The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) recently completed a new 9,590 sq.ft. educational facility of classrooms, wet chemistry classroom and laboratory, administrative offices, along with an observatory. This building is being certified to Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)TM standards, and anticipates at least a LEED Gold rating. To better understand the environmental impacts and benefits from this green building, the NJMC contracted the Rutgers Center for Green Building (RCGB) to conduct a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) using the building plans and specifications as inputs to the analysis.
Commercial buildings consume approximately 18% of energy and emit 18% of global warming causing gasses in the United States (EIA 2007). The desire to mitigate these environmental and human health impacts has led to an integration of sustainability objectives in building design. A Life Cycle Assessment evaluates the environmental impacts of the building over its entire life cycle including material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, construction, operation and the decommissioning of the building. The whole-building LCA performed here provides insight into the relative
impacts of various materials and design choices and of how these impacts may vary across life-cycle phases. The emphasis of this LCA is on primary energy consumption and global warming impacts, but also calculates ozone depletion, acidification, and eutrophication potential. Ozone depletion potential measures the release of chemicals (e.g. refrigerants) that can cause depletion of the ozone layer that protects from UV radiation. Acidification potential calculates air pollutants released to form acids that can harm the ecosystem and buildings. Eutrophication potential measures releases of nutrients that can cause algae bloom in surface water and eventual fish mortalities.
The bottom-line of this LCA is that the impact of the NJMC building on primary energy consumption, global warming potential, and acidification potential is significantly less than that of a conventional building. Most of the building’s environmental impact occurs once the building is occupied (operations phase). The environmental impact of the NJMC building during the material placement phase in these same categories – energy, global warming, acidification – exceeds that of a conventional building due to materials used in the foundation, solar cells, concrete foundation caps and floor slab, roof decking and standing seam metal roof. These are offset by savings during the operations phase, reducing the overall impacts of NJMC building when compared to a conventional building. The decommissioning phase is relatively less important than the materials placement and operations phase as it makes a significantly lower contribution to the impacts.