From its earliest days, the Athena Institute has been recognized as the North American leader in construction sector LCA.
The roots of Athena date back to work that began in 1989 at Canada’s national wood products research institute, Forintek Canada Corp (now known as FPInnovations).
At Forintek, researcher Jamie Meil led a project focused on broadening the environmental dialogue about forest products. Consultant Wayne Trusty was engaged by Forintek as an advisor.
In 1991, Forintek received funding under Environment Canada’s “Green Plan” to undertake further research on the environmental footprint of building materials. This work included the formation of a stakeholder group with representation from the steel, cement and wood industries, from Natural Resources Canada, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Trent University. Each participant in this consortium provided input, including UBC’s renowned architectural sustainability expert Ray Cole, who also provided technical guidance and fairness oversight. Wayne Trusty managed the consortium.
The consortium team developed research guidelines in alignment with the then-evolving ISO standards for LCA and produced data for structural and envelope building materials. The resulting research reports, published under the title Building Materials in the Context of Sustainable Development, were globally accepted as credible, definitive and scientific—particularly in Europe, where LCA in construction was already established. This was likely the first significant effort in Canada investigating the application of LCA to the construction sector.
In the mid-90s, this work became known as the “Athena Project,” and the early data was packaged in a spreadsheet as the first step towards developing a usable tool for North American designers. The ultimate goal was a decision tool that would help the construction sector reduce the embodied environmental impact of buildings. Natural Resources Canada was the primary funder through this period.
In 1996, the Athena team initiated a separation from Forintek to ensure total objectivity of the team. The Athena Institute was formed in 1997, co-founded by Wayne Trusty as President and Jamie Meil as Vice President, and acquiring all intellectual property from Forintek.
The original spreadsheet tool was converted to a full software application with significant funding from the Climate Change Secretariat of the Canadian government, among others. It was released as a commercial product in 2002, originally known as the Environmental Impact Estimator. Now called the Athena Impact Estimator for Buildings, this software and data package has evolved through many updates and is now in its fourth iteration. A second tool, the Athena EcoCalculator for Assemblies, was released as a free product in 2007. This spreadsheet tool, derived from the Impact Estimator, contains pre-calculated LCA results for common building assemblies and was developed under funding by the Green Building Initiative as a component of the Green Globes™ green building rating program, which is an ANSI Standard.
Today, the Athena Institute is supported by a broad range of material industries and stakeholders and is working towards continued development of LCA data on materials and systems and continued evolution of the software tools to meet changing needs in the construction world.