Carbon Expert of the Month October 2020

Jon Hall

Sustainability consultant – materials and embodied carbon specialist at BDP (Building Design Partnership Ltd).  BDP is a major international, interdisciplinary practice of architects, designers, engineers, and urbanists. The firm offers expertise across disciplines, locations, sectors, and all major building types to deliver a truly integrated way of working — resulting in high quality, effective, and inspiring built spaces.
Recently, Jon Hall has written an insightful article outlining some of the challenges he and the team at BDP face when quantifying embodied carbon of building designs. The article also offers insights on how they are addressing the obstacles and creating opportunities for improvement. In this Carbon Expert of the Month – October edition, Jon further shares his takes on carbon-reduction development on the market.

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

My interest in sustainability began while I was employed as an engineering apprentice at Jaguar Land Rover. Whilst I found engineering interesting, it was the overall impact of the organisation, buildings and vehicles which I became more interested in. This led me to pursue a degree in Geography followed by a master’s degree in Environmental Policy and Management. My focus while studying was climate science and modelling so numbers and software programs come naturally to me. While working in building design I wanted to combine my climate interests with what we do at BDP so the topic of embodied carbon was ideal. I am neither an engineer nor an architect but at BDP I benefit from working alongside some fantastic professionals which has helped me develop my understanding. I have been undertaking carbon studies for several years now and it is encouraging to see how much importance the industry is placing on the topic.

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

I work on a range of project of varying sizes and values. My work is not always embodied carbon focused but has certainly increased over the last year. Often, I am appointed specifically as an embodied carbon consultant to undertake the studies on behalf of the design team and sometimes I am working alongside this as BREEAM assessor or Advisory Professional. Recently, as part of a wider BDP team, I was appointed as a Life Cycle Assessment coordinator for a major phased development. My scope included developing a Life Cycle Assessment execution plan on behalf of a developer. This plan is being used by a range of architectural teams to ensure commonality and to track embodied carbon across the phases. My role extends to peer-reviewing the LCA models and coordinating further studies throughout the design stages. This is a service we identified with the client and not something they or we have undertaken before. Initial progress looks promising and I look forward to seeing this project develop.

“For many years the emphasis has been on managing and reducing operational emissions but with the UK’s grid on a path to decarbonisation, the carbon emitted today is becoming one of the most important carbon metrics. “

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

Understanding the carbon impact of building assets and being able to make a difference is becoming one of the top priorities for our clients and the market. For many years the emphasis has been on managing and reducing operational emissions but with the UK’s grid on a path to decarbonisation, the carbon emitted today is becoming one of the most important carbon metrics. Recent advances within the industry have enabled this to be quantified and for optioneering to take place to identify savings more easily and I believe this activity will eventually become routine throughout the industry.

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

During the early concept stages, we focus on high-level elemental materiality which might include the foundations, structural frame, upper floors and façade. Each of these elements can have a significant contribution to embodied carbon and during these stages is when we have the most influence to make savings. We also start to implement some circular thinking at this stage too as this can help to reduce carbon impact. As the design develops and elements become fixed, we adjust our attention to the types of materials and elements still under design which might typically be replaced several times over the life cycle of the building. For example, this may include internal finishes and building services and we may look to incorporate more bio-based materials to limit the impact from manufacture and replacement cycles. Moreover, we also start to review the ‘healthiness’ of these materials too where there is often synergy.

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

One Click LCA is a very intuitive platform to enable us and our clients to easily quantify potential impact and to calculate carbon savings. Without this, our calculations would take much longer to produce and we may encounter errors. We find that the flexibility of the tool as well as the additional add-ons has enabled us to provide a range of different services for our clients and internally at BDP.

Q: What do you find most useful in One Click LCA?

The most useful aspect of One Click LCA is the speed at which you can compare one element against another. A building services engineer at BDP recently asked me to compare two different insulation materials at thicknesses to achieve the same u-value. I was able to provide an answer within one minute which is so useful. We took this a step further outside of One Click LCA using an energy model to find exactly the right insulation type and thickness to achieve the best balance for reducing whole-life carbon overall.

Q: What level of embodied carbon reductions are your projects achieving today?

Embodied carbon reduction targets vary project to project and client to client. Sometimes the baseline design will already be progressive in terms of embodied carbon and therefore savings are not as readily available as a poorly performing building. In these scenarios, we find that projects and clients use industry benchmarks and targets to assess the impact and make judgements on how best to reduce the impact.

Q: Which best practises or lessons have helped you the most in this work?

Through my experience, I have learnt to ensure that models look sensible before reporting any calculations – errors can often creep in when importing values from Revit. There is an inbuilt plausibility checker within One Click LCA which I also find very useful!

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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.