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Health Co-Benefits of the Built Environment

Frequently Asked Questions

Thank you for your interest in the CoBE tool. We hope that you find answers to your questions below. If you need additional information, please contact Mahala Lahvis at mlahvis@hsph.harvard.edu

The CoBE v.2 tool utilizes energy-use data from a building or group of buildings to provide information on the climate and health impacts of the building(s).

CoBE v.2 accounts for scope 1 (direct GHG emissions from on-site fuel combustion of fuel oils, natural gas, wood, and other fuels) and scope 2 (indirect GHG emissions from off-site generation of electricity, steam, heating, and cooling) emissions from buildings. CoBE v.2 does not yet account for scope 3 emissions.

Yes, differences in the regional emission footprint of the electricity grid are taken into account.

The energy sources that can be reported in CoBE v.2 include electricity, natural gas, no. 2 fuel oil, no. 4 fuel oil, no. 5 fuel oil, diesel, propane, wood, district chilled water, district steam, and district hot water.

In the CoBE v.2 Emissions Footprint, different pollutants are accounted for based on the selected energy source:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and PM2.5 precursors sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are covered for on-site fuel combustion from fuel oils, natural gas, wood, and other fuels (scope 1 emissions).
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfer dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx)” to “CO2, SO2, and NOx

    are covered for electricity use (scope 2 emissions).

The CoBE v.2 Climate Impact accounts for carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O).

The CoBE v.2 Health Impact accounts for different pollutants depending on the emissions scope and source:

  • For scope 1 emissions (direct GHG emissions from on-site fuel combustion of fuel oils, natural gas, wood, and other fuels), CoBE v.2 accounts for primary fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and PM2.5 precursors sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).
  • For scope 2 emissions (indirect GHG emissions from off-site generation of electricity, steam, heating, and cooling), the pollutants accounted for depends on the type of energy purchased:
    • For electricity, CoBE v.2 accounts for SO2 and NOx.
    • For district heat and district steam, CoBE v.2 accounts for primary PM2.5, SO2, and NOx.
    • For district chilled water:
      • If electricity is used to chill the water, CoBE v.2 accounts for SO2 and NOx.
      • If fuels such as natural gas are used to chill the water, CoBE v.2 accounts for primary PM2.5, SO2, and NOx.

The CoBE v.2 Health Impact is based solely on estimated mortality due to PM2.5. CoBE v.2 does not account for health impacts other than mortality from fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and PM2.5 precursors.

CoBE v.2 also does not account for factors such as weather patterns and local community health vulnerabilities.

Currently, the CoBE v.2 tool does not have the health impacts from indoor air pollution.

CoBE v.2 presents estimates of the total health impacts from emissions at a national level, but does not provide the user with a breakdown of specifically where these impacts are occurring within the U.S. It would require significant computational power to model these fine-detailed estimates of source-to-receptor relationships, and thus they are not included in this version.

CoBE v.2 uses the value of statistical life (VSL) produced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The VSL is not the literal value of a human life. It is a willingness to pay for a slight reduction in the risk of dying.

Not yet, but future versions of this tool could include nonmortality health impacts.

CoBE v.2 uses a social cost of carbon annual discount rate of 3%, which is the median of the three discount rates provided by the Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases in its guidance for the social cost of carbon: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/TechnicalSupportDocument_SocialCostofCarbonMethaneNitrousOxide.pdf

While CoBE v.2 cannot currently take other energy sources, we are working on including more fuel types in future versions.

AVERT is an EPA tool that can be used to calculate the changes in emissions and energy use from additional renewable energy deployment. An older renewable energy module exists on the CoBE website, and it is based on AVERT. There are a few key differences between CoBE and AVERT:

  • AVERT covers avoided emissions from the deployment of renewable energy, while CoBE covers direct building emissions and emissions from building electricity use. Furthermore, CoBE can estimate the emissions impacts of specific buildings or groups of buildings, while AVERT focuses on total energy generation within a given region of the U.S.
  • CoBE provides estimates of the value of the climate and health impacts of energy use, as well as estimates of the GHGs and air pollutants emitted from energy use. AVERT provides estimates of avoided energy generation and GHG/air pollutant emissions, but does not provide estimates of the value of energy generation and emissions.
  • The pollutants covered by AVERT are different from those covered by CoBE:
    • AVERT covers carbon dioxide (CO2), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and ammonia (NH3).

CoBE covers CO2, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), primary PM2.5, SO2, and NOx.