Carbon Expert of the Month, September 2020
Victoria Herrero-Garcia works at Ambient Energy as a Sustainability Consultant and Whole Building Life-Cycle Assessments (WBLCA) Analyst. She is the co-chair of the Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF) Rocky Mountain Hub and volunteers with the CLF as the webinar coordinator. Victoria fulfills her passion for carbon emissions reductions through her work at Ambient Energy, and through education and advocacy.
What led you to become a construction carbon expert?
While completing my master’s degree at Philadelphia University (now Jefferson University), I worked as an intern for Honeywell to help the University develop their Climate Action Plan. My interest in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) accounting started there and culminated with my thesis research on how to reduce GHG emissions in the building sector.
After I finished my M.S. in Sustainable Design I started working for Ambient Energy, a firm located in Denver, CO, as a Sustainability Consultant. At first, I was mostly doing consulting for projects pursuing LEED certification. During this time, I was eager for a client or design team to hire us to do the Whole-Building Life Cycle Assessment (WBLCA) credit. About three years ago, we got our first WBLCA contract with HNTB for the Denver International Airport Concourse Expansion Projects. I was able to start working on my biggest passion, helping design teams to understand and reduce embodied carbon emission.
What kind of projects do you typically work on, and in what role?
As a WBLCA Analyst for Ambient Energy, my role is primarily educating design teams about embodied carbon and strategies for reductions. I normally engage with the design team very early in design and together we strategize how to best achieve embodied carbon reductions.
In the past few years, I have completed WBLCA’s for a variety of project types from office buildings, aviation, government, education, municipal, etc.
Which projects and achievements are you the proudest of?
I am very proud of every single project that I have worked on even if not all of them have achieved high embodied carbon reductions. I am excited that the conversation about embodied carbon has started, and to me that is the most important thing. Educating all design teams and owners is a top priority.
How do you see carbon performance evolving in the market?
I am lucky to work with progressive clients that really care about the environment and are willing to discuss options for embodied carbon reductions.
Although slow, I see more laws and regulations on embodied carbon reductions being required for all projects to achieve. I see all structural engineers tackling embodied carbon reductions in their designs and proving its cost effectiveness. I see all building materials having an EPD and manufacturers squeezing their brains out on how to produce zero CO2e emissions construction materials.
Based on the enormous amount of embodied carbon of new construction, I see a building reuse trend coming up.
What are the key value drivers you use to make the business case for materials carbon?
In general, this is always very challenging. Cost and mandatory building code requirements are the drivers for every project. Making the case for embodied carbon reductions seems to work the best when you talk about the possibility of structure optimization and/or reducing material quantities. In many cases with the cost savings there is an underlay embodied carbon savings.
For most of our projects that are pursuing LEED, going for the WBLCA credit v4.1 and/or the Pilot Credit “Procurement of Low Carbon Construction Materials” is a relatively low cost/risk related to the overall project cost while the environmental benefits are very high.
How does your engagement on materials sustainability vary over project phases?
Our process always starts with early kick off meeting to discuss embodied carbon goals and reduction strategies, then we do one or two rounds of WBLCA during schematic design (SD) and/or design development (DD) where we discuss the results and the opportunities for embodied carbon reductions.
Our firm also completes several rounds of specification reviews to assure the materials requirements and goals for the project will be met. These goals are sometimes established with achievable thresholds for each material that we obtain using third-party resources like the EC3Tool and/or One Click LCA Planetary.
During DD and Construction documents (CD), having the contractor involved in the conversations also helps to achieve reductions while minimizing any additional cost.
Obtaining final material quantities from the contractor during Construction Administration (CA) phase is always our approach for the final WBLCA analysis since the final Revit model doesn’t account for the extra material that is brought to the construction site and it’s not used (cuts, material loss during transportation and/or staging, etc.)
“Making the case for embodied carbon reductions seems to work the best when you talk about the possibility of structure optimization and/or reducing material quantities.“
How does One Click LCA help you achieve your goals?
One Click LCA is a reliable tool with a very extensive product data base which helps to obtain a more project specific analysis. I like the LCA Checker for quality control of all my projects, it always reminds me if I have missed any materials and checks the reliability of the quantities that have been entered.
Early discussions are very important and having the Carbon Designer tool helps to lead the conversation with all our clients and design teams.
What do you find most useful in One Click LCA?
I like how much flexibility the software offers; you do not need a BIM model to complete your analysis. I very much appreciate the various graphical representations of the results, and I really like using Carbon Designer, it is a great tool for early conversations.
What level of embodied carbon reductions are your projects achieving today?
It varies. The ones that have achieved the higher level of reductions are the ones in which the structure has been optimized. One project for example changed the foundation type with the result of 25% GWP reductions. Other project, not yet constructed, looked at the alternative option of elevating the 1 story building and eliminating the foundation walls from the required crawl space. In addition, the steel roof deck and framing were replaced with wood roof framing. This project will achieve close to 40% GWP reductions only from the structural design improvements. (see picture)
Which best practises or lessons have helped you the most in this work?
When completing WBLCA there is always something new to learn, every project is different, every design team is different but understanding what reductions are feasible and setting up a reduction target/goal is the only way to achieve them.
I joined the Carbon Leadership Forum Community and I check all available resources in a regular basis. I also set up a Google Alert for “embodied carbon” and I received an email every time there is an article on the topic from anywhere in the world.
“When completing whole-building LCA there is always something new to learn, every project is different, every design team is different but understanding what reductions are feasible and setting up a reduction target/goal is the only way to achieve them.”
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.