Life-Cycle Cost Is Key to Zero Waste

The nature and impact of "pollution" is dependent upon the type of project; listing the sources and methods to reduce them is less important than knowing...


The nature and impact of "pollution" is dependent upon the type of project; listing the sources and methods to reduce them is less important than knowing how to develop an approach that will be truly successful.

When a client charges a design firm with maximizing environmental sustainability, the first step the designer should take is to clearly and quantitatively define the client's objectives. Then, for example, if the primary objective is to minimize release of greenhouse gases, the designer must fully understand the impact of each source of emission.

The next frontier in sustainable engineering design is in the true and full life-cycle assessment of building materials, furnishings, equipment and supplies. Using this approach, decision-making is required for each product that will be a component of a building. This decision-making addresses the environmental impact of:

  • Development of the product's raw material.


  • Manufacturing of the product itself.


  • Transportation of the product to the site.


  • The very product itself while it serves its useful life.


  • The ultimate reuse, recycling or disposal of the product.

One example of a company pressing new limits in sustainable manufacturing is Interface, Inc., a leading provider of interior furnishings. In addition to continually striving towards "zero waste" at their manufacturing facilities, Interface offers upholstery to customers on a "fiber-lease" basis. Interface never relinquishes ownership of the fiber, selling customers only the right to use it. When the fiber has served its useful life, Interface removes it, installs new "leased fiber"-if requested-and incorporates the expended fiber back into their manufacturing process.

Return to "M/E Roundtable: Zero Waste and Green Buildings"

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