We have given you a ton of info about building green, such as the Building Green Series from Ted Owens and How to Green Your Electricity. Today we just want to direct you to an outrageously informative initiative by the Australian Government and design and construction industries called Your Home: Australia's Guide to Environmentally Sustainable Homes.
If you search through this site you'll find all kinds of interesting info in the Technical Manual including a case studies section that looks at how homes have been made greener by reducing energy use and the annual net savings that were achieved. Of course, my favorite part is Section 3.1 under Materials Use that looks at Embodied Energy and Life Cycle Assessment. The site simply defines embodied energy as,
"the energy consumed by all of the processes associated with the production of a building, from the acquisition of natural resources to product delivery. This includes the mining and manufacturing of materials and equipment, the transport of the materials and the administrative functions. Embodied energy is a significant component of the lifecycle impact of a home."
"The single most important factor in reducing the impact of embodied energy is to design long life, durable and adaptable buildings."
They also explain that, "The importance of embodied energy and other environmental impacts does not become apparent until we examine the materials from a life cycle approach " This site is a great resource for green building and for simple understanding of "all this talk" about embodied energy and LCA. There is a list of the embodied energy of common materials and a warning that you can't simply compare two materials based on their embodied energy, but generally speaking, the more highly processed the material, the higher the embodied energy.
They also duly note that the actual embodied energy of a material manufactured and used in one city will be very different if the same material is transported by truck to another city. The transportation impacts will increase the embodied energy of said material. This is a common LCA question that we perhaps don't talk about enough. Is it okay to buy a "green" material and have it shipped half way around the world? Or should I instead just buy a locally "less green" material? There is no easy answer to that question. Obviously it depends on the specific material and the difference in environmental-friendliness, but sometimes your local-less-green-product is going to be better in the life cycle impact end of things than having a more-green product shipped from Japan to Iowa. But other times it might be better to have a green product brought in from far away than to buy a horrible-polluting product at home: these issues are exactly what LCA tries to consider. And they're all things to keep in mind when trying to lead a life with a smaller footprint. Take a look at the site for more in-depth info and guidelines for reducing embodied energy in your home and the Technical Manual for specific data.