Lisa Damen (31) already knew during her student days that she wanted to work on sustainability. Today, she measures and quantifies these aspects for buildings and construction materials in the VITO/EnergyVille EPIC team. ‘My work is very diverse, and I do love that variation as you’re constantly learning new things.’ Lisa is very closely involved with VITO after work too, as one of the leading Activito staff.

Before we talk about your work, what exactly is Activito?

‘It’s the successor to the internal group Young VITO. We organise activities for all VITO’s employees. That way, you can get to know staff from outside your own team too, in a relaxing and sociable context. There’s a wide range of activities, from after-work drinks and quizzes through city trips to sporting challenges. For example, every winter we organise the Run & Freeze, a race around the Nuclea lake in Mol where at least one person per team takes a dip in the ice cold water. And in 2020, we organised the Battle of the Units – corona-proof. This was a huge success, with three hundred participants. That’s around a third of the number of employees at VITO.’

About your work now. Your team’s name, EPIC, stands for Energy, Policy, Innovation & Circularity. That’s a broad range. What do you do exactly?

‘In essence, I attempt to quantify the sustainability aspects for construction materials, buildings and even districts. This gives constructors and architects, as well as contractors and construction material manufacturers a clear view of the environmental impact of their activities and products. We use life cycle analyses (LCAs) and circularity scans to do this. We work for both governments and industry. One example of a government project is TOTEM, a digital tool we helped develop that’s tailored to the Belgian construction sector. This allows the environmental impact of buildings to be calculated and then reduced too.’

‘In essence, I attempt to quantify the sustainability aspects for construction materials, buildings and even districts.’

Lisa Damen
Researcher EPIC team VITO/EnergyVille

Another result of your team is the VITO/EnergyVille spin-off Enperas, which became independent in 2021.

‘Yes, we did help to launch that from our unit. A number of my colleagues have joined the spin-off, although they were specifically hired by VITO/EnergyVille for Enperas. I had that chance too, but chose to remain with VITO/EnergyVille. The work we do here is very diverse, with constant variety. I do love that variation, whereby you’re constantly learning new things.’

You’ve been working for VITO/EnergyVille for five years now. How did you end up here?

‘I was already very interested in sustainability and in methods for measuring and quantifying it when I was studying bioscience engineering at the KU Leuven. So I knew early on that I wanted to work on LCAs. Once I graduated, in 2014, I worked for a Dutch consultancy office for two years. I started at VITO/EnergyVille in 2017, at first as temporary and later as permanent staff.’

Between both jobs, you’ve worked abroad for some time.

‘That’s right. I lived and worked in Norway for a year, in Alta in the far north – a place that’s sometimes called the Northern Lights town. I trained and cared for huskies – proper athletes that are used for long-distance races – on a ‘husky farm’. Being confronted with the natural elements in the High North was an experience I’ll always cherish.’

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