Summary of the EcoEffect method for environmental assessment of build environment.

As in all other societal sectors, within the building sector there is a need for metrics and indicators that describe environmental impacts that would thereby simplify decision making in the way to long-term sustainable development.

A number of methods, which characterize or ”measure” the environmental improvement and the ecological sustainability of the built environment, have been under development under a umbrella research programme known as ”Environmental assessment of the Built Environment”

The EcoEffect method is one such method developed at Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and the University of Gävle with a support from a number of companies and organizations within the Swedish building sector.


The objective of the EcoEffect method is to:

-        Quantitatively describe environmental and health impact from real estate and the built environment

-        Provide a basis for comparison and decision making that can lead to reduced environmental impact

The method primarily target decision makers within the planning, designing and, management of the built environment. An EcoEffect software has been developed within the project, which together with a so called Input Data Sheet constitutes a tool for using the EcoEffect method in practice.


The EcoEffect method has a holistic perspective of environmental issues with five parallel areas of focus: Energy, Material, Indoor Environment, Outdoor Environment and Life Cycle Costs.

Environmental assessment area is carried out within each for a number of different impact categories e.g. climate change, acidification, noise, etc.

The interest has, as long as possible, been to quantify the contribution of real estates and buildings to different environmental problems.

The ambition has been that the EcoEffect results should be easy to understand and underlying assumptions and conditions should be easily accessible. The method is currently developed for multi-family residential houses, offices and schools. The environmental assessment has primarily been delimited to real estate-related environmental impacts. In other words, it is the characteristics of the building its associated yard i.e. the physical environment that is assessed.

The users of the real estate are assumed to use the building and its fixtures in a pre-determined manner and will have a “normal” life style.

In order to present an aggregated result that simplifies comparisons, a weighting method has been developed within the project that is based on the assessment direct and indirect problems to human being associated with environmental impacts.

Table 1 shows some characteristic features of the EcoEffect method.


Table 1. Characteristic features of the EcoEffect method


The origins of all information and results can easily be followed

Problem –orientation

The calculations as well as the result has a direct connection to different types of environmental impact e.g. acidification, noise e.t.c. and their significance to people’s health and wellbeing

Simplifies comparisons

Companies, real estates, buildings and building elements can easily be compared in terms of environmental loads.

Function based

Environmental loads shows per function/use, e.g. per user

As metrics for  characteristics and activities

Shows measurable health risks and environmental impacts caused by buildings and the associated yard (the physical environment)

Holistic approach

Many different types of environmental impacts are presented to avoid sub-optimization

Simplifies environmental decisions

Consequences of the requirements on indoor and outdoor environment can directly monitored as loads on the external environment (e.g. climate change)

Life cycle perspective

Contains the whole chain of environmental impacts from raw material extraction to the use of waste products/ demolishing associated with the energy and material flows, LCA (Life Cycle Assessment)=

Flow Analysis

Assesses the majority of all energy and substance flows

System boundary

Real estates are selected as primary objects of comparison. Partly because there is an owner who have the possibility to influence and partly because operation flows are usually measured at the real estate level.  


Facilitates the weighting of results, which is usually a pre-requisite for practical comparisons. Weights can be changed and used for sensitivity analysis.



The results can be summarized in different ways: as comparisons between different real estates/buildings, as environmental profiles or as indicators.

The simplest comparisons shows an aggregated assessment of the impact on the indoor and outdoor environment (collectively called the internal environmental impact ) together with the aggregated assessment of the impact on the external environment ( external environmental impact)

The sum of such loads should be as small as possible since the interests is to have a good internal environment while at the same time lower external environmental load. Broadly speaking, the quality of the internal environment can be measured through the degree of stratification of the users. See Figure 1.















Figure 1. Summarized presentation of internal and external environmental impacts. The internal impacts shows the risk that users will be affected negatively by the environment within the boundary of the real estate and the external impact shows the risk that people outside the real estate would be affected through using it. (climate change, acidification etc) 


The environmental profiles are bar diagrams where each bar shows a certain type of impact from a given building, Figure 2. 

There are un-weighted and weighted profiles with all impact categories or summed up under each areas. The weighting method developed in EcoEffect is based on how sever different environmental problems are thought to be for people now and in the future.
















Figure 2. An example of an environmental profile.


Figure 2 above shows bars representing potential external impact calculated in EcoEffect, i.e. potential environmental problems caused by emissions related to the use of a specific built environment.  In addition there are a number of internal impact indicators calculated showing potential problems for the users of a built environment. These calculated units may be called the environmental indicators for a built environment. The total different indicators calculated at present in EcoEffect are shown in Table 2.


Table 2. Environmental indicators calculated in EcoEffect at present.

External impact

Internal impact

(due to use of a building)

(potential problems for users of a building)

Climate change



Stratospheric ozone depletion

Air quality

Air quality


Thermal comfort

Ground pollution


Sound condition


Ground ozone formation

Light conditions


Human toxicity

Electromagnetic conditions


Eco toxicity






Natural ozone depletion

Joints problem



Sick Builiding Syndrome

Bio productivity



Storm water








Application areas

One unique feature that distinguishes EcoEffect from other methods is its direct association of the characteristics of buildings or activities to environmental impacts.

A change in the flow or the physical environment can directly be shown as a change in environmental impact. This means also that the method can be used for formulating quantitative environmental goals for each impact category e.g. a certain building shouldn’t contribute to the problem of climate change more than a certain amount. 

The method should specifically be applicable to real estate companies that use environmental management system according to ISO 14001 or EMAS. The method is developed so that it can be used in early phases of planning and design and as well as by real estate manager during operation phase.

Planning and designing of new buildings in a real estate

In the planning phase, a goal for a reduced environmental impact from a real estate or the risk for its users is formulated. The formulation of such a goal can be done in terms that can clearly connected to societal goals e.g. the national environmental goals.

During the design phase a more precisely defined requirement is developed on the type and performance different building components etc. Using the goals put up during the planning phase as a starting point, the EcoEffect software can be used to check if the different performance requirements and system solutions help achieve the goals..

If the results obtained are worse than expected, one can go further down the bars on the environmental profiles and understand the causes that led to these results. i.e. locate the flows or the characteristics of the real estate that worsen the results,

There are possibilities for testing how the results can be improved through different types of interventions and measures e.g. selecting a different type of energy source or reduce energy consumption.

Management of an existing real estate

There are several potential application areas for EcoEffect during the management phase of a real estate. First and for most, it can be used in a follow up to check if the goals set up during the planning phase are achieved.

Particularly, the goal for indoor environment can be assessed using EcoEffect- questionnaire one year after the users of the building have moved in. The EcoEffect method enables also to compose or produce what is called Environmental Declaration for an existing building that shows both the internal and external environmental impacts of a real estate.

Environmental declarations are useful for different external stakeholders such as potential buyers, creditors, owner or clients etc.

Such information can be used not only for formulating goals for environmental management by real estate managers but also for introducing a dialog with tenants for initiating improvement measures.

If environmental declarations for different buildings/real estates are produced in a similarly consistent procedure, the buildings/real estates can be compared with each other in terms of their environmental performance. As more environmental assessment of buildings/real estates are carried out, more experience is gained about the significance of the physical environment to the environmental impacts.

In a real estates manager’s internal environmental management process, the EcoEffect method can be used to facilitate an environmental review with regard to the question of measurable environmental goals for a whole building stock.  This can then be broken down to individual goals for real estates and buildings. 

The goals to be assessed that are formulated in the environmental management can directly be expressed in terms of contributions to different problems and types of environmental impacts. As an example, a goal for energy consumption can be expressed as “The contribution of this real estate to the problem of climate change would be reduced by 20% in 5 years” instead of saying that a corresponding reduction in energy consumption in KWh would be made. The earlier formulation brings with it the significance of the environmental impact of the type of energy source used. This opens up for several possible measures that can be worked with, both energy saving and choice of energy source, in order to achieve the goal.

The EcoEffect software

The EcoEffect software is developed in such a way that any one who has a certain computer skill can use it. It is not necessary to turn to an expert or a consultant to carry out an EcoEffect assessment.

The advantage of being able to run the software is obviously the possibility of getting a better understanding of how the different features and measures in the physical environment contribute to different environmental problems and health risks. The EcoEffect software is developed on MS Access platform (see figure 3) with an accompanying Input Data Sheet in Ms Excel.

From aggregated results can one easily go down through the profiles in the software step by step to find underlying data and areas of improvement for reducing the environmental impact of the real estates. All input data and calculated values can also be presented in the form of numerical figures or in terms of indicators such as kr/user or CO2-equivalents/m2




















Figure 3. The main interface of the EcoEffect software

Data input

The effort required to acquire data for the assessment depends on the objective of the assessment and on whether it will be a full EcoEffect assessment or not. If for example the interest is the environmental impact of energy consumption, only a measured or calculated data on energy consumption that is required.

The Input Data Sheet is developed in such a way that it can be applicable in both planning and management situation. For instance, the data on existing building’s indoor environment is collected through questionnaires to users and additional some measurements and inspections.

In the planning situation, corresponding data is obtained by filling up the goals and performance requirements in a table in the Input Data Sheet. The data requirement for a complete EcoEffect assessment as it is now can be summarised according to table 2.  

Appropriate levels for formulating environmental goals can be obtained with the help of the EcoEffect software and the Input Data Sheet.

Table 2.  Input data required for carrying out the EcoEffect assessment



real estates under planning/design

Existing real estate

General data

·                       Real estate identification, address

·                       Primary use (residential, school, office)

·                       Areas, e.g. use areas and yard area

·                       Planned number of users 


·        Calculated/measured energy consumption for heating, hot water and cooling

·        Energy carrier for heating and hot water (suppliers)

·        Calculated/measured power consumption for real estate (estimation of power consumption)


·        Amount of materials with  substance toxic to environment and human health

·        Amount of material - major material groups

·        Information on embedded  substances toxic to environment and human health


Indoor Environment

·        Environmental goal – Table PM1 in the planning phase


·        Responses to questions of the EcoEffect-questionnaire

·        Measured values for radon in air, electromagnetic field, tap water temperature

·        Inventory of toxic substances/material (mainly asbestos, blue-concrete, PCB), effect of dampness and risk for Legionella growth

·        Measures to achieve environmental goals set up during the planning phase – table PM2 in the design phase

Outdoor environment

·        Inspection/inventory of factors for biological diversity

·         Inspection/inventory of daylight, wind and noise circumstances

·        measured values for top soil, clay content, electromagnetic field, PCB content in the soil

·        Responses to questions of the EcoEffect-questionnaire

·        Inspection/inventory of factors for biological diversity

·        measured values for top soil, clay content, electromagnetic field, PCB content in the soil

·        values for surrounding traffic load

Life cycle costs

·        Calculated costs for maintenance, heating, power, water and wastewater and construction

·        Cost for maintenance, heating, power, water and wastewater and waste management


Life cycle assessment – Material and Energy use 

In the EcoEffect method, a life cycle assessment methodology is used for calculation of environmental impacts from the use of energy and material in the real estates/buildings. The functional unit is defined differently depending on the type of real estate (family residential house, office or school) e.g. as “the provision a family house for 50 years".

The total environmental impact from inflow of materials and energy to the real estate under a certain defined life time is expressed as an environmental load of the real estate.

The environmental impact calculated for energy and material use is of three types: emissions, waste and natural resource depletion. The EcoEffect software contains a database with environmental data for different energy types, selected material groups, and reference values etc that are used in the calculations.

It is possible to put in life cycle data in addition to the exiting data in the EcoEffect database for use in the calculation of environmental impacts. There is also a system for evaluating the quality of the data. 

Multicriteria analysis - indoor and outdoor environment

For the indoor environment, the impact on human health and wellbeing is assessed whereas for the outdoor environment, both the impact on human health as well as the impact on the ecosystem/biological diversity is included. For both areas, it is the actual characteristics and the circumstances of the indoor and outdoor environment that are essentially assessed. The input data for the assessment are calculated to load values according to established criteria that are based on relevant norms, threshold values etc. 

Using tree structures depicting higher and lower levels of problems/factors, the input data is processed to environmental loads for lower level health problems and environmental factors (indoor and outdoor) that contribute to a higher level problem. The higher the load value is the larger the risk that the problem would occur.

Toxic substance

Emission of substances toxic to environment and human health during the manufacturing of building materials are included under the Material Use with the help of LCA methodology. In the EcoEffect assessment, these emissions are accounted for in the form of the impact categories of human toxicity and ecotoxicity.

 On the other hand, toxic substances that are embedded in the different part of the real estate are accounted for in the EcoEffect method in terms of amount and location.

Scenarios for life cycle costs

The sum of investment, service (power, heating, water and wastewater, cleaning) and maintenance costs are aggregated over 50 years or another defined period is used as an environmental cost indicator.

Costs that have no evident or obvious connection to the environmental impacts of a real estate are excluded from this indicator, e.g. capital costs. The environmental cost indicator can for example be used to study how investments accompanied by lower operation costs and environmental impacts result in different returns with different price scenarios.


The current version of EcoEffect does not include the following:

·       Building phase

·       Waste generated and leaving the real estate

·       Flow of water and wastewater

·       Land use

·       Location issues

In the Future

The currently available version of the EcoEffect software can be used for the aforementioned applications. During the major part of the last one year the EcoEffect project had a focus on methodology development issue rather than software development. Hence, as the software is continued to be tested more and more, there will certainly be some deficiencies showing up calling for improvements. At the time of the writing of this report, the methodologies for including areas such as toxic substances and the outdoor environment are already developed but not implemented in the software. The same is true for the weighting methods for indoor as well as outdoor environment. On the other hand, area such as water, wastewater and waste need to be developed further.