Carbon Expert of the Month July 2022
LCA Manager, Saint-Gobain
This month’s carbon expert is Michaël Medard, LCA Manager within the Marketing and Development division of Saint-Gobain. Saint-Gobain is a multinational materials manufacturer, specialising in construction products and supplies and high-performance materials. Among other topics, Michaël spoke to us about how LCA is helping Saint-Gobain to work towards its corporate target of carbon neutrality by 2050.
What led you to become a construction carbon expert?
Since the beginning, I have always wanted to build something that contributes to sustainability. My goal is really to construct something, to put my “brick in the wall” and build a solid foundation of knowledge that can be used in the long term.
So, my motivation is to contribute to the building of knowledge and proof around the environmental impact on construction products by doing LCA and EPD for Saint-Gobain.
What kind of projects do you typically work on?
My team focuses mainly on LCA (life-cycle assessment) to take the ‘carbon footprint picture’ of products, to help people to know where we are. We work on all kinds of products within Saint-Gobain, not just construction, to help people understand their global warming impact.
When you know where you are you can go further. We target carbon neutrality, and based on the picture we can see where we can really decrease the CO2 emissions of our products.
When I speak about LCA it is not just a case of making one calculation and it’s finished. You have an entire ecosystem around this work. You need to be able to make a standard for LCA, to ensure we are making calculations on the same basis everywhere around the world. We have to communicate with stakeholders and customers, internally and externally, as they need to understand what certain values mean. And with the help of One Click LCA we look beyond the individual product to see what the impact is on the building as a whole.
So, mainly we are working on LCA today, but with this full scope from data collection, to the product and then to building level, to ensure we can reduce global warming.
Which achievements are you most proud of?
A collective achievement is that today we have created more than 1500 EPDs all around the world for various kinds of Saint-Gobain construction products, which can all be found in One Click LCA.
This is the result of combining the best expertise of people and an LCA/EPD tool that makes the creation of LCA and EPD easier. And we do not stop there, our objective is that by 2030, 100% of Saint-Gobain products will have an LCA or EPD.
It’s been 20 years since I started working on LCA in Saint-Gobain. During those 20 years, we have been able to build a foundation at Saint Gobain that people can use today when they’d like to make an LCA everywhere inside the company. It has become our common language.
Today we don’t need drivers to push for low-impact or carbon products because it’s already in the DNA of Saint-Gobain. That is to say, it’s not a one-off shot to sustainability but has become an integrated, essential part of our full operations.
How is the awareness of carbon performance evolving in the market?
My perception is that the market is already requesting knowledge and transparency about the carbon impact of products and asking more and more for low-carbon products.
When we work with clients, their questions usually are: “Do you have an EPD?”; “Do you have a carbon footprint of the product?” and; “What is your next step in reducing the impact of your product?”
For the last two or three years, all sectors have started to talk about carbon and ask for LCAs, environmental impacts, and carbon footprints, not just the construction industry. Two or three years ago, we received some requests, but today carbon footprint of a product is a must-have.
At Saint-Gobain we have a target to be carbon neutral in 2050. So we ask similar questions of our suppliers too. Sometimes we need to provide more support and input to our suppliers to help them understand. But overall, across the value chain, level of awareness is growing everywhere.
Our objective is that by 2030, 100% of Saint-Gobain products will have an LCA or EPD.”
How does One Click LCA help you achieve your goals?
Today we use One Click LCA for various purposes.
We have the EPDs available, but after all, products are just parts of the building. It’s like a Lego, or a brick in the building. We need to go to a building level to see the “weight” of a product on a whole building’s environmental impacts. One Click LCA helps us go beyond the product level and see the contribution of our products at the full building level.
With One Click LCA, we have access to the biggest database of construction materials worldwide and are able to see and compare EPDs from all our competitors. These benchmarks allow us to have a quick screening to see where we are. And for sure that can help us to position our future solution or system regarding the competition. It gives us a push or motivation to do better.
What best practice advice would you give to others?
Don’t trust popular beliefs or preconceived ideas. For example, some people automatically assume that including more recycled content will benefit in terms of carbon reduction. In some cases, yes, in some others, no.
Take data and be sure about its quality, make calculations, challenge the results and see what you achieve. Then you can see where you are, and what the next step can be and start to communicate the story with your team or customers. With this approach, you can obtain good surprises and kill some myths.
Are there any myths or misconceptions slowing down progress to decarbonise?
Sometimes people rush to quick solutions. They might be quick and help you achieve your goal of carbon neutrality, but they are possibly not sustainable. For example, the mechanism of carbon offsetting starts to be controversial at different levels of discussion. The argument is that yes, it’s a quick solution, but it’s not sustainable and it’s not really a carbon reduction. When you want to reduce the carbon, you have to achieve concrete things, rather than do an exchange somewhere so you can continue to pollute, to emit carbon. Once you achieve a concrete resolution, you can put some complementary mechanisms in place, but not rush into any quick fixes.
It’s important that people know that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You have to do it step by step. We have this goal to be carbon neutral, but it’s not something you can achieve in one year. If you make it too quick, from my point of view it’s not sustainable. And the goal is not even just for 2050 we reach carbon neutrality, it is then to continue to remain neutral. So, you need to have a sustainable solution to achieve that.
“Take data and be sure about its quality, make calculations, challenge the results and see what you achieve. Then you can see where you are, and what the next step can be and start to communicate the story with your team or customers.”
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.