Last edited 18 Apr 2023

Life cycle in the built environment


In terms of the built environment, ‘life cycle’ refers to a product, building or service over the course of its whole life. For example, relation to a building, this would include its design, construction, operation, and disposal. Considering the life full cycle of a building can help ensure that all aspects are properly considered, rather than just the cost of construction.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a method for evaluating the environmental load of processes and products during their life cycle. An LCA attempts to identify the environmental effects during all stages of its life and produces a figure (or several figures) that represent the total environmental load. In a full LCA, the energy and materials used, along with waste and pollutants produced as a consequence of a product or activity are quantified.

The term ‘cradle-to-grave’ is an approach for defining the boundaries of an embodied energy assessment which involves measuring or estimating the total energy consumed through the entire life cycle of a building or product.

In terms of life cycle costs, whole-life costs consider all those that are associated with the life of a building, from inception to construction, occupation and operation and disposal.

NB Government Functional Standard, GovS 002: Project delivery; portfolio, programme and project management, Version: 2.0, published on 15 July 2021 by HM Government, states: ‘The life cycle provides a phased structure for governing the work and underpinning the delivery plan, from start to finish. Life cycles can be applied to a portfolio, service, product, system, programme or project.’

PAS 2080:2023 Carbon management in buildings and infrastructure, second edition, published by The British Standards Institution in March 2023, defines life cycle as: ‘…consecutive and interlinked stages of a product, equipment or service, from raw material acquisition or generation from natural resources to design, production, transportation/delivery, use, end-of-life treatment and final disposal. NOTE A whole life cycle carbon assessment is only one of the components of the carbon management process. As further described in Clause 7, existing standards for life cycle assessment do not cover all elements of the PAS 2080 whole life carbon framework for decision-making (Clause 4), hence value chain members are to assess carbon influenced outside the direct project/programme boundary to inform decision-making (i.e. emissions/removals within the study boundary).’

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