Towards a triple bottom-line sustainability assessment of the U.S. construction industry
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- Kucukvar, M. & Tatari, O. Int J Life Cycle Assess (2013) 18: 958. doi:10.1007/s11367-013-0545-9
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The construction industry has considerable impacts on the environment, economy, and society. Although quantifying and analyzing the sustainability implications of the built environment is of great importance, it has not been studied sufficiently. Therefore, the overarching goal of this study is to quantify the overall environmental, economic, and social impacts of the U.S. construction sectors using an economic input–output-based sustainability assessment framework.
In this research, the commodity-by-industry supply and use tables published by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, as part of the International System of National Accounts, are merged with a range of environmental, economic, and social metrics to develop a comprehensive sustainability assessment framework for the U.S. construction industry. After determining these sustainability assessment metrics, the direct and indirect sustainability impacts of U.S construction sectors have been analyzed from a triple bottom-line perspective.
When analyzing the total sustainability impacts by each construction sector, “Residential Permanent Single and Multi-Family Structures" and "Other Non-residential Structures" are found to have the highest environmental, economic, and social impacts in comparison with other construction sectors. The analysis results also show that indirect suppliers of construction sectors have the largest sustainability impacts compared with on-site activities. For example, for all U.S. construction sectors, on-site construction processes are found to be responsible for less than 5 % of total water consumption, whereas about 95 % of total water use can be attributed to indirect suppliers. In addition, Scope 3 emissions are responsible for the highest carbon emissions compared with Scopes 1 and 2. Therefore, using narrowly defined system boundaries by ignoring supply chain-related impacts can result in underestimation of triple bottom-line sustainability impacts of the U.S. construction industry.
Life cycle assessment (LCA) studies that consider all dimensions of sustainability impacts of civil infrastructures are still limited, and the current research is an important attempt to analyze the triple bottom-line sustainability impacts of the U.S. construction sectors in a holistic way. We believe that this comprehensive sustainability assessment model will complement previous LCA studies on resource consumption of U.S. construction sectors by evaluating them not only from environmental standpoint, but also from economic and social perspectives.