Construction LCA glossary

Bookmark this construction LCA glossary, featuring definitions of the terms you need to know to master life-cycle assessment for the built environment.

Construction LCA glossary

For architecture, engineering & manufacturing

Boost your LCA know-how with our glossary of essential construction LCA technical terms.

For architecture, engineering, construction, and manufacturing to reach the next level in low-carbon construction best practice.



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  • Adaptation: The process of modifying a building’s design, systems, or materials to enhance its resilience and ability to withstand climate change impacts.
  • Assessment: In the context of building LCA, this refers to the systematic evaluation of a building’s environmental impacts throughout its entire life cycle, including construction, operation, and end-of-life.
  • Acidification potential (AP): Acidifying emissions that result in a lower pH-value of water and soil, decreasing the nutrient availability and intake of plants. Read more about impact assessment categories via our help centre.
  • Abiotic Depletion Potential (ADP): Resource use indicator used to calculate Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) and Product Environmental Footprints (PEF). Abiotic depletion refers to the global reduction of non-living, or abiotic, natural resources, such as mineral, metal and fossil resources. The ADP indicator is usually separated into fossil and non-fossil resource depletion, known as Abiotic Depletion Potential for Fossil Resources (ADPf) and Abiotic Depletion Potential for Non-Fossil Resources (ADPn) respectively. Its calculation for each raw material extraction is based on the remaining reserves and rate of extraction. Read more about environmental impact indicators in our Building LCA ebook.



  • Baseline: The starting point for an LCA, which is typically the current state of the product or process. Find out more about baseline building strategies via our help centre and learn how to rapidly create baselines with the Carbon Designer 3D early optimization tool.
  • Building Life Cycle: The complete lifespan of a building, including the stages of design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and eventual demolition or disposal. Read our quick-start article: 10 Essential facts about Building LCA
  • Biogenic carbon: Carbon stored in biological materials such as in wood products. Biogenic carbon within a building product can be considered as a negative carbon emission. Learn more on biogenic carbon via our help centre.
  • Building Information Modeling (BIM): A digital representation of a building’s physical and functional characteristics. BIM software can integrate with LCA tools to enhance analysis accuracy. Learn more about BIM modelling for LCA.
  • Building Circularity: Building circularity refers to the concept of designing, constructing, and operating buildings in a way that minimizes resource consumption, waste generation, and environmental impact while maximizing the reuse, recycling, and repurposing of materials. Find out how One Click LCA’s Building Circularity tool can help you calculate the circularity of your projects.
  • Building materials: Any product or material that is used in the construction of a building. Materials can be natural or man-made. One Click LCA offers a range of product tools to help manufacturers calculate, report and reduce the impact of building materials.
  • Bill of Materials (BOM): List of the materials, components, and subassemblies used in a building. It is a critical document for any LCA study, as it provides the information needed to calculate the environmental impacts of the building.
  • Benchmarking: The process of comparing the environmental performance of a building/material against the performance of other buildings/materials. This can be done to identify opportunities for improvement or to track the progress of a building/material over time. One Click LCA’s Carbon Heroes Benchmarks provides embodied carbon benchmarks for common building types.



  • Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e): A standardized unit of measurement describing the impact of a variety of greenhouse gasses. While carbon dioxide or CO2 is the most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) most LCAs also measure the impact of the other GHGs. CO2e is used to quantify their impact in one common unit and is expressed in terms of the equivalent measurement of carbon dioxide. Example: 1 kg of nitrous oxide (N2O) is equal to 298 kg CO2e, and 1 kg of methane (CH4) is equal to 25 kg CO2e.
  • Carbon footprint: The total amount of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide, released directly or indirectly throughout a building’s life cycle. Learn how to quickly calculate and optimize your building’s carbon footprint.
  • Carbon neutral building: A building that, over its lifecycle, achieves a net-zero carbon footprint by balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal or offset measures. Read more about design strategies to help you reach net zero and how the Net Zero and Carbon Neutral Tool can help you meet your net-zero goals.
  • Carbon offsetting: The process of compensating for greenhouse gas emissions by funding projects that reduce or remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. Our Net Zero tool helps you calculate the need for off-setting.
  • Carbon sequestration: The process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.
  • Characterization: The calculation of category indicator results to impact-equivalents using a characterization model (see below). Example: 5 kg CO2 and 3 kg CH4 yield 68 kg CO2-eq.
  • Characterization factor: A factor derived from a characterization model (see below) applied to convert inputs and outputs to the common unit of the category indicator. Examples: Global Warming Potential (GWP), Acidification Potential (AP).
  • Characterization model: A science-based model of the impact of elementary flows with respect to a particular category indicator. It provides the basis for a characterization factor.
  • Circular economy: An economic system that aims to minimize waste and promote the continual use of resources through recycling, reusing, and remanufacturing. Find out how One Click LCA’s Building Circularity tool can help you calculate the circularity of your projects.
  • Cradle-to-gate: LCA approach that considers the environmental impacts of a product from the extraction of raw materials to the point of manufacture. It does not include the environmental impacts of the product’s use, transportation, or disposal. Our Simple guide to EPDs article includes a summary of different LCA approaches.
  • Cradle-to-grave: LCA approach that considers the environmental impacts of a product from the extraction of raw materials to its final disposal. Learn more about the life cycle stages used in LCA via our help centre.
  • Cut-off criteria: Rules for excluding flows of material or energy (inputs or outputs) in an LCA or information module, for example flows with quantities smaller than 1% may be excluded to simplify the LCA.


  • Demolition: The process of dismantling or tearing down a building at the end of its useful life.
  • Design for deconstruction: An approach that considers a building’s future deconstruction and aims to maximize the reuse and recycling of materials. 
  • Design for disassembly (DfD): An approach in product and building design that focuses on creating products, structures, or systems in a way that facilitates their efficient and safe disassembly at the end of their useful life. One Click LCA’s Building Circularity tool enables you to record where non-destructive and adaptable practices have been incorporated to boost circularity.



  • Embodied carbon: Emissions associated with construction materials and processes throughout the lifetime of a building or infrastructure project — from raw material extraction and manufacture, through transportation and installation to eventual end-of-life. Embodied carbon accounts for approximately 11% of all global GHG emissions is distinct from operational carbon — the emissions arising from usage activities such as heating and lighting a building. Read more about embodied versus operational carbon and discover the 10 commandments for reducing embodied carbon in your projects.
  • Environmental impact: The effects that a building has on the environment, including resource depletion, pollution, waste generation, and climate change. Read more about the climate emergency and construction.
  • End-of-life carbon: Emissions which occur after a building or infrastructure project’s lifetime – whether associated with deconstruction/demolition (C1), transport from the site (C2), waste processing (C3), or disposal (C4).
  • Endpoint indicator: The final measure of impacts on the natural environment or human health caused by emissions or resource use. In LCAs midpoint indicators are usually used, e.g. CO2e or global warming potential as opposed to the endpoint indicator of, for example, glacier melt.
  • Environmental Product Declaration (EPD): a third-party verified report of the LCA results of a product. 
  • Eutrophication Potential (EP): Nutrient emissions (nitrogen and phosphorus) that increase the flow of nutrients to ecosystems, causing algae growth in waters. Read more about impact assessment categories via our help centre.
  • Ecodesign: A design approach which takes into account the lifetime environmental impact of a product to guide decision-making. It looks at areas such as how to maximize the use of sustainable materials, how to reduce energy use and how to design a product so that it can be recycled or reused at the end of its life. For practical sustainable construction design solutions follow our regular Ecodesign in Practice series of articles
  • Energy efficiency: Circular buildings often prioritize energy-efficient design, utilizing renewable energy sources and advanced technologies to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Early carbon optimisation: A process of identifying and addressing opportunities to reduce the carbon emissions of a building or other project in the early stages of design. Find out how to optimize carbon early in  a project and read why early optimization is so important.



  • Functional unit: A quantitative description of the amount, weight and quality of the function fulfilled by the product system under assessment.



  • Greenhouse gas (GHG): Any gas in the atmosphere emitted by human activity which absorbs and re-emits heat. There are seven GHGs covered by Kyoto Protocol: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), Perfluorocarbons (PFCs), Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), and Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). 
  • Global Warming Potential (GWP): An environmental impact indicator measuring how much a given amount of greenhouse gas is likely to contribute to global warming over a specific timeframe, usually 20, 100, or 500 years. Read more about impact indicators via our help centre.
  • Green building certification: Programs such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) that evaluate and certify buildings for their environmental performance and sustainability. One Click LCA supports over 60 green building certification schemes, standards and requirements.
  • Generic data: Data that represents average environmental performance usually gained via modeling the generic production process for all products within that category. Generic data is not representative of a single product. Find out more about One Click LCA’s extensive library of high quality generic data and how we work with data.
  • Gross Internal Area or Gross Internal Floor Area (GIFA): is the total floor area of a building enclosed by the external walls, measured to the internal face of those walls.
  • GHG-reporting: is the process of collecting and disclosing information about the GHG emissions of an organization or entity. 



  • Impact categories: An impact category groups different emissions into one effect on the environment and converts them into one unit. Read more about impact indicators via our help centre.
  • Infrastructure LCA: Infrastructure LCA is a life cycle assessment (LCA) of infrastructure projects. Learn how One Click LCA supports infrastructure LCAs and impacts assessments that comply with leading infrastructure standards, including CEEQUAL, PAS 2080, Envision, and HS2.



  • Life cycle: consecutive and interlinked stages of a product system, from raw material acquisition or generation from natural resources to final disposal. Read more about life cycle stages via our help centre.
  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): A comprehensive methodology used to evaluate the environmental impact of a building from cradle to grave, considering all stages of its life cycle, including materials, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and disposal. 
  • Life Cycle Costing (LCC): A financial analysis that considers the total costs associated with a building over its entire life cycle, including initial investment, operation, maintenance, and end-of-life costs. Read more about LCC in construction.
  • Life Cycle Inventory (LCI): The compilation and quantification of inputs and outputs of energy, materials, and emissions associated with a building’s life cycle.
  • Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA): The phase of life cycle assessment which focuses on understanding and evaluating the magnitude and significance of the potential environmental impacts for a product system throughout the life cycle of the product. Read about the difference between LCIA and LCI data.
  • Low-carbon concrete: Concrete that has a lower carbon footprint than traditional concrete. Read more about low carbon concrete solutions.
  • LCA database: A life cycle assessment (LCA) database is a collection of data on the environmental impacts of materials, processes, and products. Find out more about One Click LCA’s database: the world’s largest database of environmental construction data.



  • Midpoint indicator: indicators which focus on single environmental problems, for example, climate change or acidification.
  • Manufacturer-specific data: Within the context of building LCA, manufacturer-specific data is specific to a particular manufacturer or supplier of a product or material. One Click LCA integrates all compliant EPDs from around the globe. Find out more about the data solutions offered by One Click LCA.
  • Material manufacturing localization method:  Solves the lack of local environmental profiles for projects all over the world. It adjusts automatically manufacturing electricity to the local electricity mix so that you can always get more representative results for your projects.



  • Normalization: Comparing different environmental impact categories results in a norm to “measure them on the same scale” when comparing several different impact categories this can help to understand the significance of each result.
  • Net-zero carbon: Describes a product or process that has zero net greenhouse gas emissions over its entire life cycle. Read more about design strategies to help you reach net zero and how the Net Zero and Carbon Neutral Tool can help you meet your net-zero goals.



  • Operational energy: The energy consumed during the operation and use of a building, including heating, cooling, lighting, and appliance usage.
  • Operational carbon: The emissions associated with energy usage in heating, powering or cooling a building during its use phase (B6), as well as operational water usage (B7). Read more about embodied versus operational carbon.
  • Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP): Describes the potential damage caused to the stratospheric ozone layer. Chemical refrigerants used in older air conditioning systems often have a higher ODP.



  • Product LCA: A type of LCA which provides a descriptive analysis of the environmental performance of an individual product over its entire life-cycle. Learn how One Click LCA can support product LCAs, as well as the differences between Environmental Product Declarations and Product Environmental Footprints.
  • Photochemical Ozone Creation Potential (POCP): Describes the effect of substances in the atmosphere to create photochemical smog.
  • Product Category Rules (PCR): Documents that provide rules, requirements, and guidelines for developing an EPD for a specific product category. Read more about PCRs and how to create EPDs via our EPD ebook.
  • Program Operator: organizations responsible for supervising EPD programs – from creating and maintaining PCRs to approving and publishing individual EPDs. Read more about the role of PCRs via our EPD ebook.



  • Renovation: The process of improving or upgrading an existing building to enhance its performance, energy efficiency, and functionality.
  • Retrofitting: The process of adding or modifying building systems, components, or materials to improve energy efficiency, sustainability, or performance.
  • Resource efficiency: Building materials are used efficiently, minimizing waste during construction. Strategies like modular construction, prefabrication, and off-site manufacturing can help reduce material waste. Read more about resource efficiency and circularity in construction.
  • Refurbishment: In construction, refurbishment is the process of renovating or updating an existing building or structure. Read about how to reduce the environmental impact of refurbishment.
  • Reference building: A hypothetical building that is used as a baseline for comparison in a construction LCA. Learn how to rapidly create reference buildings with the Carbon Designer 3D early optimization tool.



  • Sustainable design: An approach that integrates environmentally friendly principles, energy efficiency, and social considerations into the design and construction of buildings.
  • System boundaries: Boundaries for which processes in the product’s life cycle will be included in the LCA. Read more about LCA examples to understand what is meant by system boundaries in LCA.
  • Service life: The period of time during which a product or building is expected to be used.



  • Technical service life: The technical service life represents how long materials last in good conditions until a defined minimum acceptable state is reached. The technical service life is based on the assumption that the same type of materials have the same service life setting which is the recommended default. Read more about the Service Life of Materials via our help centre.



  • Upfront carbon: Emissions arising during the materials production and construction phases (A1-5) of the life-cycle before the building or infrastructure is used.
  • Use phase emissions: Emissions that occur during the use of a product or service. This includes emissions from the use of energy, water, and materials, as well as emissions from waste disposal. Learn more about LCA life cycle stages via our help centre.



  • Weighting: Giving each impact normalized category a different value based on its estimated importance.
  • Whole-life carbon (WLC): Emissions from all life-cycle phases, encompassing both embodied and operational carbon together (i.e. modules A1 to C4, with module D reported separately).
  • Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment (WBLCA): An evaluation that considers the overall environmental performance and sustainability aspects of a building, including energy efficiency, materials, indoor environmental quality, and water conservation. Read more about WBLCA and how it differs from a building carbon footprint.
  • Waste management: The management and disposal of construction and demolition waste, including recycling, reusing, and proper disposal to minimize environmental impact. Find out how One Click LCA’s Building Circularity tool can help you reduce waste in your projects.

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