Carbon Expert of the Month January 2020

Olatz Pombo Rodilla

Doctor of Architecture and Green Building Consultant at LKS Krean. LKS Krean is an international consultancy focused on the development of energy efficiency and climate change projects, carbon footprint reduction research, life-cycle analysis and life-cycle costing analysis.

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

After having finished my studies in Architecture, I moved to Belgium to start my career. At that point, I realized that in Central Europe the energy efficiency requirements were much higher than in Spain. I decided to pursue a Master In Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in Bilbao, my home town. That was a turning point when I got to know about Life Cycle Assessment and the relevance of measuring and optimizing not only the energy consumption, but also the whole life cycle impacts of buildings.

I moved to Madrid for my PhD with Professor Javier Neila, a well-known Professor of the Technical University of Madrid (UPM), expert on Bioclimatic Architecture and Energy Efficiency in Spain and director of ABIO research group. I developed a methodology for the multi-criteria assessment of housing renovation including Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Life Cycle Cost (LCC). My research shows that it was necessary to consider the whole life cycle approach, because a deep renovation scenario could lead to extremely high operational energy savings, while should be discarded due to the high embodied carbon.

Currently, I am working as a Green Building Consultant in LKS Engineering and a lecturer for Master level courses in Spain, Chile and Switzerland.

Q: What kind of projects do you typically work on, and in what role?

I am part of the Climate department at LKS Ingeniería. We work as sustainability consultants in climate change projects for multilateral bodies all over the world.

We also work on LEED and BREEAM consulting projects, where we use One Click LCA to help clients achieve credits from both certifications.  In the case of LEED, we cooperate with the design and construction teams to reduce the embodied carbon emissions.

I am proud of every project we have developed in LKS. The decarbonisation of buildings is necessary to achieve the European commitments regarding Climate Change, and in LKS we are making the right path to get there.

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

Normally, we do through certification schemes. In the case of BREEAM®ES, 3 or 7 points can be achieved depending on the type of building, and by doing the LCA of the building. In the case of LEED, 4 points can be easily obtained through the reduction, at least 10%, of the embodied carbon and other three environmental categories and the provision of EPDs. The advantage of achieving these credits is that they are low risky credits, with a low cost/benefit ratio.

Q: How do you see carbon performance evolving on the market?

I still remember during my PhD time, I mentioned LCA with other architects, but they had little to no idea of the concept. Embodied carbon was analysed at the research level.

Now, eight years later, at LKS we are doing several projects per year where we analyse embodied carbon, reaching reduction of up to 15-20%.

In my opinion, sustainability certifications, such as LEED or BREEAM®ES, as well as company’s policies on corporate social responsibility (CSR), are pushing the market to minimize embodied carbon of new buildings.

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

At the beginning of the project, we set the reduction target. In early design phase we identify strategies to reduce material quantities, such as optimization of the structural grid, and selection of low carbon materials.

During the design phase, a more detailed LCA is carried out according to the definition of the project. We establish the specific requirements of the materials to achieve the reduction target, and we set the minimum recycled content of certain materials with high contribution to the global impact, such as concrete, steel rebar, steel profiles, etc.

Finally, these requirements are given to the contractor. The construction monitoring is necessary to ensure the application of carbon reduction strategies.

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

One Click LCA is a building-specific tool, with building-specific database, including the existing EPDs in the market. Therefore, the assessment is faster than with other generic tools. The tool allows identifying the materials with higher impacts and provide options to select similar products with lower embodied carbon. Moreover, different designs can be compared and obtained to achieve reduction of life cycle environmental impacts.

Interested in being featured?

Contact annie.nguyen@bionova.fi for more information.

About ‘Carbon Expert of the Month’

Carbon Expert of the Month is Bionova’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.