Dr Graham Kelly, director of BIM Academy, discusses how taking control of data can help to shape smarter choices around building operation, energy use and construction products to create a more sustainable built environment
The drive towards sustainable buildings is growing. This is down to many key factors, which are having a huge impact on the AEC industry. There are growing concerns around climate change and the negative impact on the environment. Especially wasted energy and resources generated from construction projects.
The UK built environment is currently responsible for 25% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UK Green Building Council. Yet, over the last two decades, built environment emissions have reduced by 30%. If we look at this result, we see that most of this decrease occurred after 2010. This is due to a reduction in operational emissions rather than the improvement of energy efficiency in our buildings.
We know that newer buildings are more energy efficient and the past 10 years has seen a gear change in new build projects seeking greener building material and processes. The UK government Net Zero Strategy for 2050 needs us to look at all construction projects and how we apply efficiencies. If over 80% of the existing building stock will still be here by 2050, we need to look at smart ways to improve the use of space, occupancy and performance of existing buildings, not just new builds.
We need a better understanding of our buildings
To do this we need to understand our buildings better, thus we need to collect, analyse and interpret data on how our buildings operate.
The application of digital construction could enhance the quality of data and information. Data is essential for critical design decisions about a building’s environmental impact. This works well for new builds, yet to generate data from an existing building is more difficult.
One way in which to do this is to apply smart sensors to a building. These sensors will collect the environmental and operational data of the building in real time. Data can support facilities managers in understanding energy use and maintenance requirements. This data can also give us valuable insights into future projects and what materials perform well. We can also assess the use of alternative materials to make future builds more energy efficient.
This generates a valuable understanding of current buildings, to help us build more sustainably in the future.
Getting smarter with our product choices
Non-recyclable material use in buildings is having an adverse effect on our climate. Taking data from existing buildings allows us to understand this impact.
The construction industry now has a huge role to play in supporting initiative to curb climate change. The focus on operational-energy consumption isn’t enough. Another major source of greenhouse gas emissions associated with our buildings is embodied carbon. It is this which we have to address, one way of doing this is to get smarter with our product choices.
The sharing of data and collaboration across new build and retrofit projects is essential. We need technology to measure and reduce the environmental impact of our buildings. The application of BIM on a project delivers data-driven insights. Empowering better decision making throughout the project lifecycle. The information management aspect of BIM is the data-driver that can support product and material selection.
As an industry, we are turning to more natural sourced materials as opposed to manmade materials. Products that can be reused with less impact on the planet. Materials such as timber, the concrete alternative AshCrete and plant-based polymers.
When we look at the need for data within our buildings, there are many reasons why it is of critical importance. We use data to understand how our assets are designed and then use this data to create our assets’ digital twin. Digital twins can show how an existing asset is performing and what needs to change to enable it to performance better. For construction, data is the underlying thread that allows us to be more in tune with our assets. To understand what needs to change for the greater benefit of our planet.
Data may well be the construction industry’s answer to climate change. We can create data in abundance, we need to take control and use it to shape the future of the industry. Sustainability now more than ever, needs to be a key driver for change within the built environment. Addressing the challenges of climate change is a pressing agenda for us all.
Dr Graham Kelly
Tel: +44 (0) 191 269 5444