A collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering and the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden have developed a life-cycle assessment tool for studying the efficacy of net-zero and other water recycling and re-use systems, Phys.org reported.
The LCA analysis is the first of its kind to examine water efficiency and conservation across the use-life of a building and place the effectiveness of systems within the broader context of their local environment.
The approach gauges the environmental impact of water re-use systems by accounting for materials and their transportation, construction method and estimated life span for centralized and decentralized water systems.
Even as the American Institute of Architects named water reclamation projects as one of the top 10 design trends for the next decade, green building advocates have found a dearth of research and literature affirming the impact (positive or negative) of those systems on the environment. While the reuse of water seems to be prima facie green, full life-cycle analysis of reuse systems could reveal stark performance differences in centralized versus distributed systems, it and could even show that water reuse contributes little to net-zero real estate development efforts.
That’s not to say the planet isn’t facing a critical shortage of the wet stuff. In 2015, WikiLeaks released a government report that cited Nestle data projecting the end of fresh water as we know it by 2050, largely due to meat-centric diets dependent on water-intensive animal husbandry. Data from NASA’s GRACE satellite system bear out those forecasts, indicating that 21 of the worlds 37 largest underground aquifers have become non-sustainable, meaning that water is being removed at a faster rate than the aquifers can recharge.
The Phipps-Pitt collaboration will look to leverage LCA analyses to optimize water use and reuse systems as consumption and conservation inevitably move from a net-zero concern to a global consideration of survivability.