Q&A / MORE SUSTAINABLE CONSTRUCTIONS

”I believe in resource efficiency and the life cycle perspective by using the right material in the right place”

KAROLINA BRICK
On innovative ideas and innovations for a greener building industry
September 20, 2021

Brick is a civil engineer with a long experience of sustainability issues in the construction and real estate sector. Today, she works as sustainability manager at Riksbyggen, a Swedish cooperative corporation, developing new housing projects and conduct property management in buildings where approximately 500.000 people live. 

To start with, what are the major challenges related to sustainability for your industry? 

— Construction projects have a significant impact on the environment, both in terms of land use, environmental impact from construction materials, and energy used during the building operation. It is important that we minimise the environmental impact when developing new housing projects from a life cycle perspective, meanwhile, we maximize the benefits in creating good solutions for the residents to live more sustainably.

How do you and your colleagues and competitors work to reduce your emissions and impact? And what is the most crucial call to action to further improve your sustainability work onwards?

— We work in a holistic way making sustainability analysis in every project, including aspects such as energy, indoor environment quality, building materials, mobility services, aspect of social sustainability, and ecosystem services. The life cycle perspective is important for us because buildings are long-term products. A crucial call to action to further improve is to reduce the climate impact from building materials, says Brick. She continues:

— Calculations indicate that the climate impact of construction processes accounts for approximately 50 % and energy use during building operation for 50 % of the climate impact in a life cycle perspective. Building materials account for a major part of the climate impact from the construction process.

How about constructing buildings made of wood. Is that the way to go?

— I would say that it depends. I believe in resource efficiency and the life cycle perspective by using the right material in the right place. There are different aspects to consider, for example, different environmental aspects such as climate impact and biodiversity, durability, and the need for maintenance. Different materials have their pros and cons depending on what perspective you have.

This summer, you teamed up with interior design stylist Linnéa Salmén for a special project outside of Stockholm. Can you tell us more?

— Sustainable construction drives us and is something we have long invested resources in developing. This usually happens in our new production, but the smaller choices we can all make, such as interior design, are at least as important. We think sustainability lies in ”the big things” we do, as well as ”the small things”. In a new housing project, we let the housing project stand for ”the big thing” with, for example, climate-improved concrete, charging posts, and carpools, while ”the small one” can take place indoors for example through recycled interior design. In order for more people to open their eyes to sustainable and circular interior design, we, together with Linnéa Salmén, have decorated a display apartment by only using second-hand items. Because if we can inspire you to move in and make the inside more sustainable — then we have succeeded. A sustainable interior can also build a lot of personality and make you stand out from the crowd.

What has the feedback been?

— Customers have really appreciated our willingness to break standards and show sustainable interior design — as well as a decor that stands out and inspires. The campaign has also been nominated to the award Svenska Designpriset, Brick tells.

Did you gain any special insights from the project that you may use onwards? 

— We know that we have an ability to influence our residents, partly through products and services but also by showing alternatives. In this case, we have inspired a more sustainable lifestyle and it has been adopted by many residents for the benefit of both our customers and the planet.

How are tech and innovation part of your projects?

— When developing new housing projects, we have great opportunities to innovate and innovations from a system perspective have a large potential to reduce environmental impact. We participate in research projects with different focuses, for example, energy, mobility services, and building materials and implement the results in our projects. One example is Brf Viva in Gothenburg where we reuse bus batteries that have reached their end of service in electric buses, for storing energy produced by solar panels on the building, and the use of concrete with a lower climate impact.

What else do you have coming?

— To be resource-effective, the most sustainable is to use and improve the existing buildings. The existing building stock also accounts for the most buildings in Sweden and we work with renovation and refurbishment of buildings. One good example of a sustainable renovation is Skarpan in Linköping, where we worked hard saving the interiors that were in good shape, developed a new floor on the roof, and by that, developed new apartments without affecting land use negative and received great energy savings. We’re also really excited to join the city expo H22 in Helsingborg, with a focus on digitalisation, says Brick, adding,

— We all know that it is urgent to take action towards a sustainable society. As mentioned, we think that both ”the big things” and ”the small things” that we do actually matters and this also applies to circularity.

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