Weaving Environmental Sustainability into the Fabric of Katerra

By: Ramana Koti, Building Performance Analyst & Jim Nicolow, Director of Sustainability

We often receive the question of what Katerra is doing with regard to environmental sustainability.

Our goals are quite ambitious as a quickly-growing global company, and so the answer is often evolving. In short: we’re doing a lot. 

Everyone who has joined the Katerra team has done so because they share a common vision on which the company was founded – to apply technology and systems to remove unnecessary time and inefficiencies from every step of the building process. Better buildings, delivered more quickly and predictably. 

Since joining Katerra, many of us have begun to recognize the ways in which a single, vertically-integrated company with control of the entire end-to-end building process has enormous potential for optimization of value, including sustainability. The mandate of sustainability is intrinsic to the ‘better’ in the vision for better and faster buildings.  

But we also realized that the opportunity – and the challenge – was to develop a new kind of approach to sustainability that works with Katerra’s unique integrated and technology-driven business model. Rather than establishing a siloed “sustainability” department, we could instead infuse a mindset of environmental intelligence horizontally across the company, threading it into every division and discipline. Each team, including design, engineering, manufacturing, software, technology R&D, construction, and materials, are all examining how to develop higher performance buildings and how to shrink Katerra’s collective environmental impact. 

Wil Srubar, Advanced Materials Technolgoy R&D

Wil Srubar

Advanced Materials Technology R&D

What do you do at Katerra?

I am part of Katerra’s Advanced Materials  Technology R&D team that is based in Spokane, Washington. While most of the team is dedicated to the materials science and engineering of mass timber (i.e., CLT), my primary role focuses on developing novel, cement and concrete materials for Katerra. Since I also have a background in life cycle assessment (LCA), I have been working closely with Building Sciences to help automate the environmental accounting and labeling of our buildings. 

How does sustainability fit in?

Katerra is committed to environmental stewardship. Our sustainability story for mass timber is well understood and easily conveyed; however, the sustainability story for cement and concrete is less so. Cement production accounts for ~5-8% of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and building material manufacture accounts for >11% of all GHG emissions in the U.S. These statistics drive my efforts to find ways to minimize embodied carbon in our cement and concrete materials through the use of alternative cementitious materials and new, emerging cement chemistries.  By working with cross-cutting teams in Building Sciences, Engineering, and Architecture, my work enables me to identify opportunities to reduce embodied carbon in cement, concrete, and other “hot-spot” materials to achieve our project and client goals related to environmental stewardship. 

Vishalakshi Subedar, Sustainability Analyst

Vishalakshi Subedar

Sustainability Analyst

What do you do at Katerra?

I am a Sustainability Analyst while simultaneously heading the Senior Living Project vertical in Pune, India. My primary role is to create and support sustainability initiatives at Katerra.  Additionally, leading the delivery of design documentation submittals for Senior Living buildings using BIM has given me a deeper insight into how and where sustainability can make an impact on Katerra projects.

How does sustainability fit in?

Sustainability at Katerra is being interwoven into both Projects and Products. Daylight simulation on Katerra building products has helped design teams determine optimum window sizes. Light and shadow studies during concept design for projects have helped optimize building orientation in site planning. Studies for optimum levels of site lighting, calculating indoor and outdoor water usage, research on LEED credits for Katerra products, etc., are some of the other due diligence initiatives. 

Jim Nicolow

FAIA, LEED Fellow, Senior Building Scientist

What do you do at Katerra? 

As Lord Aeck Sargent’s first Director of Sustainability and now also recently joining the Building Sciences Team at Katerra, I have committed my career to transforming the built environment through leadership and collaboration on significant deep green projects; sustainability education and advocacy; and leadership and mentorship. I led several of LAS’s most innovative green projects, and have guided the successful LEED Certification for more than 70 projects, published more than 40 green building articles, and delivered green building presentations at national and international conferences. In joining the Building Sciences Team at Katerra, I have really enjoyed a range of opportunities to help drive sustainability across all aspects of this vertically-integrated organization.

How does sustainability fit in?

Katerra’s potential to deliver better, more sustainable buildings to the market without a cost premium, at scale, is tremendously exciting.  The Building Sciences Team’s mandate is to use a first principles view of the building as a product (and set of coupled systems), define what “better” means to guide Katerra technology development, lead a set of energy/MEP efforts, and drive Katerra thought leadership. 

Driving sustainability across a vertically integrated organization gives us a myriad of new incorporation points, including the current development of the Katerra Environmental Intelligence (KEI) platform (Technology); collaboration on the development of several building products (Design); helping to green our supply chain via sustainable procurement strategies and policies (Procurement); identifying relevant green building rating system requirements to guide product offerings (Manufacturing); and developing processes and metrics to report on construction environmental impacts (Construction).  I’m excited about Katerra’s potential to transform the industry.

Hans-Erik Blomgren

PE, SE, Director of Testing & Characterization

What do you do at Katerra? 

I’ve been with Katerra for nearly three years, during which time my work has focused on developing, testing, and managing the code compliance certification of mass timber products – specifically Katerra’s cross-laminated timber (CLT).

During my career as a structural engineer, I’ve had the opportunity to work on some remarkable projects; testing products, performing structural analysis, and applying design principles to structural systems.

How does sustainability fit in?

In my time at Katerra, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to play a role in helping bring mass timber into the mainstream in North American markets. CLT has proven to be a versatile building block that allows for more efficient, factory-built, and sustainable approaches to design and construction. Beyond its sustainability as a building material, CLT creates a new paradigm of sustainable systems. From sourcing to the factory to onsite logistics – it creates a new, more sustainable supply chain.

I also work with our architectural teams to apply the principles of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of building materials in our work, which allows us to reinforce our architectural design choices through scientific validation. To build better, we must understand how the materials we are using consume energy – from procurement to operation.

A recent culmination of these efforts has been working with the Carbon Leadership Forum, an industry-academic collaboration hosted at the University of Washington, to conduct a whole building LCA for the Catalyst project in Spokane, WA that includes a preliminary LCA for Katerra’s CLT. Catalyst is not only the first net-zero building in the Inland Northwest but also the first project to receive Katerra’s CLT product, produced at our Spokane Valley CLT factory. The LCA report for Catalyst is expected to be completed by the end of October.

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