How does BIM aid sustainability?


BIM and the new dimension of sustainability that it brings are discussed here by Nick Tune, CEO of coBuilder UK

The environmental impacts of construction, among others, arise due to the heterogeneous mix of construction materials and components inherent in buildings. Sustainability, therefore, is first to be found within the construction product and then later in the building or infrastructure as a whole. Thereby, manufacturers are now more than ever in the centre of the sustainability discussions, and they have a new trick up their sleeves – BIM.

Products’ characteristics certification systems for sustainability

In the early ’00s, it became obvious that the construction industry must actively react not only to the environmental but also social and economic aspects of sustainability issues. Following the global surge in environmental activities, established sustainability certification systems like BREEAM, LEED, Passivhaus, DGNB, etc. started transforming from a form of best practice to a market requirement. According to BRE’s most recent account, there are more than 546,600 BREEAM certified developments throughout 77 countries worldwide.

Naturally, BREEAM and other sustainability certification systems consist of some categories that benchmark all the aspects of sustainable building. At the product level, both quantitative and qualitative information is used to determine whether a building meets certain sustainability criteria. Hence, manufacturers are gradually being imposed to provide verified, relevant information about the eco-friendliness of their products (their environmental performance/characteristics) to gain competitive advantage. Owners and specifiers, on the other hand, are stimulated to request and respectively choose products that are the least hazardous to the environment and people’s health and safety and the most fit-for-purpose with regards to the energy efficiencies of buildings. All in all, everybody wins as sustainability certificates use market forces as a complement to environmental legislation.

So how do manufacturers declare the environmental performance of their products?

An environmental product declaration or EPD is a standardised (ISO 14025/TR) and LCA (life-cycle analysis) based document to communicate the environmental performance of a product or system and is applicable worldwide for all interested companies and organisations. It does not imply that a product is environmentally-friendly, but provides third-party certified, comparable and transparent information about the environmental performance in question.

How can BIM enable sustainable construction?

Over the last decade EPDs like all documents in construction were paper or at best PDF based. You can imagine the tedious process of collecting data from these media. BIMifying an EPD means digitising its characteristics and their values and making them available in open formats as a data set – part of a product data template. Through the product data templates environmental data is no longer hidden in the documentation, but readily accessible to anyone who wishes to use it in BIM. For more information contact the product data experts coBuilder.

Starting as early as the feasibility study and planning stages, having manufacturer’s data available in BIM ensures complete control of the compliance with regulations. By having easy access to different types of environmental impact properties such as ozone depletion, acidification of soil and water, depletion of natural resources, energy consumption, etc., project teams can make a fast decision on the basis of true data that becomes embedded in the model and ensures as-designed matches as-built.

At the operation stage, BIM ensures the high standard of sustainability is maintained by making available all the data concerning replacements, refurbishments and renewals. The social benefit of BIM is that all stakeholders then take advantage of a digital document trail that eliminates the chance for undesired surprises along the years of usage.

Through BIM, all actors down the chain can easily make sure that their projects are supplied with sustainable products, complying with both European legislation and environmental requirements defined by governments and the market.

Along with the environmental and social benefits, BIM as a process innovation largely contributes to the economic aspect of sustainability. It reduces the cost incurred by clashes, rework and miscommunication. It brings productivity up because no time is wasted digging through scattered pieces of information needed for decision making.

A new mindset among manufacturers

Following this discussion of BIM for sustainability, it is no coincidence that the industry leaders Wienerberger have made BIM a central process in developing their e4 brick house project. Uniting energy efficiency, financial, environmental and emotional benefits, the e4 innovation in house building paves the way for a new sustainability-based mindset among manufacturers. The company has stated that: “BIM not only supports sustainable construction through the design, planning and build stages of an e4 brick house project but also provides responsiveness and efficiency through the operational lifespan of the property”. The fact is, BIM is leading the way in sustainable construction and only time will show who will be the responsible manufacturers to follow the BIM trail.

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Nick Tune
coBuilder UK
Tel: +44 747 194 73 46