The importance of MEP in whole-life carbon assessments

The importance of MEP in whole-life carbon assessments

In a recent webinar hosted by One Click LCA and ARUP, experts Marios, Sarah, and Rowan discussed the significance of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems in whole-life carbon assessments. This session aimed to highlight how these systems, often overlooked, play a crucial role in the carbon footprint of buildings. This blog post will summarize the key points from the webinar and provide additional insights into optimizing MEP systems to reduce whole-life carbon emissions.

Understanding whole-life carbon

Whole-life carbon refers to the total carbon emissions associated with a building throughout its entire life cycle. This includes emissions from raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, construction, operational energy and water use, maintenance, and end-of-life disposal or recycling.

Embodied vs. operational carbon

  • Embodied carbon: Emissions from the production, transportation, and installation of building materials, as well as their maintenance and end-of-life disposal.
  • Operational carbon: Emissions from the energy and water consumed during the building's use phase, including heating, cooling, lighting, and other systems.

Importance of MEP systems

MEP systems are integral to both embodied and operational carbon. While these systems contribute to the embodied carbon through their material composition, they also significantly impact operational carbon due to their energy consumption during the building’s operational phase.



Webinar highlights: MEP systems in whole-life carbon assessments

Foundational concepts

Marios Tsikos from One Click LCA began by explaining the foundational concepts of whole-life carbon. He emphasized the need to consider both embodied and operational carbon to get a comprehensive understanding of a building's carbon footprint.

Embodied carbon in MEP systems

Sarah Bousquet and Rowan Bell-Bentley from ARUP highlighted that MEP systems typically account for 20-30% of a building's embodied carbon. This is significant, often exceeding the impact of structural components. They stressed the importance of including MEP systems in life-cycle assessments to capture their environmental impact accurately.

Operational carbon and building services

MEP systems have a profound impact on operational carbon. Heating, cooling, ventilation, and lighting systems are major energy consumers. Optimizing these systems can lead to substantial reductions in operational carbon emissions.

Strategies for reducing whole-life carbon in MEP systems

Early design considerations

  1. Passive Design: Incorporating passive design strategies to reduce energy demand, such as maximizing natural ventilation and daylighting.
  2. Efficient System Design: Selecting energy-efficient HVAC systems, lighting, and appliances to minimize operational energy use.

Material selection

  1. Low-Carbon Materials: Using materials with low embodied carbon for MEP components, such as recycled metals and low-impact insulation.
  2. Modular Systems: Implementing modular MEP systems that can be easily upgraded or replaced, reducing waste and embodied carbon over the building’s life.

Life-cycle assessment (LCA) integration

  1. Early-stage LCA: Conducting LCAs at early design stages to guide decision-making and identify the most impactful areas for carbon reduction.
  2. Ongoing assessment: Continuously updating LCAs as more data becomes available and as the building progresses through its life-cycle stages.

Regulatory and certification compliance

  1. National regulations: Complying with regulations that mandate whole-life carbon assessments, such as those in the EU and California.
  2. Green building certifications: Achieving certifications like LEED, BREEAM, and GreenStar, which reward comprehensive life-cycle assessments and carbon reduction strategies.

One Click LCA tool for MEP engineers

Marios Tsikos demonstrated the One Click LCA tool specifically tailored for MEP engineers. This tool allows for detailed modeling of MEP systems' embodied carbon, providing a comprehensive view of their environmental impact.

  • Detailed modeling: Ability to add and model various MEP components, from HVAC systems to insulation and ductwork.
  • Assemblies for early design: Using predefined assemblies to estimate the embodied carbon of MEP systems during the early design stages, facilitating quick and informed decision-making.
  • Results interpretation: The tool provides detailed breakdowns of embodied carbon impacts, transportation emissions, replacements, and end-of-life scenarios.

Overcoming challenges in LCA for building services

One of the biggest challenges in whole-life carbon assessments for MEP systems is the availability and quality of data. Accurate data on material quantities, manufacturing processes, and in-use performance is crucial. To counter this, the following strategies have emerged:

  1. Standardization: Utilizing standardized methodologies like SIPSI TM65 to estimate embodied carbon without comprehensive data.
  2. Collaboration: Encouraging collaboration across the supply chain to improve data sharing and transparency.

MEP systems are a critical component of whole-life carbon assessments. By understanding their impact and implementing strategies to optimize both embodied and operational carbon, the construction industry can make significant strides toward sustainability. Tools like One Click LCA and collaborative efforts with industry leaders like ARUP are essential in this journey.

Embracing whole-life carbon assessments and continuous learning will enable the industry to meet its decarbonization goals and create a more sustainable built environment.

To learn more about optimizing MEP systems for whole-life carbon reduction, enroll in the One Click LCA Academy’s new course in collaboration with ARUP. Visit One Click LCA Academy to sign up and start making a difference in the construction industry today.


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