Carbon Expert of the Month, August 2021
Elina Virolainen is a Development Manager at YIT, the biggest construction and urban development company in Finland, operating in 10 countries in Northern Europe and Russia.
In 2019, YIT Group named sustainability as one the cornerstones of their company strategy and set ambitious group-level climate goals, targeting 50% emission reductions in both operations and self-developed construction projects in the next 10 years.
What led you to become a construction carbon expert?
I originally graduated as a Master of Environmental engineering and studied environmental policy as a minor subject. My degree also included a fair share of civil engineering courses, so it was somewhat natural to end up first working as an environmental engineer at a construction site.
The following year I stepped up to my current role as a development manager in the sustainability team. I started working with various sustainability themes, such as the circular economy and currently I am responsible for project carbon footprint calculations and development and project emission reductions at the group level.
What kind of projects do you typically work on, and in what role?
I offer support to any projects where the carbon footprint is to be calculated, but most closely I am involved with projects where we study or try something new, e.g. optimizing the life-cycle emissions or piloting new low carbon products in our construction.
Since our company set ambitious climate goals for our operations and projects two years ago, me and the rest of the sustainability team have been busy drafting a roadmap towards the required emission reductions.
In addition, I consult and carry out other small projects with other teams when needed and continue the discussion with our partners concerning new ideas in low carbon construction.
“Together with our supplier, we tested a new hollow core slab that has over 40% smaller carbon footprint compared to a traditional one…soon afterwards we signed the first project to be built solely using the green slabs.”
Which projects and achievements are you the proudest of?
Overall, I am very pleased to see the fruits of the hard work we have been doing since the emission reduction goals were decided: the life-cycle emissions of over 100 projects have been calculated in our countries of operation, we have enormously increased our understanding of LCA and everything that surrounds it and this year we took the first step on the path of using truly low carbon materials.
Together with our supplier, we tested at a small scale a new hollow-core slab that has over 40% smaller carbon footprint compared to a traditional one, and since there were no problems in terms of usability and technical performance, soon afterwards we signed the first project to be built solely using the green slabs.
How do you see carbon performance evolving in the market?
I see the change already definitely, but when we talk about customer expectations, we really must specify first which customer we are referring to.
There is a big difference in what an individual apartment buyer and a large real estate investment company can afford in terms of sustainability. We can often achieve more with companies who have their own emission reduction targets as they have an incentive to invest in carbon-reduction measures.
The best outcome we would get if the whole value chain (from supplier to end user) would be motivated and financially able to only build the low-carbon way. If there are national or global regulations to be set to promote low carbon construction in the future, the costs need to be allocated in a fair manner.
What are the key value drivers you use to make the business case for materials carbon?
Energy efficiency and carbon neutral energy sources were the first to enter the discussion of sustainable buildings, and I see they are attractive also because of potential energy savings.
Carbon-efficient materials are more challenging not only because there is the question of added costs but because you also must think about the technical feasibility.
We are investigating possible design solutions, which might improve the overall material carbon footprint of the building while also thinking of ways to bring down the costs of new materials. It might not be urgent yet today, but someday we may face the problem of raw materials becoming scarce. Taking this into consideration is a huge incentive to drive for more circularity and reuse.
“One Click LCA is a very beginner-friendly tool for anyone looking to start learning about building LCA. We have dozens of employees who have successfully calculated their own project from scratch with it.“
How does One Click LCA help you achieve your goals?
One Click LCA is a very beginner-friendly tool for anyone looking to start learning about building LCA. We have dozens of employees who have successfully calculated their own project from scratch with it.
One Click LCA helps us to put together a bigger picture of the emission impacts of different types of projects we build and it works as a good starting point for planning the actual reductions.
One Click LCA offers many ways for the users to create a calculation project and we have used all of them, depending on the project type and other factors.
The tools of data import and creating your own building structures really help in making the calculations more accurate and suitable for our company’s needs.
Which best practises or lessons have helped you the most in this work?
Building LCA is a broad, somewhat complex and fast-changing concept, that I still learn more about every day.
You must be able to work with insufficient data and sometimes fill the gaps with assumptions, while still trying to draw solid conclusions from your calculations.
I think the best advice for anybody wanting to work with building LCA and climate change mitigation in general is to always be prepared to learn something new and maybe even unlearn what you thought you knew.
About ‘Carbon Expert of the Month’
Carbon Expert of the Month is One Click LCA’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.