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Carbon Expert of the Month February 2020

Cathal Heneghan

Director at Meehan Green. Meehan Green provides sustainability and LEED AP consulting services and has assisted project teams to achieve LEED certification in over 120 LEED projects worldwide.

Q: What led you to become a construction carbon expert?

Quite often the industry views sustainability as mainly an M&E (operational energy) matter and can easily bypass the physical buildings environmental impact and miss out on substantial carbon-cutting opportunities. This can be very frustrating for a sustainability expert. I have focused much of my time on trying to change this perception. Over the past several years I regularly spoke with structural engineers to try and understand their approach as well as design influences. Over time I realized the enormous environmental impact the structure and facades have on buildings and set about reducing this. Meanwhile, Green Rating systems such as LEED and BREEAM have also played a big part in bringing construction carbon to the mainstream.

Q: What project and achievements are you the proudest of?

When we first begin working on commercial projects several years ago, the concept of material sustainability was not really heard of. We set about educating designers, contractors and manufacturers on basic requirements such as responsible sourcing and helped to eventually engrain sustainability into project specifications as well as contractors and manufacturers mindsets. We are now operating at the next level with qualitative carbon analysis. It is has been gratifying to see our ground-up hard work help change the conversation and actions around material specification and to see it move to the next level with detailed embodied carbon analysis. However, there is more to do!

Q: What are the key value drivers you use to make the business case for materials carbon?

Luckily many of our clients are proactively seeking ways to address their carbon footprint and understand the importance of tackling carbon in construction. Green building certifications are a common starting point where LCA can significantly contribute to achieving Gold or Platinum certification, for example, meanwhile, overarching rating tools such as GRESB also reward reduction in construction carbon. Quite often the greatest driver is a combined reduction in carbon and material input = cost savings for the client.

Q: How does your engagement on materials sustainability vary over project phases?

We try to engage clients as early as brief development if possible and inform from a high level the impacts of site selection, building form, structure type, etc. We strongly feel this is where the most impact can be made. As the project moves into design development and detailed design we develop the LCA model in tandem to give more granularized information on material choice etc. We feel that orientating design teams toward sustainable materials and in particular, EPDs can inform choice and further decrease environmental impact.

Q: How does One Click LCA help you achieve your goals?

I find One Click LCA to be a very useful tool at each phase of the project. From the beginning, the Carbon Hero’s program is a very useful tool for informing teams on benchmarking and what to aim for. Along with its various features where you can compare designs, swap out materials, avail of a large database – I find the graphics to be very useful in understanding the overall picture and very good for communicating to clients and teams.

What’s your advice for other sustainability experts?

“Engage with your clients as early as possible and ask the right questions. The speed of design and construction can sometimes mean opportunities to reduce embodied carbon are easily missed so I feel early engagement is crucial. Introducing LCA to a team might be a first-time experience for some teams so patience may be needed. However, if integrated and managed the right way, projects can yield very positive outcomes.”

Interested in being featured?

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About ‘Carbon Expert of the Month’

Carbon Expert of the Month is One Click LCA Ltd’s way to bring forward expertise, inspiration, best practises and great cases among One Click LCA users. Each month, we intend to publish one Carbon Expert of the Month interview, rotating between different countries.

We interview and feature experts who are passionate about reducing carbon in general and from materials in particular, who preferably seek to push projects beyond the boundaries of common practise, and who wish to share from their personal experience.