We are a product of our choices. Little and big, it doesn’t matter. Our choices shape our lives on a daily basis – both individually and as a society. And when it comes to housing the ever-increasing world’s population, the building materials that go into construction is one such choice that has a huge impact on our lives and the environment around us.
And to better understand the impact of different materials on our natural surroundings, the Royal Danish Academy Center for Industrialised Architecture (CinMark) came up with a breakthrough development – The Construction Material Pyramid. Their aim behind making it was to analyse the different phases of life the construction materials go through:
- Extraction of Raw Materials
Using the data accumulated during these stages, this digital tool makes the comparison between the impact these different materials have on the environment easy and accessible to all. They quote, “The goal is for it to provide a simpler way to get a quick overview of the relative sustainability of individual construction materials.’’
This tool makes the exploration of different materials much more interesting and detailed. And based on the information the developers of the tool, Life Cycle Analysis specialists, were able to extract with its use, below are a few different types of impacts the construction materials could possibly have on the environment:
Global Warming Potential – GWP
The GWP is calculated by measuring how much carbon dioxide is produced by the manufacture of a certain material. Because greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, the more gases a material produces, the warmer the earth gets. Therefore, the GWP measures how much additional heat can be retained in the atmosphere by a given volume of gas. For example, if we take the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the manufacture of one ton of steel, then calculate the GWP of that particular quantity of CO2, we find out that it is equal to 2.3. This means that 1 ton of steel generates 2.3 Tonnes of CO2, which is equivalent to 0.1% of the total carbon emissions in the world.
Ozone Depletion Potential – ODP
In order to calculate the ODP, the substance used as a basis is fluorocarbon 11 (CFC-11), also known as R-1 1, which is already banned by many countries and used as an aerosol propellant for spray cans. Therefore, the most dangerous products in this respect are thermal insulation materials, while materials requiring little processing, such as stones or copper sheets, contribute less.
Photochemical Ozone Creation Potential – POCP
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), such as those emitted by building materials, must be considered when evaluating air emissions from construction sites. Building materials containing VOCs, such as plywood, flooring, gypsum board, carpeting, insulation, and paints/coatings, have a significant impact on the amount of emission. The POCP quantifies the relative skills to produce ozone at soil levels based on the concentration of ethylene equivalents (C~2~H~4~EQ). Wood-based materials remain at a low emitting potential, while plastics and metals are among the highest emitting.
Acidification Potential – AP
Besides damaging the ecosystem and plants, acidification is also detrimental to animals and ecosystems responsible for fueling climate change. This category quantified the number of gases responsible for acidifying soils, terrestrial, and superficial waters, as well as the effects of acidification of the environment on animals and ecosystems.
Eutrophication Potential – EP
Eutrophication, or the excess of nutrients in ecosystems is one of the causes of desertification and super fertilization. For example, the steel industry produces large amounts of nitrogen oxides, a chemical element that is crucial for soil health, but too high concentration of the same can affect soil biodiversity and aquatic life.
Through an intuitive interface, the tool compiles a large amount of data on the most commonly used building materials, enabling designers to quickly understand the environmental impact of each project decision.