The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

The Environmental Impact of an Office Building Throughout its Life Cycle

Seppo Junnila

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Science in Technology to be presented with due permission of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering for public examination and debate in Auditorium R1 at Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 15th of October, 2004, at 12 o'clock noon.

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This dissertation quantifies and compares the potential environmental impact caused by an office building during its life cycle, i.e. from the extraction of raw materials to disposal of waste. Using both a multiple-case study method and life-cycle assessment (LCA) the study determines the life-cycle phases and elements contributing most to a building's life-cycle impact. Furthermore, the study performed a sensitivity assessment to evaluate the effects of possible changes during the long service life, fifty years, of a building.

In the study, corresponding life-cycle phases were found to contribute similarly to the environmental impact of the office buildings studied, with building operations (electricity, heating and other services) dominating the climate change, acidification and eutrophication categories, while building material manufacturing (in construction and maintenance) dominated those of summer smog and heavy metals. The key environmental issues found for the buildings were: electricity use in the outlets, HVAC and lighting, heat in ventilation and conduction, materials used in internal surfaces and HVAC services, and the use of water and wastewater, which were quite dominant in that they, as 20 % of all life-cycle elements, caused 45-75 % of the average life-cycle impact of the buildings studied and 60-75 % of the cumulative range.

The sensitivity analysis indicated important issues. Firstly, it is ill-advised to use weight related cutoff criteria in the inventory analysis, because even very small flows of material can have a noticeable life-cycle effect. Secondly, although local conditions can have a clear influence on the degree of life-cycle impact, local conditions seemed to have less impact on the contribution made by different life-cycle phases. Finally, the traditional life-cycle phase approach in analyzing the result seems to produce a somewhat different conclusion than the system approach.

As a whole, the findings of the study would suggest that within the limitations of both the electricity mix used and the obsolescence (economic life cycle), the life-cycle impact of a typical contemporary office building would follow a similar pattern. Practical applications of the study could be in the conscious design and facilities management of office buildings based on the determined environmentally significant issues and the possibilities of influencing same.

This thesis consists of an overview and of the following 8 publications:

  1. Junnila S., 2003. Estimating the environmental aspects of an office building's life cycle. In: Bontempi F. (editor), Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Structural Engineering and Construction (ISEC-02). Rome, Italy, 23-26 September 2003. Lisse, the Netherlands, Balkema publishers, pages 1685-1690.
  2. Junnila S. and Horvath A., 2003. Life-cycle environmental effects of an office building. Journal of Infrastructure Systems 9, number 4, pages 157-166.
  3. Junnila S., Life-cycle assessment of environmentally significant aspects of an office building. Nordic Journal of Surveying and Real Estate Research (NJSR) Special Series, volume 2, accepted for publication (28.8.2004).
  4. Junnila S., 2003. Identification of environmental impact of office buildings by building element and material groups. In: Sarja A. (editor), Proceedings of Integrated Lifetime Engineering of Buildings and Civil Infrastructures (ILCDES 2003). Kuopio, Finland, 1-3 December 2003. Finnish Association of Civil Engineers, pages 433-438.
  5. Junnila S., 2004. Comparative life cycle assessment of three office buildings. Saari A. (editor), Helsinki University of Technology, Construction Economics and Management, A Research Reports 1 (TKK-RTA-A1).
  6. Junnila S., Horvath A. and Guggemos A., Life-cycle assessment of office buildings in Europe and the U.S. Journal of Infrastructure Systems, accepted for publication (12.4.2004).
  7. Junnila S. and Horvath A., 2003. Environmental sensitivity analysis of the life cycle of an office building. In: Sarja A. (editor), Proceedings of Integrated Lifetime Engineering of Buildings and Civil Infrastructures (ILCDES 2003). Kuopio, Finland, 1-3 December 2003. Finnish Association of Civil Engineers, pages 215-220.
  8. Junnila S. and Rintala T., 2002. Comprehensive LCA reveals new critical aspects in offices. In: Pettersen T. D. (editor), Proceedings of the CIB/iiSBE International Conference on Sustainable Building 2002. Oslo, Norway, 23-25 September 2002. EcoBuild, on CD-ROM.

Keywords: office, building, life-cycle assessment, LCA, scenarios, environmental impact, management

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© 2004 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26