New Sustainability Lead Joins Global ASPECT Team

Based out of Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, Caroline Butchart (MEng, CEng, MIstructE, LEED Green Associate) joined ASPECT in November of 2023.

Caroline will perform the dual role of Sustainability Lead and Senior Engineer for the firm, providing not only project leadership but also championing sustainability initiatives for all ASPECT team members around the world.

A proven technical and sustainability leader, Caroline’s experience spans continents, with contributions to large-scale, architecturally ambitious developments in the UK, Europe, and Canada. Caroline has consistently demonstrated an undeniable interest in (and passion for) building re-use, particularly design for low embodied carbon and design for disassembly. She is also a respected public speaker and industry leader, as well as a frequent guest lecturer for schools such as the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). Caroline hosted the BC Embodied Carbon Awards in 2023, and is the co-author of the EGBC Embodied Carbon Guidelines for Structural Engineers. She also sits on the CAGBC Embodied Carbon Technical Advisory Group.

With more than a decade of experience, and a comprehensive understanding of a range of building materials and typologies, Caroline is bringing her top-tier engineering capabilities to the ASPECT team, not to mention dedicated structural sustainability leadership that underscores our pre-existing in-house capabilities.

We sat down with Caroline to learn a bit more about what drives her, why she chose to join ASPECT, and the priorities she sees for structural sustainability in the Canadian market…


Mass Timber Roof Showing Crossed Beams

What appealed to you about this position and about joining ASPECT?

Caroline Butchart: This role really provides the perfect marriage between my structural engineering experience and my passion for sustainability. Having worked in both areas in the past, and knowing ASPECT’s intentions around this role, I knew this would be an exciting opportunity to shape the sustainability work of the firm.

I was also really drawn to ASPECT’s mass timber expertise, especially our fabrication design and 3D fabrication modelling work. I think people are aware that mass timber is a low carbon alternative to steel and concrete, but beyond that, mass timber really lends itself well to other important sustainable design strategies, such as design for disassembly and minimizing our impact on biodiversity. I’m excited to work with mass timber specialists, and leverage this expertise to create low carbon, “full-disassembly” projects.


This passion for mass timber – where does it stem from?

CB: For me, it goes all the way back to my first years working as a structural engineer. That’s when I really saw the magnitude of concrete and steel we’re putting into the world to do relatively simple things. It felt excessive and so wasteful, and like we (as an industry) had our priorities backward. Mass timber, when used mindfully and efficiently, stands in opposition to this culture of excess.

Beyond this personal experience, mass timber has three strong arguments in its favour. First of all, of course, you’re building with a natural material – not something that has to be mined and heavily processed. Sustainability being tied to something so nature-based seems obvious, but is also often overlooked.

Secondly, there is (of course) the low carbon aspect, in that prioritizing mass timber as a building material has the potential to result in a significant reduction in embodied carbon emissions. That may seem like stating the obvious, but I think what is consistently overlooked is the “time” importance of embodied carbon. Achieving net zero by 2050 is not the only target – meeting dramatic reductions by 2030 is also critical if we’re to avoid climate tipping points (like the melting of the Antarctic ice sheets). When you build a building, those carbon emissions occur right away. If we want to meet our 2030 goals, we have to start prioritizing embodied carbon reductions on the projects we are designing today.

Thirdly, a topic that I am particularly passionate about, is the fact that mass timber lends itself well to design for disassembly. It’s a material that, when designed thoughtfully, can be deconstructed, and sparks further interest in the idea of looking at buildings as material (or carbon) banks.


You’ve brought up “Design for Disassembly” a couple of times. You started your career in the UK – can you speak to your experience with this topic (and other trends) in the UK versus what you’re seeing in Canada?

CB: In the UK, and also in Europe, there is a growing momentum behind both building re-use and material re-use as carbon reduction levers. Why? Because the lowest carbon building materials are the ones we already have! In the UK, there is already a culture of re-use stemming from heritage requirements of some of our older and more noteworthy building stock. Increasingly however, people are realizing that building re-use and building upgrade projects are great ways to minimize the emissions associated with the construction industry. In London for example, there are requirements for design teams to submit a circular economy statement for all new buildings, outlining how their project considers material waste, future adaptability and concepts like design for disassembly. I am seeing more and more examples of salvaged materials used in new buildings, or new buildings used as a material bank for future projects,

Here in Canada, there are certainly building upgrade projects that seek to maintain the existing building as much as possible. Some noteworthy projects that I have been involved with in the past are the “Inn at Laurel Point” Renewal Project, as well as several buildings part of the Simon Fraser University campus redevelopment. I would love to see more of this work. The seismic demands in the Pacific northwest make these projects more challenging, but not impossible.

Overall, material re-use in Canada really isn’t a mainstream topic yet. Champions like BCIT and “Unbuilders” are leading the way, with BCIT actually offering a circular economy microcredential.  Additionally, the City of Vancouver, District of North Vancouver, and the City of Victoria all have “Deconstruction Bylaws” for single-family homes that aim to encourage deconstruction and material salvage, rather than the “business as usual” approach of sending huge piles of rubble to the landfill.

As we see heightened regulations in Canada around embodied carbon, I think we will start to see more and more building and material re-use as a way to meet these embodied carbon targets, and I’m excited that this will naturally push the whole industry forward.


The communication about sustainability in design and construction has become so muddled. If there was a misconception that you would debunk tomorrow if you could…what would it be?

CB: There are a few, but I would say the largest is the belief that you can achieve a low carbon building simply by swapping out standard products for low carbon alternatives. In reality, the most effective way to reduce embodied carbon is to reduce material quantities. That means being smarter and more efficient in our designs (as well as re-using existing materials!). Structural engineers can really help with that (and I would say this even if I wasn’t one myself). Engage structural engineers early, and they can design more efficiently.

The bonus here is that if we’re more efficient with the materials we’re using, material costs go down too!


Seems simple enough. Are there other “simple” solutions that can make a big difference in achieving carbon neutrality?

CB: It all comes from that main idea – that improving the efficiency of the structure is one of the easiest ways to improve embodied carbon performance. It’s a relatively simple idea, but I would love for it to become more central. Even small structural elements – each beam, each column – make a difference. Looking at these details is where you will find the most “small wins”.

We all seem to think of sustainability in these big ways, but really, a thoughtful approach to every layer of the structure is what is needed. Every consideration counts. Maybe a building owner doesn’t have the capacity to look at a whole building right now. But looking at one corner of a building, or just the beams, is a great start. I really believe we will (and need to) see more thinking like this in the years ahead.


If you could impart one piece of wisdom around sustainability into the “overall thinking” of the building industry tomorrow, what would it be?

CB: Quite simply: re-using existing materials is possible. And, not only is it possible, but it is a “win” for material costs and embodied carbon.

As with anything, the key to success in shifting to this mindset is creating awareness early on. It’s not something that you can really think about after a building is already demolished.


You seem (and sound) very optimistic, which isn’t a tone one always hears in the news around the climate crisis. Where would you say your optimism comes from?

CB: Without a doubt, my optimism comes from interacting with and discussing these issues with other people within the industry. I’m a volunteer with the Carbon Leadership Forum BC (CLF BC) and sit on the CAGBC Technical Advisory Group for Embodied Carbon, and everyone involved with these groups is doing such great work. I have the good fortune to meet with really smart people in the industry, and to do so both personally and professionally. The conversations we’re having, and the work I see them doing, is what excites me the most…and makes me confident that we are going to achieve our 2030 / 2050 goals.



A big welcome to Caroline Butchart – we’re thrilled to have you as part of the ASPECT team!

You can read more about Caroline’s experience and expertise through our Team Page or reach out to say “hi!” through her LinkedIn Page.