Ramboll Talks About the Changing Role of Engineering in Sustainable Construction
Not at Ramboll, a global engineering, architecture and consultancy company with 16,500 experts who create sustainable solutions across the buildings, transport, water, environment and health, architecture, landscape, urbanism, energy and management sectors.
Rikke Bjerregaard Orry, Global Sustainability Director at Ramboll Buildings, is changing how her company and the engineering discipline contributes to more sustainable design. Keep reading to hear about Orry's career, how gamification plays into sustainable construction, and how engineers can empower the industry to build a world that allows people, communities and our planet to thrive.
How Ramboll is Changing the Role of Engineering in Sustainable Construction
Tell us a bit about your background.
I trained as a civil engineer, specializing in sustainable building design, graduating from the Technical University in Denmark in 1996. I spent the first years of my career working in HVAC design, indoor climate analysis, and energy optimization.
I’ve filled a number of capacities throughout my career, from design engineer to project engineer on multidisciplinary projects, as well as collaborating with structural engineers at Ramboll and our architectural partners. I was also the head of sustainability at Arkitema, one of the largest architectural firms in Scandinavia for a couple of years. My time there helped me add an architectural viewpoint as to how sustainability could be approached in the built environment.
Being a climate warrior in the 1990s was not easy, I feel like I was ahead of the times back then.
How has your career evolved as sustainability has moved to the forefront of building design?
In 2006-2010, the building codes in Denmark tightened significantly, as was the case in in other European countries as well. This made the disciplines of energy optimization grow in importance, and sustainability became my area of expertise from that point on.
My current role in Ramboll is global. They brought me on to transform how we embed sustainability in our global building projects. Supporting my colleagues in developing bespoke sustainability strategies is a very interesting role. We strive to increase the quality level in each project, because sustainability is very much about developing a stronger purpose, better design, increased flexibility, longer lifespan and improved resilience and livability. And of course to reduce the negative environmental impacts of the buildings we design.
What role does the engineer stakeholder play in contributing to sustainability efforts?
Engineers can make a huge difference. It's essential that we get involved in the project at a very early stage. In some regions, it's more of a tradition that the architect is employed very early and defines the design. Then the engineer comes in and optimizes the design and ensures compliance with codes. We prefer to not work in that way at Ramboll. When we can co-create a project in an integrated process with our clients and partners, we can provide significant insight on the consequences of early design decisions. Sustainability is a team sport -- all design disciplines must be involved.
What does a sustainable construction project mean to you?
Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) and the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) are powerful commercial schemes that help optimize building design to do less harm. But, you’re not getting to a net zero carbon building or to the point where the building is truly sustainable with just BREEAM or DGNB.
Part of what I've done at Ramboll is to create a more ambitious approach where we take 'doing less harm' to the next level and design buildings that actually give more than they take. This means creating a bespoke sustainability strategy for each project, depending on the purpose of the building, its location, the client's ambitions, and the context of the entire project.
It's not only about cutting carbon and reducing the resources that we use in the buildings. We are designing purposeful assets that give something back to the users and to the local community in terms of social equality and job creation. We would also like to improve the landscape, the local biodiversity and local ecosystems. These projects leave a community in better shape than they were before we started the project.
Many building designers can provide a BREEAM excellent building but this design approach brings sustainability to the forefront and has turned into a big differentiator for us at Ramboll. It has helped us win many prestigious projects because we stand out and it gives our clients a reason to work with us. They understand that Ramboll can help them achieve their sustainability goals.
Ramboll co-designed the Amager Bakke waste-to-energy facility in Copenhagen with BIG Architects. The power producing plant supplies low-carbon electricity to 550,000 people and heating to 140,000 households. Amager Bakke has a net energy efficiency of 107%, among the world's highest for a waste-to-energy facility. Nicknamed "Copenhill", it has become an epicenter for urban mountain sports in Copenhagen with recreational ski slopes, hiking, and running tracks built on top of the plant, in addition to the world's tallest climbing wall on the facade.
How have you translated this strategy into something practical that can be applied to actual projects?
Something I'm very excited to be working on is the development of a Sustainability Dialogue Tool, which is part of Ramboll’s digital sustainability toolbox.
The idea for the Sustainability Dialogue Tool started when we partnered with the World Green Building Council in 2019. We co-created an advocacy manifesto that identifies eight priority areas in which the construction industry needs to deliver better solutions if we are to deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the vision for a Climate Neutral Europe 2050:
- Carbon emissions
- Circular economy
- Health and well-being
- Water use
- Value and cost
- Just transition.
We used these eight priority areas as a framework for a tool that could be used in the dialogue on sustainability with our clients. Ramboll's dialogue tool supports the process of identifying relevant sustainability focus areas and ambition levels in a specific project and generates a graphical illustration of the sustainability profile. This visualization puts the client on a journey and helps them articulate their ambitions and widen their perspective on scope and time.
This tool makes it easier to validate our clients' ambitions from the project brief, while pinpointing tangible solutions and areas of possible improvement in each of those eight priority areas. This kind of context and understanding often launches our clients into a journey of evaluating what more can they do on their project than, say, just reducing operational energy use.
The eight innovation areas of focus in Ramboll's Sustainability Dialogue Tool. Courtesy of Ramboll.
So, you're almost gamifying sustainability planning? Is that right?
We are showing options and visualizations in a way that is transparent, appealing, and supports the decision making of the client. We have 20 projects right now where Ramboll provides this service. We are getting a lot of positive feedback from clients because it helps them realize that they can raise their level of ambition. They might already have high sustainability goals for their project but often using the Sustainability Dialogue Tool is like switching a light bulb on in their head.
If the global construction industry is ever going to solve the considerable challenges of making projects truly sustainable and beneficial to all of society, we need clients to be pushing their ambitions further, faster. We see this tool as a way for Ramboll to help our clients and the industry make substantial progress here.
A close collaboration between Ramboll, BIG Architects and the turnkey contractor, Bladt, rendered the Kistefos Museum in Norway (called "The Twist), possible. Ramboll's engineers, architects, and architectural technologies were able to optimise the weight of the construction -- saving 35% of the quantity of steel.
What advice would you give to a firm interested in applying engineering as a part of sustainable design?
That’s a tough question because while innovation is key, it also depends on the resources you have available. I've been fortunate to work for companies like Ramboll and Arkitema where innovation is baked into their strategy.
Just ticking boxes isn't enough to differentiate a smaller company in the market anymore. Personally, I don't think there is a choice -- every engineering company must innovate and embed sustainability into their design. Otherwise, they will soon be out of business.
Specialization could be the answer -- I do see smaller boutique sustainability consultants that develop their own tools and methodologies. They excel at bespoke approaches and are doing really interesting, inspiring projects. It's not impossible, but you need to get really creative and maybe specialize in doing that.
I think specialization in sustainability is the way to go if you want to make a real difference as a smaller organization. Certification schemes are a good place to start to get some training and basic knowledge about sustainability. Then you have to think bigger, and more creatively: What is your firm good at? Where can you provide value beyond these certifications?