Last week on our blog, BREEAM Manager, Blythe, and Environmental Advisor, Laila, spoke about their roles and career paths for Green Careers Week and we also asked our Senior Sustainability Coordinator, Robbie, to tell us about her journey and job. We are so proud that she was chosen to be a member of the UK Green Building Council’s (UKGBC) Embodied Carbon Task Group, we had to hear all about that too and the UKGBC’s resulting guidance wasn’t published until today. The news release about the launch of ‘Embodied Carbon: Improving your modelling and reporting’ can be found here.
So, let’s hand you over to Robbie where she explains her biology background and how that led to her passion for sustainability and reducing embodied carbon within construction projects.
At primary school I was overwhelmed by science. It was a massive subject that didn’t make much sense, but in secondary school I started to take a keen interest in biology. There was something about how things worked and the impact of them that really spoke to me. I therefore did a degree in biology and the subject is so vast I studied almost everything – from human pathology to insects – but I loved one particular module on urban ecology and sustainability. This was my first education into the built environment, and it was really eye opening, so after university, I attended a 3-day Catalyst Change Summit which was focused on hearing from women in sustainability and how they got into their fields. This inspired me to undertake a 6-week course on sustainability, and it made me want to learn everything! No area of biology or sustainability is a standalone item, they interconnect and interact with each other, and this is the part that I still find most interesting.
Some of my family members work in construction trades, so I started to think that it was the right sector for me, but there aren’t that many roles on offer for people without one year’s work experience. Many of the degrees and postgraduate courses that are available are very broad; gaining this knowledge is really important but there’s also a gap in the market for specific learning opportunities about sustainability in the built environment.
Thankfully, there are companies like Winvic who understand the challenging work experience landscape, prioritise sustainability and are committed to helping the next generation to learn and thrive. I began working at Winvic in April 2022 as a Sustainability Coordinator and one year into the job, I was promoted to Senior Sustainability Coordinator. Throughout this year I attended extensive training, courses and webinars to develop my knowledge and understanding of sustainability; the ones have found the most interesting include Carbon Management in Infrastructure (accredited by ICE and CECA), Carbon Literacy Project’s Carbon and Climate Change course.
In our team we mainly focus on carbon, and this is broken down into embodied carbon – all the carbon associated to the construction of a building including materials and site processes – and operational carbon – the carbon emissions associated from the energy consumption in the day-today running of a building or asset. From the get-go I took more of an interest in embodied carbon and a colleague did the same with operational, so our small team worked really well. The team has grown to 7 people over the last few years, due to the growing demand in Net Zero and low carbon schemes.
During the tender stage, Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) and during pre-construction, our Technical Services and Sustainability Director, Arun supported by the Sustainability Manager, liaises with the client, design team and supply chain to reduce the embodied carbon where possible, through methods of construction, and materials. Our Green Supply Chain use new and innovative products, driving down the carbon on our projects. At Winvic we have Net Zero and low embodied carbon projects in both our civils and industrial sectors and currently I’m overseeing 15 schemes. I also work with external sustainability consultants that have been appointed by the client and support the other members of our team on projects that they are working on.
A part of my day-to-day role is to run Lifecycle Carbon Assessments (LCA), starting at the technical design stage, just as we start on site. We run a second lifecycle assessment around halfway through construction and a third when the project has reached practical completion. It may sound simple, but doing this requires me to liaise with the site teams and every subcontract partner to gather all the information required which involves around 25 different businesses. We’ve educated and trained our Green Supply Chain on Sustainability, but they have also trained us on their works packages to allow us to widen our knowledge and ensure we include all elements of their materials and processes into our LCAs. It’s also crucial for us to use Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to prove carbon factors and calculations and I calculate how much embodied carbon is associated to every element using an embodied carbon analytics AI system that Winvic developed.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) set a series of targets to reduce embodied carbon – for 2020, 2025 and 2030 – and we aim to surpass these. Having been challenged with even more stringent targets which have been specified by our clients; for example, recently we delivered Plot 5 at SEGRO Logistics Park East Midlands Gateway (SLPEMG) – a 600,000 sq ft industrial warehouse – which achieved 324kgCO2e/m2.
Inconsistent data and different methods of calculation have been one of the main challenges in the construction industry, but that is now starting to change and I’m so proud to have been involved with the UK Green Building Council’s (UKGBC) work to create guidance on embodied carbon. Arun suggested I apply because I had a passion for embodied carbon measurement and I was overjoyed to be selected as one of the 30 expert professionals to be on the Embodied Carbon Task Group. For six months, every two to three weeks the whole group met and there were four subgroups, which also met every two weeks – I was assigned to the Transparency, Scope and Reporting group. The goal was to create guidance on refined practices, modelling and reporting in lifecycle assessments and I hope people will agree our collaborative work has been a success. There is no legal requirement to follow the guidance but there is a hope this will come with time and in the meantime it will help to improve people’s understanding and assessment capabilities and increase transparency and consistency across different organisations.
I feel like I’ll be in this green career for a very long time and maybe even turn to lecturing down the line so I can pass on my knowledge to the next generation. I’d recommend anyone with an interest in this area to just try to get involved in groups, attend summits and undertake relevant courses – there’s always something new to learn and I think that’s exciting.