Member profile: Judith Schinabeck, Standards & Technical Manager GECA and ALCAS board member
Judith Schinabeck has a wealth of experience in green building and sustainable construction materials, most recently as Standards and Technical Manager at GECA. Judith joined the board of ALCAS in August 2020 bringing her expertise in architecture, civil and building engineering and technical standards to bear on promoting LCA.
We spoke to Judith about your career, experience with LCA and ambitions for ALCAS.
1. How (and why) did you become involved in green building and sustainable construction?
Since I was a child, environmental protection has always been close to my heart. I was lucky to find studies where I could combine this interest with my mathematical and analytical skills. That’s why I became a building materials and environmental engineer.
Since the beginning of my career, I have been working on environmental aspects in the built environment with an emphasis on reducing carbon emissions and the environmental impact on different levels – from building materials to buildings to whole precincts. Looking back, I would characterise my professional strengths as “engineering with compassion”: applying my technical knowledge in ways that nature and people can continue to thrive.
The construction industry has such a pivotal role to play in our current climate crisis and I want to contribute my part towards finding sustainable solutions.
2. You are currently Standards & Technical Manager at GECA. Can you tell us about the work of GECA as a whole and your role in particular?
At GECA, we help organisations and individuals to make, buy and do better for people and planet. We are a purpose-driven, not-for-profit that stands for integrity, independence, and impact. We offer a suite of services designed for anyone committed to continuous improvement in their sustainability, including Australia's only not-for-profit, multi-sector ecolabelling program. Our ecolabel standards range from building materials and furniture to personal care products and cleaning services. We campaign for more environmentally friendly production techniques, healthier and ethically sourced product choices and are striving for a circular economy.
I have been the standards and technical manager at GECA for three years. I am responsible for managing and writing our technical standards together with our technical team, which define how a specific product or service group can be sustainable across the whole life cycle from raw material extraction to the end of the product life. This provides me with ample opportunities to connect with experts from various fields – manufacturers, government representatives, green building associations, environmental groups and similar.
3. Your bio on the GECA site says you have “a profound background in LCA”. Can you tell us about how you first became exposed to LCA?
I was first introduced to life cycle assessment during my studies. From the beginning, I was drawn to it because LCA lets me measure environmental impacts while valuing the complexity of this topic and at the same time look for optimisation strategies.
Later, I was a lecturer in life cycle assessment for civil and environmental engineering students at the Technical University of Munich, Germany.
During my work at UNSW in Sydney I learned a lot about the different methods of life cycle assessment – differences and similarities between process-based LCA and environmental input-output analysis.
4. How are you currently using LCA in your role at GECA?
We at GECA are conducting LCAs and EPDs for sustainable products and services.
We even have an ecolabel standard for Sustainable Products and Services that is based on life cycle assessment. It measures whether a product or service is significantly environmentally preferable to an average product.
Both ecolabels and LCA are forms of measuring and communicating the environmental impact of a product and therefore can complement each other.
5. What role would you like to see ALCAS play in the LCA community?
LCA is a tried and tested method for measuring environmental impacts and ALCAS is doing a great job in promoting it. LCA plays an important role in the current worldwide climate and environmental crisis. We at ALCAS need to ensure that we continue to connect with current topics like the circular economy and highlight the place of LCA as a methodology in these concepts.
We also have a great opportunity in offering guidance to environmental consultants, procurers and the like with interpreting LCA results and decision making. LCA might seem complicated to some, but it is a great tool to map the substantial variety of environmental impacts.
6. As a new ALCAS board member, what do you hope to personally contribute and what initiatives would you most like to get behind?
Promoting life cycle assessment as a robust method is an important goal for ALCAS I completely stand behind.
I would also like to contribute to:
Exploring and clarifying what role LCA has as part of holistic sustainability concepts
Explaining how manufacturers, consultants and engineers can apply LCA results and how that can feed into product optimisation
The connection between LCA and ecolabels as both are measuring the environmental impact of products and services.