Environmental assessment methods are important tools to quantify the environmental impacts related to products or services.
In the following some environmental assessment methods related to the building sector are briefly presented.
HQE (Haute Qualité Environnementale)
The French Association HQE was born in 1996 under the guidance of the Department of Buildings and Collectivity with the aim to reduce the use of energy from fossil fuels. In the nineties, the same association gave rise to the homonymic volunteer environmental evaluation tool HQE (Association HQE, 2008).
This evaluation tool is constituted by some lists for designers. The lists are divided into three main categories in which some of the requirements necessary for the construction of high environmental quality new buildings are itemized (Francese, 2007). The three main categories correspond to the three most important scales of impact produced by a building:
- Impact on users;
- Regional scale impacts;
- Global impacts.
For each of the three categories, some needs and correlated actions able to minimize the impacts are identified.
In 1995 the second edition of the method was drafted. In the first edition the objectives of the task and the application fields were described; while, in the second edition, the environmental framework was divided in four standards:
- Natural and economic fluxes;
- Environmental compartments;
- Points of view;
- Scale of the impact.
Environmental and economic fluxes are defined as the fluxes of energy and bulk incoming and outgoing relating to an examined building, considering the withdrawn environmental resources and the emissions in the ecosphere (Boonstra & Pettersen, 2003).
The second standard considers the environmental system as divided into:
- Eco-centric compartments (air, water, soil, plants, fauna);
- Anthropogenic compartments (hygrothermal conditions, radioactivity, electromagnetic fields, etc.).
The points of view standard contemplate that the target of the actions is the environment or the human being. In other words, the goal of the evaluation is the environmental comfort assessed through an anthropocentric or an ecocentric point of view.
The fourth standard recognizes the impacts relating to the transformation of the natural environment. The targets used are: global and local. The local target is divided in:
- Outdoor (the territorial context is that one close to the building).
The global scale is also divided into levels:
- Regional scale;
- Global scale.
The HQE method defines the interferences between the building and the environment through the detection of the impacts on the environmental compartments during the whole building’s life span: worksite; construction and utilization phase.
In this evaluation also the aesthetic features and the landscape elements are considered. In 2005 a new version of the HQE method has been developed. In this version also the refurbishment of buildings has been considered and five sections have been detected:
- Formal definition ;
- Definition of needs;
- Definition of the environmental management system;
- Guidebook to the certification.
The HQE method is a valid tool for the evaluation of the impacts of a building elaborated through the use of different points of view. The HQE defines fourteen environmental issues divided in two macro-areas (Boonstra & Pettersen, 2003):
- Building environmental quality;
- Environmental management of the project.
There are three levels of performance through which the requirements are judged:
- Basic (when the fulfillment of the requirements imposed by laws are achieved);
- Very good.
The HQE strength is that all the evaluation system is based on a set of fourteen issues well-known to the French experts.
NABERS (National Building Environmental Rating System)
NABERS is a building voluntary environmental evaluation tool. It has been developed by the Department of Energy, Utilities, and Sustainability, NSW Government in order to detect the environmental impacts related to the building utilization phase. In the utilization phase of a building, NABERS includes the most relevant environmental factors: use of energy; water; rain; pollution; production of trash; biodiversity; ecology of the site; transportation; indoor air quality; comfort and building materials´ toxicity. One weakness of the method is that NABERS accounts just the utilization phase of a building and not all the other phases, such as, for instance, construction and demolition. At the same time, its weakness is also its strength because it overcomes the gap existing between the intention of the designer and the real building operation.
NABERS is a performance-based rating system for existing buildings with a score from 0 to 5 stars. To zero corresponds a negative judgment that corresponds to a utilization of resources higher than the mean values; besides, the maximum of the performances corresponds to five stars (NABERS, 2008).
The Norwegian method is a voluntary environmental evaluation tool for commercial buildings. It is used for the classification of existing buildings and it has been developed by a group of building owners, researchers, and experts. The method is based on eighty parameters of performance grouped into three categories:
- Outdoor environment;
- Indoor climate.
The parameters describe the buildings during the maintenance ad use phase. For each category, just one parameter is used in order to describe the category itself (Boonstra & Pettersen, 2003).
Environmental Status (Milöstatus)
Environmental Status is the Swedish evaluation method. It is used to assess existing buildings. It considers ninety different environmental aspects grouped into:
- Outdoor environment;
- Indoor environment;
- Natural resources.
Each parameter can be rated from 1 to 5. One is a negative mark, while five is a positive one. The method is based on a first visual analysis of the building, although few measurements can be carried out about the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) concentration, formaldehyde, radon, and air circulation in the examined building. The method of evaluation is simple and based on the visual inspection. The positive aspect of this method is its low cost (Boonstra & Pettersen, 2003).
Green Globes is an environmental-energetic Canadian evaluation method. It is the result of more than eleven years of international research. This method can be freely used online. It is part of the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM)/Green Leaf method.
In 1996, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) published the Canadian BREEAM for existing buildings. To this project more than thirty-five stakeholders participated, some of them belonging to the National Council of Research and University of Toronto and some of the federal and provincial departments. Since 2000 the Green Globes for existing buildings was available online. In the same year, the Canadian Department of the Defense and Public Works began to elaborate a new evaluation method for new buildings.
The Green Globes is used both in Canada and in the United States. In USA Green Globes is used by the Green Building Initiative (GBI), in Canada, the Green Globes for existing buildings is used by the Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA Canada) and is called Go Green (Visez vert). The Green Globes method is used also by the Continental Association for Building Automation (CABA) in order to strength a tool for smart buildings called Building Intelligence Quotient (BiQ). Nowadays, the method is also used by the Canadian Federal Government.
Green Globes is a user-friendly tool; the registered users have to fill a questionnaire that gives back a measure of the impacts in terms of energy, water use, dangerous materials, waste management, indoor environment, and so on (The Practical Building Rating System). It takes about two hours for filling the questionnaire and at the end of this operation a report is automatically generated. In the report, the score of the building is displayed, as well as a list of the achievements and advice.
The versatility of this tool is its principal characteristic. It can be used in several applications: schools, offices, universities, libraries and for new or existing buildings.
CASBEE (Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Environmental Efficiency)
CASBEE is the Japanese method for the environmental evaluation of both new and existing buildings. It was developed in 2002. It uses two categories for the evaluation:
- Q is the category of the buildings’ quality and environmental performances ;
- L is the category relative to the building environmental loads .
The two above-cited categories are defined according to two other categories: indoor and outdoor. The indoor and outdoor spaces are defined by hypothetical boundaries. In this way, the impacts generated by a building and by the environment where the building is settled can be considered simultaneously, but they are separately evaluated through the two categories: Q and L (Japan Sustainable Building Consortium, 2006).
CASBEE covers the following four assessment fields:
- Energy efficiency;
- Resource efficiency;
- Local environment;
- Indoor environment.
In Q can be grouped: indoor environment (Q1); quality of service (Q2); and outdoor environment on site (Q3). Similarly, L is divided into energy (L1); materials and resources (L2); off-site environment (L3). The values for each category of environmental loads and quality define the parameter BEE (Building Environmental Efficiency) as follows:
BEE = Q/L
The Q and L values are reported in a graph. The higher is the value of Q the lower is the value of L. To the highest ratio between Q and L corresponds to the highest value of BEE that represents the degree of sustainability of the analyzed building.
Association HQE. (2008, September 10). Association HQE. Retrieved August 31, 2010, from Association HQE: http://www.assohqe.org/
Francese, D. (2007). Architettura e vivibilità. Modelli di verifica, principi di biocompatibilità, esempi di opere per il rispetto ambientale. Franco Angeli.
Boonstra, C., & Pettersen, T. D. (2003, April-September). Tools for the environmental assessment of existing buildings. Sustainable building and construction. Retrieved March 2008, from http://www.uneptie.org
NABERS. (2008). NABERS. Retrieved August 31, 2010, from NABERS: http://www.nabers.com.au/
Japan Sustainable Building Consortium. (2006). CASBEE. Retrieved September 14, 2010, from CASBEE: http://www.ibec.or.jp/CASBEE/english/methodE.htm
 Formal definition means all that can fulfill the human needs and all that is capable of making comfortable the indoor environment
 It assesses the enhancement of the life quality due to the presence of private spaces for the building users
 It assesses the negative features of the environmental impact beyond the hypothetical boundary, thus on the public property
*Rearranged text from: Susca, T. (2011). Evaluation of the Surface Albedo in a LCA Multi-scale Approach. The Case Study of Green, White and Black Roofs in New York City. Ph.D. Thesis.