Energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions – developing an indicator framework applicable to the built environment
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Many different policy approaches, tools, and methodologies have been implemented in the quest to reduce the energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of different elements of the built environment. The common policy approaches currently in use addressing these issues in buildings and infrastructure (B&I) focus mainly on operational energy and GHG emissions while neglecting other life cycle stages. The assessment methods and schemes that can be used to address the efficacy of these approaches use a different set of parameters than the policies themselves. Many of these assessment methodologies have issues that should be resolved or augmented in order to increase their utility and effectiveness. An issue often overlooked in policy, but well known to those in the field of industrial ecology, is that impacts from most products (including B&I) accrue not only during the operational phase but during the entire life cycle. The impacts that accrue during the different life cycle stages consist of impacts made by other actors in other sectors and/or at other times. Focused methodologies such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) attempt to account for the entire life cycle, yet they often rely on predictions, estimates, and averages of the past, present, and future. These life cycle stages are then compressed across time and space, with results presented as one or more synthetic impacts for a contrived functional unit. At a broader scale, the approaches used to measure and report current consumption at the global and national levels divide the field along different boundaries and into different categories, making comparisons of expectations and results difficult to impossible. Beyond attempts to reduce energy use and emissions from B&I, the increase in climate change related hazards around the world is exposing that the narrow focus on efficiency may be more detrimental than first envisioned. While the promotion of efficiency and promise of protection have been common approaches to hazards in the past, recent events have exposed weaknesses in existing tactics. It has also become more apparent that existing mitigation efforts will be insufficient to prevent some level of climate change, associated hazards, and impacts. Complete protection against all threats is not only impossible but potentially hazardous, as extreme or unanticipated events can exceed the capacity for defense, potentially resulting in catastrophic failures. From this realization of the fallibility of the existing paradigm, the concept of resilience has emerged as a potentially useful frame of reference for reconciling the twin goals of mitigation and adaptation in the built environment. Through a series of papers, this thesis highlights and analyzes concerns about applying a life cycle approach to energy and emissions in the built environment, proposes a metrics and indicator framework designed to facilitate the sectoral tracking of energy and emissions, and explores resilience as a useful concept for framing the response of cities to the expanding collection of potential threats.