Vancouver 2010 Olympic Venue LCA Study Pioneered by UBC Engineering Students

A group of students at the University of British Columbia (UBC) recently completed a series of life cycle assessment (LCA) studies quantifying the impacts of constructing two Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games venues: the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre and the Richmond Oval.

These studies were completed as part of their coursework in CIVL 498C – Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment, a technical elective in the UBC Civil Engineering Department.  The work was also recognized by the UBC SEEDS program, which supports student projects that collaborate with staff and faculty to advance sustainability in campus operations. The study results informed the completion of one indicator in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games Impact Report (OGI) – En27: Life-cycle Inventory of Olympic and Paralympic Venues.

The CIVL 498C LCA work is particularly interesting because it is the most detailed environmental impact assessment conducted on any venues constructed for Olympic Games held to date. These studies went beyond the few existing cradle-to-gate Olympic environmental impact studies, which have focused on carbon footprinting, to examine multiple impacts caused by inputs and outputs from the resource extraction, construction product manufacturing, site preparation, construction and related transportation activities required to create the venues.

  • Inputs: Renewable Energy Use, Non Renewable Energy Use, Raw Materials Use, Water Use
  • Outputs: Global Warming Potential (Carbon Footprint), Acidification Potential, Smog Formation Potential, Eutrophication Potential

The main factors that enabled the students to achieve this unprecedented level of detail in their LCA studies was their access to as-built venue construction drawings, access to the architects responsible for designing the venues, and use of the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute’s life cycle inventory (LCI) database, which has been developed from empirical sampling of North American construction product manufacturers.

Using multiple impact categories enabled these LCA studies to provide a more complete narrative of the impacts created by the construction of the Vancouver Olympic venue designs. Future Games can use this narrative to provide venue designers with multiple environmental impact performance benchmarks that they are required to outperform. This would incentivize designers to integrate LCA into their venue design process in order to ensure the required environmental impact reductions are achieved, and also to ensure that they are accomplishing a total reduction in impact rather than just offsetting into other categories (e.g. reducing global warming potential at the cost of increasing acidification or eutrophication potential). By encouraging the further adoption of LCA and the use of multiple environmental impact performance benchmarks, future Olympic Games could provide a detailed narrative of how they are measurably reducing their impacts across all categories.

Globally, the shift to assess the ‘green-ness’ of buildings based on quantitative performance measures is raising the profile of LCA, as it is the most rigorous scientific method used to quantify the impacts of products and services over their life cycle. LCA is a resource intensive assessment approach that is becoming more accessible due to the attention from major sustainable building construction standards – including LEED, ASHRAE, ISO and IgCC – who increasingly encourage its use. There are significant opportunities for professionals educated in LCA tools, databases and methodology to engage this trending topic in the Green Construction Market, which was estimated to be $153 billion dollars globally in 2010 by SBI Energy. The CIVL 498C students are not only poised to become leaders in this market, but have already made a significant contribution to furthering accessibility to LCA for others through their Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games venues LCA studies.

Student reports available on the UBC SEEDS Library (Filter by year [2011] and course code [CIVL 498C])

A presentation of the CIVL 498C students Olympic Venue LCA studies is available on YouTube.

For more information contact:

Rob Sianchuk 
CIVL 498C Course Instructor & Olympic Venue LCA Study Lead

Robert VanWynsberghe
OGI Lead