Analyzing a Products Carbon Footprint: Transparency and the limits of LCA’s and EPD’s

Transparency is a core value at BamCore.

We only share information that we can defend. In the early years, this meant that we didn’t get the same level of attention as others who made grandiose but unsubstantiated claims. Companies that engage in “greenwashing” hurt us all. While there are no perfect solutions, having information about the carbon footprint of a product can help us make better decisions for our projects.

This is why Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are important. They provide transparency into both a product and a company. However, the quality of their analysis depends on the quality of the data they receive and the Product Category Rules (PCRs) used to analyze that data. Unfortunately, when analyzing the carbon footprint of fast-growing renewable resources like timber bamboo, hemp, and straw as structural materials in the built environment, the data-analyzing capabilities of LCAs and PCRs are lacking.

In the interest of transparency and the belief that one cannot fix what one cannot measure, we are conducting a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for our Gen 3 Prime Wall™. Although it may not provide a perfect representation of the Prime Wall™’s carbon footprint since there is no Product Category Rule (PCR) in place to account for the carbon-capturing and storing properties of timber bamboo, it will still provide valuable information. Additionally, LCAs do not take into account the time value of atmospheric carbon capture. For example, when a 25-year-old tree is cut down, it takes 25 years to recapture the same amount of carbon. However, when a bamboo culm is harvested, it regenerates to full height in one year, capturing the same amount of carbon (or more, as it regrows faster and larger) as the culm that was harvested.

While this is our first Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the Gen 3 Prime Wall™, we have previously endorsed third-party case studies and authored a white paper titled “Carbon Farming with Timber Bamboo.” The paper provides extensive coverage of land use and the time value of carbon capture during this critical decade.

In 2019, BamCore commissioned Quantis, an international sustainability consulting firm, to conduct a screening-level cradle-to-grave carbon footprint analysis (Life Cycle Assessment) of our Gen 2 Prime Wall™ framing system. The analysis showed that BamCore’s carbon footprint is uniquely promising.

Despite significant focus and substantial capital investment in mitigating global climate change, two powerful and immediate opportunities for mitigation are being overlooked:

  1. the built environment, which is responsible for the largest share of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions (accounting for 38% to 49%), and

  2. carbon sequestration.

Investment in other sectors has driven significant innovation and shifts in economics and demand. However, the building sector, the largest GHG polluter, has remained resistant to fundamental innovation.

Most climate change mitigation investment has focused on improving energy efficiency or developing renewable energy solutions for current and future energy demands. Although this will lower the rate of growth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, almost no attention is given to solutions that lower the already high levels of GHGs. According to BamCore CEO Hal Hinkle, “BamCore’s patented and building code-compliant Prime Wall™ is a fundamental innovation that combines reduced energy consumption and demand-driven sequestration in the built environment.”

The BamCore framing system, which uses highly renewable timber bamboo, can eliminate most thermal bridging in conventional stud-based framing. According to sustainability consulting firm Quantis, the BamCore Prime Wall™ system could reduce CO2 emissions by 125 metric tons over a 70-year service life of an average house in the average US climate zone. Additionally, the demand for timber bamboo can help convert grazing, sugar, cotton, and degraded lands to timber bamboo, resulting in the estimated permanent sequestration of 337 metric tons of CO2 per hectare. It’s worth noting that these results only apply to BamCore’s Prime Wall™ system. However, the carbon footprint benefits will multiply as BamCore develops and commercializes its Mass Timber Bamboo™ (MTB) for mid to high-rise construction.

A Summary of LCA and EPD Shortcomings 

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) are widely used and necessary tools to assess the environmental impact of products and services. However, some shortcomings associated with these tools need to be considered when interpreting their results.

Data Quality

One of the main challenges with LCA and EPD is data quality. These tools rely on a vast amount of data to calculate the environmental impact of a product or service. This data can come from various sources and may not always be accurate or up-to-date. Therefore, the results of these assessments may be biased or inaccurate if the data used is of poor quality.

Scope Limitations

LCA and EPD are typically designed for a specific scope, which can limit their usefulness. For example, LCA typically considers a product or service’s life cycle, from raw material extraction to disposal. This method does a disservice to biogenic materials since the evaluation begins at harvest and does not include the time value of atmospheric carbon (re)capture of fast-growing regenerative materials. In addition, it may not include some important aspects, such as the social impact of a product or service. Similarly, EPD may not consider the entire life cycle of a product or service but only its environmental impact.

Lack of Standardization

LCA and EPD are not standardized, which can make it difficult to compare the results of different assessments. Different software and databases are available for conducting LCA, and each may use different assumptions and methodologies. Similarly, different organizations may have different requirements for developing EPDs, which can lead to varying results.

Interpretation of Results

Finally, the interpretation of LCA and EPD results can be challenging. These assessments provide a large amount of information and making sense of it all can be difficult. Furthermore, the results may be presented in a way that is difficult to understand for non-experts. In conclusion, LCA and EPD are valuable tools for assessing the environmental impact of products and services. However, their limitations, such as data quality, scope limitations, lack of standardization, and interpretation challenges, must be considered when interpreting their results.