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An LCA Pioneer:
The whole story

A pioneer in bringing life cycle assessment [LCA] to the North American construction sector, the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute celebrates a 20th anniversary this year.

By VANESSA SALAZAR


The origins of the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute can be traced back to the roots of the green building movement in North America. In 1997, the newly formed USGBC was still a year away from launching the first LEED pilot project and few could have imagined how the demand for sustainability would disrupt the construction industry in the years to come. At this time, a group of economists and engineers recognized that for the green building movement to achieve lasting change, it had to be rooted in science and consider the life cycle impact of construction.

Fast forward to 2017 and LEED v4 now draws on LCA approaches that Athena has pioneered, and corporate sustainability is a must for any forward-thinking company. After 20 years in the industry, Athena’s founding members can offer a unique perspective on the history and the future of sustainable building in Canada and around the world.

THE HISTORY

  • “Back in the 90’s it was really exciting to be part of a small group and such an important component of the [sustainability] industry.” said Mark Lucuik, Director of Sustainability at Morrison Hershfield, a long-time Athena Institute partner.

The Athena Sustainable Materials Institute was founded as a not-for-profit in 1997. Cofounders Wayne Trusty and Jaime Meil sought to expand the reach of the building LCA project that was at that time called the “Athena Project”. The Athena Project dates back to 1989 at Forintek Canada Corp. [now FPInnovations], where researcher Jamie Meil was looking at the sustainability of wood products. Meil realized “this is not a zero sum game.” The Athena working group, economists and engineers by trade, quickly concluded that they needed data on a range of building materials and their use to  tell the sustainability story.  They also felt that in order to maintain the highest levels of impartiality when studying these different building materials, they needed to formally separate from Forintek and become a not-for-profit.

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