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Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) – Useful Definitions

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is an essential part of Green Building.  It provides an objective and consistent way to measure the environmental impact of all types of constructions and the materials from which they are made.

Guide to terminology used in life cycle assessment

Abiotic depletion potential  Abiotic depletion indicators capture the decreasing availability of non-renewable resources as a result of their extraction and underlying scarcity. 
Acidification  The reaction of acidic gases e.g. sulphur dioxide, with water in the atmosphere to form acid rain. 
Cradle to gate  All the stages in the manufacture of a product ‒ from extraction of raw materials, transport to factory, processing, manufacture and eventual despatch as far as the factory gate. 
Cradle to gate, with options  The life cycle stages of a product ‒ from extraction of raw materials through manufacture and despatch from the factory gate. It may also include a selection of its stages under usage and/or those under end of life. 
Cradle through construction assessment  The extension of ‘cradle to gate’ to include delivery to the construction site and all processes involved with incorporating that product into the construction works. 
Cradle to grave  This extends the ‘cradle through construction assessment’ to include maintenance of the building, any refurbishment and eventual recycling, reuse or disposal of then product. 
Declared unit  A quantity of a construction product for use as a reference unit in an EPD e.g. mass (kg), volume (m3). 
Environmental Product Declaration (EPD)  A means of reporting LCA data in a common format based on rules known as Product Category Rules (PCR). The plural of EPD is still EPD, not EPDs. 
Eutrophication  The over-enrichment of water courses (usually with nitrates and phosphates) which encourages the growth of algae and reduces the oxygen content within the water. 
Functional unit  The quantified performance of a product system for use as a reference unit in an EPD scheme e.g. the product in a 1m2 building element over a 60 year study period. 
Gate  Point at which a construction product or material leaves the factory before it becomes an input into another manufacturing process or it goes to a distributor, a factory or building site. 
Generic LCA  A type of LCA that collates data from several manufacturers of the same product to create an industry average. 
Life cycle  A collective term for all the stages covering the extraction of raw materials, through processing and manufacture, usage and end of life of a product. 
Life cycle assessment (LCA)  A methodology used to measure the environmental impact of a product at all its stages over its life cycle. 
Non-renewable energy  Energy from sources which are not defined as renewable energy sources. 
Product category rules (PCR)  A set of specific rules, requirements and guidelines for developing Type III Environmental Product Declarations for one or more products. (see below). 
Propriety LCA  The use of information from a single manufacturer so that LCA is specific to that manufacturer’s products. 
Renewable energy  Energy from renewable sources (typically non-fossil sources) e.g. solar, wind, hydro (excluding pumped-through hydro) and biomass. 
Secondary fuels  Fuels recovered from previous use or from waste which substitutes primary fuels. 
Secondary material  Material recovered from previous use or from waste which substitutes primary materials. 
Type III Environmental declarations  An environmental product declaration providing quantified environmental data on a products life cycle, using predetermined parameters and, where relevant, using additional environmental information, enabling a comparison to be made between products fulfilling the same function. 
Waste  Substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard. 

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What is a ‘life cycle stage’ and how do these link to the environmental assessment of whole buildings?

How do core category rules link with environmental product declarations?

Whose responsibility is it to check that wood products being imported into the EU do not originate from illegally sourced timber supplies?

Does the EUTR require mills to provide any extra documentation for customs entry into the European Union?

Must all plywood and OSB panels carry a CE marking?

What is the definition of a construction product under the CPR?

What is a Declaration of Performance referred to under the Construction Products Regulation?

What is the difference between Structural 1 and Exposure 1?

Does structural panel siding have shear values?

What are mould and mildew, and do they compromise the integrity of engineered wood?

The CE-mark on an APA plywood panel means it conforms to European Standards – but which ones?

I want to use a Rated Sheathing panel for flooring/ roofing application, what info do I need to know?

Plywood: Span rating
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What extra strength benefits do Structural 1 OSB panels provide over standard Rated Sheathing panels?

Do APA panels give off formaldehyde?

Plywood: Formaldehyde
OSB: Formaldehyde

What is the difference between a touch-sanded panel and sanded panel?

I’d like to know how APA veneer grades match those given in the European standards

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I want to specify an APA panel for concrete formwork – what do I need to know?

Are APA panels tongue and grooved on all four edges?

I am not familiar with the term ‘Sized for Spacing’ – what is its significance?

How are Performance Category and thickness related?

I’d like to know more about a panel’s Span Rating and how it links to thickness.

Plywood: Span rating
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What is Span Rating on the APA trademark and why is it important?

Plywood: Span rating
OSB: Span rating

What is the difference between Exposure 1 and Exterior plywood panels? What are their appropriate uses?

What are the main OSB panels likely to be available in Europe?

What are the main plywood panels likely to be available in Europe?

What are the main European standards that I would need to be aware of for OSB panels?

The main standards are: EN 13986 and EN 300

What are the main European standards that I would need to be aware of for plywood panels?

The main standards are: EN 13986, EN 636, EN 314, EN 635-3