Carbon Expert of the Month, June 2021
Nikolaos Vlasopoulos is currently heading the life cycle assessment group within the LafargeHolcim Innovation Center which supports the company’s activities on sustainability. Nikolaos holds a PhD in sustainable construction materials from Imperial College London and has previously served as co-founder and scientific director of Novacem, a low carbon cement startup company.
What led you to become a construction carbon expert?
I was first introduced to life cycle assessment (LCA) in 2003 during my master thesis at Imperial College London. Even though it lasted only a few months, its potential to help drive our understanding and decision making on sustainability issues made such a huge impression on me.
Over the following decade, I continued using its principles while researching or commercialising low carbon cement technologies. However, it was only after I joined LafargeHolcim that I realised I could make a bigger contribution by helping to establish a strong LCA practice and embedding these principles in our decision making.
What kind of projects do you typically work on, and in what role?
As a member of the Innovation Center I am continuously exposed to new innovation projects and country sustainability initiatives that help advance our transition towards a net zero pathway.
At a core level, my role is linked with the provision of LCA expertise during the development of new products and the communication of their environmental performance through the creation of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). The increasing demand for such information has also created a need to plan and develop bespoke solutions for automating the calculation and reporting of the carbon footprint of our products.
However, one of the most important aspects of my role is linked with knowledge dissemination by sharing best practices developed by our operations across the world.
Which projects and achievements are you most proud of?
On a personal level I am proudest about the creation of the life cycle assessment group within the Innovation Center over the last two years and the role it has played in supporting sustainability initiatives from all around the world.
Two of these initiatives have, however, a special meaning to me. The first one is linked with the development of an LCA software solution that offers holistic assessment of road infrastructure projects covering all life cycle stages from construction to use and end-of-life phases. I am proud to see its commercialisation through ORIS, a novel service for road construction professionals.
The second initiative is related to the reporting of the sustainability performance of our company. I was happy to be able to support the creation of an advanced system that can more accurately model our Scope 3 CO2 emissions and will help drive our internal efforts to reduce our impact on the environment.
How do you see carbon performance evolving in the market?
The transition towards a decarbonised economy is accelerating as more and more stakeholders are making commitments to reduce their CO2 emissions and thus accelerate the demand for low carbon products.
Assessing the impact of new low carbon technologies on the building and infrastructure scale requires not only mainstreaming construction LCA but also improving the availability of product- and location-specific EPDs.
With the exception of a few countries, this is still an issue for our industry as the traditional process for creating EPDs is time-consuming and expensive, which is leading to the development of collective EPDs from industry associations. Providing EPDs on demand is an important priority for LafargeHolcim as it will be of high value to designers and developers that strive to reduce carbon emissions at all stages from early design, to materials procurement and building construction, up to its final operation, maintenance and end of life.
How does One Click LCA help you achieve your goals?
One Click LCA provides an easy way to place our low carbon products on a building level. Over the last few years we have used it extensively in order to generate a fact based understanding, in a local context, of the embodied carbon footprint of a good practice construction and understand the options for a carbon efficient design.
We have also used One Click LCA in the organisation of our Zero Carbon Hack event in 2019 aimed at the young generation of engineers. This was a 48-hours event with nine teams and a total of 45 participants from 13 countries which competed on the best way to achieve embodied carbon reductions for a reference building in Switzerland.
What do you find most useful in One Click LCA?
Its ability to evolve and provide new functionality through user feedback has been and will be a key differentiator in the marketplace.
Which best practises or lessons have helped you the most in this work?
It is easy to make a carbon footprint calculation and then generalise and extrapolate the results. But this is what makes it dangerous too.
Take time to understand your results and see how dependent they may be on the key choices and assumptions you made. Review the quality of the LCA datasets you used as it may be too old or not as representative as they imply in their title.
But most of important of all provide transparency as without it nobody else can build on your work.
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.