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The carbon footprint metric is a useful tool for prediction of a system's “ecoperformance” over its expected life cycle. The current estimation does not take into consideration all the ingredients for comprehensive and consistent emission estimation and benchmarking. The index, represented in terms of tons per year of carbon dioxide, provides a valuable energy/environmental baseline for commercial buildings. One essential area of research is the estimation of embodied energy in water delivery to the building and removal of wastewater from the building. Data are needed for inclusion in the carbon emission footprint calculation. This element is a site specific parameter that depends on characteristics of the local water supply and treatment system, and the wastewater collection and treatment system. The question answered by this research is: What is the impact of demand side sustainable water practices on the embodied energy as represented by a comprehensive carbon footprint?

In April 2007, ASHRAE held a workshop in Washington D.C. on Forecasting Carbon Emissions from Buildings. An important result of this workshop was the identification of future research needs which included “embodied energy and emissions associated with water use in the building (this would be highly site specific depending on characteristics of the local water supply and treatment system.)” (ASHRAE Workshop Report, 2007) This project reflects the needs identified by ASHRAE and the wastewater/water community.

There are simple carbon footprint calculators which convert energy consumption of industrial processes and building operations to tons of CO2. These tools are incomplete unless the embodied energy of water distribution and treatment are included. The objective of this study is to investigate various methods for developing a comprehensive carbon footprint for demand side water conservation. Factors that affect the footprint are identified and a technical approach for inclusion of the embodied energy as a multiplier is presented.

An important step in emission reduction is to establish a consistent index and a standardized carbon footprint metric that includes the embodied energy for collection, treatment and distribution. Benefits to be derived from a standardized approach include: (1) Improved cost and benefit analysis in the decision process for architects and engineers during design phase; (2) Simplification of energy use reporting and reduction schemes; (3) Establishment of a recognized benchmark for use in the comparison, tracking and monitoring of emissions over the life of the building; (4) Ability to quantify relative impacts of building design options using carbon emission equivalents.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2008

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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