Carbon Expert of the Month, March 2021
Maria Voukia is a Senior Sustainability Consultant at Ramboll, a leading engineering, design and consultancy company with 300 offices in 35 countries. Responsible business conduct and sustainable practices have been part of Ramboll’s DNA since the company’s inception. Ramboll is dedicated to taking a leading role in sharing best practices and creating value for clients by delivering solutions that are environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable.
“…I expect more policies to be put in place to regulate embodied carbon emissions and introduce requirements to undertake whole life-cycle assessments and reduce embodied carbon.”
What led you to become a construction carbon expert?
Back in 2012, having just graduated with a Master’s degree in Architecture and Engineering, I knew my passion lay within reducing the environmental footprint of the buildings we designed as architects. A few years ago, sustainability was not a widespread term, but it was definitely one that fascinated me. I decided to pursue a second Master’s degree in Sustainable Building Design at the Technical University of Munich, where I first learned how to undertake embodied carbon assessments and the importance of considering the whole life-cycle emissions of materials, products and buildings.
When I joined Ramboll, I became part of a global network of multidisciplinary LCA experts, focusing on the collective mitigation of operational and embodied carbon emissions. I have been leading some of our global LCA initiatives and I am really pleased to see the industry’s increased focus on this topic.
What kind of projects do you typically work on, and in what role?
As part of Ramboll’s Sustainable Solutions team, I am responsible for our Life Cycle Assessment services. In the past few months, my main focus has been supporting our clients with establishing appropriate goals and targets, helping them understand the whole life-cycle emissions of their projects, as well as identifying carbon intensive elements and developing appropriate strategies to mitigate their impact. I have completed Whole Life Carbon (WLC) assessments for a variety of project types, including residential, office and retail buildings, as well as warehouses.
A key part of my role is also to support Ramboll’s national and global LCA research activities, which range from developing LCA and embodied carbon guidance documents to creating databases that include Ramboll’s national and international projects. This can help inform the development of realistic carbon targets for our clients and establish appropriate benchmarks.
How do you see carbon performance evolving in the market?
Over the last few years, we have been seeing an increased interest from our clients in understanding the embodied carbon impact of their projects and in exploring ways to reduce carbon emissions. Some of our most progressive clients have been setting their own challenging targets and goals and it has been great assisting them on their sustainability journey.
There is no doubt that whole life-cycle environmental performance will become a top priority and I expect more policies to be put in place to regulate embodied carbon emissions and introduce requirements to undertake whole life-cycle assessments and reduce embodied carbon. There will be an increased pressure on manufacturers to measure and disclose the environmental performance of their products, for example by producing EPDs. This will definitely encourage them to find ways to reduce their manufacturing process and supply chain emissions, if they wish to stay competitive in a market with a constantly increasing focus on sustainability.
In the past few months, I have been part of a project team working on a pilot study to define a Net Zero Carbon pathway for refurbishing existing office buildings. This is a relatively unexplored field and a challenging and exciting project to be involved with. I have been leading the embodied carbon workstream and have been closely working with our sustainability, energy and building services experts to identify and assess appropriate options to achieve Net Zero Carbon from both an operational and embodied perspective.
Europe is faced with an ageing existing building stock. The sustainable use and refurbishment of existing buildings, if and where possible, will play a key role in reducing upfront embodied carbon emissions. I am excited to explore how various refurbishment solutions perform when integrating the life-cycle perspective.
How does your engagement on materials sustainability vary over project phases?
We typically start with high-level embodied carbon assessments, which help us identify the carbon-intensive components or materials and enable us to focus on the ‘carbon hotspots’. Through workshops with the wider design team, we are trying to develop alternative options for the worst performing components and introduce more challenging targets. During more detailed design stages, we focus on identifying more sustainable material options. We review not only the materials’ upfront carbon emissions, but also replacement cycles, maintenance emissions, as well as whether the manufacturers offer any recycling or take back schemes. All this information can be used at later stages to inform a material passport.
How does One Click LCA help you achieve your goals?
One Click LCA is the main tool we use for our embodied carbon assessments. The tool provides a range of add-ons, which make it suitable for both high-level and detailed assessments, as well as for BREEAM compliant life cycle studies. Using One Click LCA has helped to significantly reduce time requirements to undertake complex assessments and I really appreciate how easy it is to create scenarios and compare different design or materials options. The impact of any change can be understood within seconds. The online platform makes it easy for multiple team members to access projects and information.
Also, Bionova’s support team is excellent. They always respond quickly to our queries and have been continuously improving the tool by listening to our feedback and implementing the users’ recommendations.
What do you find most useful in One Click LCA?
One of the most time-consuming steps when undertaking life cycle assessments is to identify the most appropriate data to be used when assessing various materials or components. This can be challenging especially when product specific data is not available. One Click LCA provides access to a large database of both generic data and product specific EPDs for several countries, thus enabling the user to select the most appropriate data. Navigating through the database is quick and extremely easy.
Which best practises or lessons have helped you the most in this work?
Engaging with the design team as early as possible is key to ensuring that the potential for carbon emissions reduction is maximised and opportunities are not lost. However, during early stages there are a lot of uncertainties regarding material and product specifications. Therefore, assumptions will be made as to what materials or products the final asset may contain.
Through my experience, I have realised that being transparent, recording any assumptions and reviewing these with the design team is essential for improving trust in the process, increasing the design team’s early involvement and improving the accuracy of early-stage carbon estimates. In this way assumptions can be monitored, validated and replaced with project specific information, as more data become available.
About ‘Carbon Expert of the Month’
Carbon Expert of the Month is Bionova’s way to showcase the expertise, inspiration and best practices of One Click LCA users. Each month, we feature experts who are passionate about reducing carbon in general and from materials in particular, who seek to push projects beyond the boundaries of common practice, and who wish to share from their personal experience.