The construction industry, in its practice and processes, and the buildings created account for as much as 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, 50% of energy consumption and 40% of raw material consumption. These figures from the World Economic Forum made a clear case for building and construction to be on the agenda at the recent COP26.
According to #BuildingTowardCOP26 Consortium, which includes the World Green Building Council and Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction in its members, out of the 186 countries to have submitted Nationally Determined Contributions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, only 53 countries mention building energy efficiency, and just 38 specifically call out building energy codes. Most countries do not include full building decarbonisation targets, and building materials are among the topics that are under-addressed.
According to the UN framework, to reach net zero, it’s estimated direct building carbon dioxide emissions need to fall by 50% by 2030, or roughly 6% per year.
Building a cleaner future
In the construction industry, improved productivity, planning accuracy and efficiency are all objectives of digital transformation. It is now clear that these objectives can and must be aligned with environmental objectives.
The good news is digital transformation can help. These are not mutually exclusive objectives. A study by Ernst & Young found principal aspects of digital engineering are forecast to reduce carbon emissions by over 50% within buildings, as well as reduce operational costs by 35%. As a bonus, productivity will grow by 20%.
The Australian government has committed $120 billion as part of a move towards a technology-led target of net zero by 2050. It’s technology like digital engineering, Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) that will help construction play its part in getting there.
A push for technology in construction
Successful digital transformation relies on carefully considered selection of technology going hand in hand with process review and changes in behaviour. For the construction industry, that means careful consideration of how data is collected, accessed and consolidated for performance management and application to decision-making. From estimating and scheduling, applying AI & ML is already beginning to result in more accurate forecasting. Material management is done with the use of Bluetooth and RFDI tags, geolocation data and digital verification of drawing revisions prior to work commencing. Consolidating and reporting on performance uses real-time data. Governments demanding these solutions be adopted to the general benefit of all parties will result in lower emissions as well as a more efficient and profitable industry. ‘Sustainability’ has more than one meaning in this initiative.
Getting the technology mix right means construction companies can control projects with greater efficiency, along with getting data from every aspect of the build. The introduction of tech like IoT, AI/ML and 4 & 5D modelling means managers can leverage data to deliver a project that is safe, on time and on budget. This is the digital twin. It’s fed by the project-management software, pulling in data from the job site to create a real-time version of the project as it’s being built.
The extra dimensions of insight are added to a 3D model by incorporating schedules to show build progress as it appears in the project plan, adding costs as the materials are incorporated and the build evolves. By integrating modelling, documenting, and scheduling, managers can gain access to all relevant real-time build information. Moreover, it enables faster progression to the handover point to operations, potentially saving millions of dollars in time and efficiency.
The real-time data gives project managers the ability to run simulations testing hypothetical scenarios along with predicting outcomes – all from before ground is broken, right through to when the building is occupied and being used.
Digital twins also provide more insight into the serviceability of an asset during its operational lifespan and enable a more proactive approach to supporting and extending its lifespan to ultimately reduce uncertainty, delays, and mistakes.
Legislation is a sure way to drive change, particularly in commercial environments where choices of short-term cost can be favoured over longer-term benefits. With such a full pipeline of work ahead, and whilst the sector is the darling of COVID 19 economic recovery, Australian governments at all levels have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to direct the construction sector and building owners and operators to accelerate their digital transformation to create better outcomes at all levels, and critically to help deliver on net zero by 2050.