Software to Help Minimize Embodied Carbon

Green Building Team on May 1, 2020

Rating System/Standard
Zero Carbon Building

Life-cycle assessment of buildings may not be new, but the interest in embodied carbon has been rising dramatically. The shifting focus from energy to carbon emissions has shined a spotlight on an often-ignored aspect of low-carbon design. This increased market focus has led to new products and software tools to assist design teams with reducing their embodied carbon. We have compiled a list of the most commonly used tools in Canada, and some information on how each works.

The Athena Impact Estimator for Buildings is still the most commonly used tool in Canada. This free tool developed by the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute is designed to perform whole building LCA, as well as analyze individual assemblies. Users can quickly enter and describe building assemblies while the software calculates a bill of materials and the associated environmental impacts. Alternatively, the user can import their own bill of materials. The tool is also built to facilitate comparisons. Users can easily perform side by side comparisons of one design to another while swapping out materials. The impact estimator provides embodied carbon and other life-cycle impact values for all life-cycle stages.

One Click LCA is a software package from Bionova (Finland) that features North American datasets and is gaining popularity in Canada. While One Click LCA is not a free tool, there are various packages available to suit the needs of different types of professionals. The premium offerings feature integration with multiple design tools via a Revit plugin, an IES-VE plugin, via API, or with data imported from Excel or IFC, or a combination of all of these. Its database of construction materials spans more than 20,000 EPDs for North America and includes generic data. Also, with a user-friendly interface, it facilitates the creation and comparison of multiple building designs, benchmarking against average building types, and plausibility checks of both the entered data and results. This whole building LCA tool is also supported by a number of add-ins. For example, the Carbon Designer add-in allows for easy analysis during schematic design and all you need is the building shape and size. This allows project teams to quickly analyze the impacts of different building shapes, materials, and specifications. Additional add-ins are available to support the development of environmental product declarations (EPDs), evaluating circularity, and even life-cycle costing.

Tally is a plugin for Autodesk Revitt® that allows whole building life-cycle assessment, as well as comparisons between different design approaches. Tally users can expect to pay an annual license fee. The software seamlessly integrates into the building information model (BIM), which means that projects using BIM can get real time embodied carbon information as they proceed through the design process. This eliminates the additional step of performing whole building LCA and prevents the lag in obtaining information that is associated with performing LCA as a separate scope of work.

EC3 is one of the newest tools on the scene, and unlike the previous tools it focuses on the upfront embodied carbon (life-cycle phase A), which includes the production of materials and their use in construction. The tool is both free to use as well as open source and can be used in the design or procurement phases of a project. Instead of relying on generic regional data, it contains thousands of digital environmental product declarations (EPDs) that allow owners and policy makers to access supply chain data. This allows users to set upfront embodied carbon baselines and reduction targets, and to visualize a project’s potential and realized embodied carbon impacts.

There are several other tools available on the market throughout the world as well. Using the right tool for your project can help ensure you are getting the data you need at the phase of the project you need it to enable meaningful reductions in embodied carbon.

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