way you like. If you've entered operating energy as one of your inputs, you can do an embodied versus operating comparison like we're showing on the slide here. And a really powerful feature is the ability to do side-by-sides. So you know, option A or option B on the design, and do that comparison. And as well this is what you would need to do if you want to earn the points in LEED, which are available if you do.
LCA, if you do the LCA credit in LEED. I'm just looking through. I'm conscious of my time and I'm probably running close to my limit. But I do want to hit this slide, which is understanding the reliability issues for any whole building LCA study, no matter what tour or what method. Remember that there's a margin of error. And that's because it's an estimated science. It's based on incomplete data. It's based on assumptions. And so that's why we use it as a guide post and not an absolute. And there's a need to be especially careful if modeling only part of the life cycle. So the life cycle stages, the comprehensiveness of that is important. The bill of materials. How accurate and complete was your bill of materials for the building. And then perhaps most importantly, that background data and that process data. How accurate and consistent and comprehensive is all of that. Other challenges include user skill and understanding what they're looking at when they get results. And how to apply that. And those are things that all need to be addressed as part of the full building LCA technical infrastructure, because LCA is such a powerful tool. But it's not used that much in the market and policy could really help move that forward, however, policy requires many of these elements in the technical infrastructure background to get addressed. And many of these are missing or or inadequate. I'll just close with the contact slide to let you know that I can't possibly do this subject -- I can't do it justice in eight minutes. So we have a lot of LCA information on our website. Downloading our free tools, that's the place to go. We've got a nice white paper there on can we address this stuff in policy for example, and a lot more stuff. So I will stop there.
So should I just go ahead and get started? ... OK, this is Hao Cai for Argonne. I'm a life cycle environmental analyst at the systems assessment center, led by Michael Wong at our Argonne National Lab. I'm glad to share some of our research experience doing building life cycle analysis with our lifecycle analysis model called grids.
I'd like to just start with reiterating the importance of addressing embodied carbon as a way to fill in the gaps to provide a full picture of addressing entire energy and emission performance of buildings. And highlight the importance of addressing embodied carbon through life cycle analysis as an integral part of strategies over pursuing tuning near zero energy mission performance of buildings and building designs, especially when we have seen progresses in driving down energy consumption due to stricter energy code for building.
And in our building lifecycle analysis, we typically try to provide a comprehensive holistic understanding and looking at the cradle-to-grave entire embodied impacts associated with energy and material requirements along the supply chain of producing some building components or developing some building technology solutions. So we need to take into account all the details around the energy of material inputs that may be required to produce a product, get the product constructed as part of the building, and get into the use phase and eventually go into the end of life phase. We take into account not only the direct emissions associated with process energy consumption but at the same time we also consider material requirements that are required to produce that material. And we take particular consideration of the life cycle associated with these materials, which have their own life cycle impacts as well.
And the way we produce analysis and generate a life cycle insight is to leverage the life cycle analysis model we have been developing in the past couple of decades, which we have been focusing on addressing fuel systems, vehicle technologies, obviously in the transportation sector. So the great model we have been developed at Argonne has been widely used for that purpose. Here we have been expanding a great tool with support from Building Technologies Office recently to start to look at embodied carbon implications of a wide range of building materials. Here is just a snapshot of our recent efforts to start to look at the embodied implications of insulation materials that have been developed by BTO research programs such as the Advanced Building Construction initiative. And here is the example of the type of lifecycle results we can develop with our analysis. For example, for somewhat normal insulation materials such as vacuum insulation panel compared to the counter counterpart of ancient foam insulation materials such as expanding or extruding the polystyrene. And this type of lifecycle analysis results could then help provide a critical insight for building architects and designers for their material choices in their building design. And at the same time could shed light on and provide guidance on further on the research for many of building technologies that would most likely involve certain types of these insulation materials.
And in order to do so and generate life cycle results and insights like that, we have to tackle a couple of major challenges. Here I'd like to highlight three major challenges based upon our initial efforts in the past several months. The first one is around the methodologies. As Jennifer mentioned, there are typical life cycle system boundaries that being recommended for consideration in analysis to address the holistic comprehensive embodied carbon impacts. However, sometimes different lifestyle analysis assessment may choose a different lifecycle stages. So it is important to make sure and clarify and make it clear the system boundary we are working with to address individual building components. And at the same time it's important to define a performance-based functionality to address different building materials to reflect their design functionality. For example instrumentation material. We need to take into account their thermal performance over their service life.
And the second analysis challenge is we have identified try to address is really focusing on build data, which consists of -- which include making sure we have consistent, reliable and comprehensive background information that will be leveraged and used in addressing a wide variety of building materials. For example, process energy such as electricity natural gas. And many common materials that could be utilized and required to produce both ingredients and the finished product for buildings. And at the same time we also focus on compile and collect and embed the so-called foreground front-end data focusing on the first-hand process level detail that energetic material information across the supply chain of giving building components in order to capture the impact of these direct inputs, in order to produce that building component.
Here, just a quick example of highlighting the effort of compile with and develop both background and the foreground information required to address information material. For example, expanded polystyrene here. So it's a lot of work to collect the most updated comprehensive and detailed data, in order to fade into the model to do the detailed analysis.
And the third challenge that I highlight here is really to make sure we have the effective and useful tool that could take into account a consistent methodology and leverage the comprehensive and consistent data set developed in order to address building components. Now here we have been expanding our great lifecycle model to incorporate new modeling capabilities and the data set in order to address new building materials and technology solutions in order to provide transparent and consistent lifecycle results for building components and technologies.
And here I just would like to share a couple of slides to give you a quick flavor of how our newly developed building and lifecycle module within the grid material cycle module and how it look like and what kind of key functionality it will offer. And here we have been focusing on developing the modeling capabilities to address building components and materials, which are literally the fundamental building blocks that's required for us to eventually transition to addressing the whole buildings in terms of the embodied energy emission impact. And at this point we have been focusing on developing the calculations, make sure things are calculated correctly, and we can model individual building components consistently with the data set and the consistent methodology. And we have developed a better version at this point and continue to enhance the modeling features, improve the robustness, and continue to build data set so that we can continue to expand the model to be able to address not a wider range of building components and technologies.
And here is just a quick overview of the user graphical interface that we developed for in our building as a module. Here the user has that opportunity to click through these buttons across the supply chain depending on the specified system boundary that Heosh would like to work with. And he will be able to provide detailed process level energy and material requirement to address a direct impact as well as addressing interesting impacts leveraging the background data, or defining new datasets to address individual or unique lifecycle issues associated with some of the lifecycle stages. And one of the key functionality we have been focusing on developing with this new modeling tool is to ensure we can address new building materials and technologies. So here is a quick overview of how the user could click on the button to define new components and start with each of the lifecycle stages to provide detailed information in order to estimate the embodied carbon energy impact of that particular building component. And finally the user will be able to quickly jump to a dashboard, which summarize the detailed lifecycle results, and be able to quickly interpret the details of the embodied energy or embodied carbon emissions of that model the building component. And here the user can also very easily compare a range of building materials and visualize them in a way to either interpret or compare the embodied carbon energy impacts among these building materials. And the user can also dig deeper to understand the key drivers at the component or process energy level together with insights on the contributions by different lifecycle stages. So we will continue to develop this model and develop the data set and improve the user features such as yearly and quick sensitivity analysis, electrical analysis, and adjacency indirect impacts associate some of the next lifecycle studies so that we can capture the full picture but only supply gm for building components. So we hope to eventually draw out a public version of our module in the near future to benefit as a community and engage with the stakeholders to make this tool more useful for the community. So with that I'll stop here and if we have time we'll begin to take a question to you.
All right. Hi, my name is Josh Kneifel. I'm an economist in the engineering lab at NIST. I lead a project called Metrics and Tools for Sustainable Buildings.
And really the goal of the project is to assist stakeholders in making more sustainable decisions. We do that through standards-based information metrics data and tools that are in a form that someone can actually use. That's really kind of our target.
And we use a number of different criteria in terms of evaluating sustainability. The two main ones that we use, lifecycle costing for the economic side of things, because if something's not economically viable it's not really sustainable. And then also we use lifecycle impact assessment, which is kind of the focus here today for environmental and human health impacts. But when you're looking at whole buildings, you also have to account for energy performance, indoor air quality, thermal comfort, and we do that through whole building simulation.
And it has already been talked about: There's quite a few challenges trying to quantify life cycle impacts, particularly life cycle assessment results. It's already hard to quantify. That's already been been discussed. It also can be hard to communicate this information, making sure that it's presented in a useful way, and kind of help guide decisions and how to interpret those results to making those choices. And something I'll really focus on that we've really seen when trying to develop software tools using life cycle assessment, is things are constantly changing. The demand from industry is changing. The technologies and buildings change, as well as the technologies to actually evaluate building performance also changes. And so what we're trying to focus on is trying to provide useful up-to-date information for decision makers. Do so using you need relevant data. You need flexibility for the user to use the tool in a way that they want to use it. And you don't want to duplicate effort. So obviously you've already seen two examples of software tools that are out there. What we're working on, we're trying not to duplicate what other people are doing. I try to find a good value add.
And there's three software tools that we've worked on in the past. The first one is Bees. It's been around since the '90s. It allows you to compare individual building products. We transferred it to a web interface. It allows you to compare both the life cycle cost as well as the life cycle impact assessment results of similar building products such as flooring categories. We also have introduced a way to combine the impact category results into a single environmental impact score. And the way that we do that is using an ASM standard that uses the analytical hierarchy process to do that. But that's something that we've introduced as an option to try to make it a little bit easier in terms of making those decisions. Throughout the tool we provide guidance and default values to try to really help with making the selections for those assumptions, as well as which products you may want to compare. Trying to make that as easy as possible for the user. And then in terms -- when it comes to the results, we try to create some good visuals to make those comparisons, as well as access to the underlying data so that way that data could be be downloaded if desired.
From a whole building perspective, we use the kind of a similar approach in our Birds software. It's also a web interface. It's all pre-processed data so we've used whole building prototypes such as DOE reference buildings for the commercial building set. It really allows you to compare in a lot of cases the different editions of the standards or codes that are available for states to adopt to set their requirements for building construction. And so it really gives you kind of high-level analysis on average what the performance would be of that particular building type, if they were to change that edition of the standard code. The criteria has to expand because you're doing whole buildings now. So not only do we have the life cycle impact assessment results, we also have along with the life cycle cost analysis for that whole building over its life cycle, but also incorporate operational energy use, thermal comfort, and indoor air quality. And just like Bees, we also, we provide guidance, default values, to try to help to make the selection process easier. And once again, we display key results and provide download of that data in a .csv format if you want to delve into the data in greater detail.
And so those are really, those two products, that takes us about 2015, at which point we reassessed what we were working on, what everyone else was doing, to try to figure out really what the needs were moving forward. And the trends that we were seeing is one is the technology used to analyze building performance was drastically changing, and changing quickly. And you know, really computing power has expanded. You can run massive sets of simulations and do so at a very fast rate. The software development that was being built, I'll talk about one of those examples in a minute. The amount of time and effort being put into building performance evaluation software, what has been kind of ever expanding to increase the capabilities of those tools, as well as it's more open source, tools that you can actually leverage. There's been a big shift, a greater demand for green buildings. And within that there's been a greater desire to focus on sustainability in buildings at a more holistic level. As opposed to looking at individual products that you're selecting, you're looking at the building as a whole and evaluating that.
And as a result, really what we determined is that we needed tools that provided for a broader set of criteria analysis but still allowed you to actually quantify those values. So that way you could actually get that information and make decisions. And really the key is trying to provide decision makers with quick and accurate evaluations without them having to be experts in everything related to sustainability. And really what we determined then is that we need to have software that's really modulized for each of the different criteria but it's interoperable. So those different modules can actually interact or be incorporated into other software tools. So that way you can leverage other tools that are out there as well as collaborate with those organizations to try to increase the adoption of sustainability evaluation of buildings. And really what that requires is standardization and agreed-upon data. And trying to pass that information back and forth, you have to make sure that the data is transferable and can be interpreted by those different tools. You really need reliable and transparent data. So that data has to be maintained, which can be very costly to do. And so really kind of the key is leveraging what's out there and then trying to fill in the gaps of what's missing.
And so that's what brought us to our Bird's Nest tool. So it essentially took the same idea as Birds, but it now allows for a custom building design to calculate those life cycle impact assessment results. Instead of doing a web interface where you go and use the tool, we've designed it as an API that actually can essentially be plugged into other software tools to try to allow tools that already do other things related to building performance. But then you can do a life cycle assessment along with it without actually having to understand the details of the life cycle assessment. And so really what this is targeting is builders and architects that want to include life cycle assessment but don't really know how to do it, but maybe they know how to use whole billion energy simulation tools instead. And you can just incorporate it as a piece of that analysis. And eventually we think there's a good fit here for code compliance software. And so as more and more locations in the U.S. adopt the green codes for their building construction, the ability to incorporate LCA would be a very good additional feature. And so what we did is we focused on Department of Energy's Open Studio EnergyPlus platform, mainly because there's a large user base for Open Studio already. There's a lot of software already built on top of it. You can see here in the graphic that there's quite a quite a few different software tools already built in Open Studio.
And something they're also trying to do is really harmonize the energy modeling aspect of these code-compliant software tools. And so if they're all going to be using Open Studio EnergyPlus then they can also be using Bird's Nest as the LCA component into that. And although we've designed this for Open Studio, it's also a generic API. So you could call it into other software that does a building performance evaluation.
So here's just a quick flow of information. So the basic idea is you open up a studio. You can use the Open Studio measure that we've developed. Basically it's just a script that manipulates the model. When you run the model the measure pulls information out from the Open Studio model, sends it to a web server, which then gets sent to Bird's Nest. And one big addition that we're doing right now -- we're actually validating it right now -- is we're actually calling on Athena's Impact Estimator for buildings. So instead of trying to replicate that database and produce our own results, leverage what's already out there and then try to add something that isn't already available. And so we're calling on IE4B to do the billing structure. They calculate the lifecycle assessment results, send it to Bird's Nest, who then introduces the building system and operational resource use data, calculate all the full cradle-to-grave life cycle impact assessment results for the building, send it back to the web server, where Open Studio is waiting, pulls it in, generates a report. And so it's just another report within Open Studio, just like you would the energy results. And so the idea is the user can, if they know Open Studio, they can introduce lifecycle assessment results without actually having to really understand the details. So with that I'll finish my presentation. we can move on to questions.
Great. Well, thanks so much to all of our wonderful speakers. I'll invite you all to turn your videos back on for the Q and A session, and to kick off our Q and A session I just wanted to pose a question, one more to our entire audience. So we've heard about some tools today. There are a variety of tools and resources that already exist to assist organizations making life cycle impact decisions. What additional resources would be most helpful to you? I invite you to give your suggestions directly in the chat or in the questions box during the Q and A. And then I'm going to jump right in to our first question for the panelists. So one of the questions we got was around the cost and accessibility for these tools. And I'm wondering if each of you could just talk about the availability and the costs associated with using your tools. We'll go in order of presentations. So Jennifer, Hao, and then Josh.
The Athena tools are available for free. There are other ones out there that are commercial tools that aren't free, but ours is free.
Yeah, and the great building LC module will eventually be free when we roll it out, hopefully in the near future.
Yeah, Bees and Birds are free. Just google NIST Birds or NIST Bees and you'll get those. Bird's Nest, it's also free. There's kind of the pilot tool that we developed in 2018 that's already available in the building component library for Open Studio. So you can just download that Open Studio measure and run that. And then once we release the new version, we'll have the kind of the combination of Bird's Nest and Athena results that'll also be up there on the building component library for free.
Great; thanks, everyone. So this question is really around the certainty and understanding the impacts of LCA. So LCAs rely on industry average or LCI databases, especially for many upstream inputs. And the impacts of these inputs can vary greatly from the industry average. How can the LCA practitioner provide a client or someone else using these tools with an accurate understanding of the impacts amidst this uncertainty? And as a follow-up, just to clarify, is there any agreed-upon standard methodology for LCA, commercial buildings or residential buildings? Does anyone want to tackle either of those questions?
I'd like to tackle the first part at least, and the others might want to jump in. The issue of accuracy of LCA on a product, comparing industry average to say a manufacturer specific, is not necessarily the biggest factor in uncertainty. There's much bigger uncertainty in the background of all that. What was the background data used to generate those results? What were the assumptions made? And so forth. So I would challenge the assumption that a brand -- somebody probably needs to mute; I hear a lot of background -- I would challenge the assumption that industry average data is not accurate. The other issue to consider is that you may not know exactly the source of the product when you're doing that LCA. And so the industry average in many ways could be your most accurate source given that that's not clear. So I'll stop there, see if the other folks want to chime in.
Yeah, maybe I'd like to add that the part of the uncertainty is really around not only the data but also like Jennifer mentioned data quality, representation of the data. There are some technical techniques to address uncertainty within the analysis. We have been typically using the stochastic simulation method and try to characterize the statistical distribution given data availability. So that is one way to quantify it, quantify the uncertainty associated with the parametric inputs and the results.
Yeah, I think the only other thing I'd add probably it's almost kind of a two-part with like a two-step process. You can use the industry average or generic data to evaluate the building design in terms of its performance and then you once you've kind of figured out how you're going to design the building, you can start looking at particular products that you're going to select. And so that's kind of where that situation where you -- it helps you early on in the design stage with that industry average data to kind of figure out where those big hot spots are and where you can make improvements. And then you can go into that next step of procurement where you're actually selecting individual products, and then you can actually start comparing across those products. And you're always going to have issue with the data, with accuracy, with certainty, and you know, as those improve over time as we get better and better data, those results are going to be more accurate. They're going to be better comparable. But right now, just even just going through the process I think is really important, because it doesn't get done very often. So even just thinking through where you could, where you can make improvements, even if the data isn't as certain as you'd like. It's an important step to take.
Could I hop in one more time? I think this is a really important question and probably really relevant to folks, but just to close this out, because we didn't answer the real question, which is how -- what do I do with the results if there's some uncertainty? But to emphasize this issue of looking at data, when you're down to the product specific level, this is where the harmonization really comes into play, because you may have an environmental product declaration for two different products that may be completely non-comparable for a number of different and really important reasons. So what does that mean to someone who's trying to make use of this data? We're trying to make use of a whole building LCA result. It means that you just have to have in the back of your head that what you're looking at is, there's a margin of error. And so you want to be careful to not get super hung up on numbers, especially ones that are there the difference is really small or it's a really small component of the building.
Thanks, Jennifer, and thanks for including that. As a really quick follow-up -- we're almost out of time -- do you think there's an opportunity to identify just a few key areas or measures that account for a disproportionate amount of embodied carbon in buildings from your experience in working with these tools?
Well, I don't want to come and do the mic, but I'll give one the others might want to throw one on, but I think most folks know that concrete has a big impact. And so one of the easiest, quickest ways to make a difference is to look at customizing your concrete mix. There's lots of things that can be done that aren't big big moves to a designer that will take some of the impact out of the concrete.
I remember I think the presentation from last week, they basically said concrete, steel, and wood were kind of the largest in terms of the overall categories. So those are kind of the big ones that they're trying to target, to really focus in on as a starting point to developing the open LCI North American database for LCI data that building transparency is working on.
All really good points, and thanks for bringing back in the discussion from last week. We had a number of questions around are these applicable to retrofits? What other kinds of materials including HVAC equipment, will those be included? And I think this helps answer that question. So thank you all for submitting your questions and participating in the session. I really want to thank our speakers. We are at time for the end of our session, so I'll just remind you we have three more discussions coming up. Please go ahead and sign up for them. We will be able to follow up and we'll share the information related to the upcoming webinars, as well as where you can find this recording as well as last week's. Thanks again, everyone, and we hope you have a wonderful rest of your week and weekend.