Cause and Effect (or Robbing Peter to Pay Paul)

Energy savings analysis has been around for years. There are any number of Internet-based calculators, formulas and procedures for estimating the savings associated with products or actions undertaken to reduce or avoid energy usage. Energy savings is but one component of a much more comprehensive analytical process referred to as life cycle analysis or LCA. But LCA is not nearly so well-defined. Unlike energy savings analysis, which considers a limited number of variables that can be reasonably well defined and quantified, there is no uniform procedure for LCA.

There are some Internet-based calculators for LCA, but they range from being over-simplified to exceedingly complex; from being biased toward individual products or special interests to being overly generic and meaningless. Some approaches to LCA only consider short term direct financial burdens while others consider more indirect or subjective costs both upstream and downstream in the life of a product.

A mainly financial LCA approach for comparing roof systems might consider the following:

  • Installation – product cost, installation costs, tear-off costs, disposal costs, business disruption costs.
  • Long Term Durability – routine maintenance costs, roof replacement costs.
  • Repairs – roof repair costs, interior damage repair costs.
  • Energy Savings – estimated savings, rebates and incentives.
  • Warranty – cost premiums.

On the other hand, a highly comprehensive environmental-based approach might entail the evaluation of all material and energy inputs and outputs at every stage, from the creation of natural resources through extraction, manufacture, use, and demolition, and disposal of a product. Consider the complexity of the following extreme LCA flow example:

BANG ? Earth Appears ? Life Begins ? Dinosaurs/Other Creatures Appear ? Creatures Die/Turn Into Fossil Fuels ? Human Race Appears/Evolves ? Resources Extracted (fossil fuels, salt, etc.) ? Resources Transported to be Processed/Refined ? Process/Refine Raw Materials ? Process Components (film, scrim) ? Produce Product Components (membrane, rigid parts, etc.) ? Transport for Fabrication ? Fabricate and Assemble The Duro-Last® Cool Zone® Roofing System ? Deliver to Jobsite ? Installation ? Roof In Action (energy savings/heat island mitigation/global warming or cooling or both) ? End of Useful Life ? Removal/Disposal ? Recycle and/or Transport to Landfill ? 100,000 to 1 Million Years of Decay and Revert to Fossil Fuels, Salt, etc. ? Another BANG!? Or Re-Extraction?

Although this second example seems extreme or absurd, it makes the point that there can be limitless considerations in a comprehensive LCA. The difficulty comes in deciding how far to go and making fair and objective assumptions of all criteria at each stage in the life of the product or system. One of the best things LCA helps accomplish is identification of opportunities for improvement. The important thing to remember in addressing this continuous improvement process is to remember that every action has a reaction, so don’t rob Peter to pay Pa