Carbon Expert of the Month, September 2021
Zeta Watkins is an Associate Director at Hodkinson Consultancy, a company specializing in energy and environment consultancy with a focus on providing developers and builders with practical, forward-thinking advice on a range of energy and environmental issues.
Zeta is an experienced BREEAM Accredited Professional and CEEQUAL assessor who also delivers both LCA and Circular Economy statements.
What led you to become a construction carbon expert?
I’ve been an environmental specialist for 7 years now, specialising in BREEAM and CEEQUAL assessments. I’ve always been interested in whole life carbon, even doing my MSc thesis on the topic, and looked to explore opportunities to further my knowledge in this subject area. I’ve been working with clients for a few years now on whole life carbon, having recently undertaken some studies on the refurbishment/replacement debate for clients which led to some surprising results.
Having already worked on Life Cycle Assessments for some of our clients, it was great that the GLA recently introduced the requirements into the London plan. For me, it’s a task that offers a more rational approach to ensuring designs genuinely result in reduced carbon emissions compared to more simplistic approaches which only consider operational emissions.
What kind of projects do you typically work on, and in what role?
I typically work on large mixed use residential and commercial buildings, working with some of the UKs biggest housebuilders on their masterplans and regeneration schemes, in and around London.
My role as an environmental specialist within the design team is to ensure that the client is fully aware of the opportunities to bring about positive impacts on the environment and their customer experience available to them, particularly those related to my specialisms including LCA, Circular Economy & sustainability assessments.
“I worked on a project that agreed to reuse an existing basement rather than starting from scratch. It saved a huge 279 kgCO2/m2.”
Which projects and achievements are you the proudest of?
I worked on a project that agreed to reuse an existing basement rather than starting from scratch. It saved a huge 279 kgCO2/m2.
Typically, I present the results and recommendations and then do my upmost to try and get these changes implemented. Even if they agree to one change, it’s all going in the right direction.
How do you see carbon performance evolving in the market?
Looking at the whole lifecycle of a building, it has become very apparent that there are changes that can be made in order to reduce embodied carbon.
Councils declaring climate emergencies and the improvement of specific policies is an encouraging change. Many of our clients are taking the issue very seriously, introducing corporate targets to be met regardless of planning policy requirements.
Now that the wheels are in motion, I believe they are going to gain momentum and keep going, especially as the likes of BREEAM are really pushing the LCA agenda.
How does your engagement on materials sustainability vary over project phases?
It’s constant but the level of detail gets more and more specific throughout the stages.
In early design phase (pre-planning) we undertake an LCA on the design as it currently stands. We then compare this to relevant benchmarks and identify key hot spots within the design to reduce carbon emissions (both embodied and operational). It’s during this early work that we propose a series of recommendations for the design team to consider. Implementation of these recommendations is key in achieving the necessary carbon reductions.
Once the design is more established (post planning), we update the original LCA to ensure its incorporated all elements of the updated design. It’s during this stage where we get specific with the origin of the materials and the refurbishment/replacement cycles. We will propose alternative suppliers/manufacturers, whilst maintaining the same material performance, based on their location if the LCA requires this.
During construction, we encourage the ongoing communication surrounding LCA to ensure that the LCA doesn’t fall away at this late stage. It’s essential that use of materials is in line with the proposed design.
“I like that I can compare materials easily within the tool. It really helps me to identify the recommendations that I want to make.“
How does One Click LCA help you achieve your goals?
It allows me to track the progress of an assessment, keeping all the information in one place in an organised way.
I like that I can compare materials easily within the tool. It really helps me to identify the recommendations that I want to make.
The ‘Private Constructions’ feature is incredibly valuable, allowing me to create constructions bespoke to an individual client and reuse them on their projects going forward saves so much time. By making this straight forward and time efficient, it gives me more time to make those important recommendations that will ultimately reduce the amount of carbon within the building.
The recent update to ensure the results are GLA compliant has been a real time saver too!
What level of embodied carbon reductions are your projects achieving today?
It really depends on the client and project and their aspirations.
LCA is still a new concept for many, so big scale changes aren’t going to happen straight away, but in time I’m expecting the designs of building to change and for whole life carbon emissions to reduce.
At present, based on stage 1 reporting, 95% of our projects are in line with the GLA benchmarks with around 50% also meeting the aspirational targets.
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.