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How technology enables more sustainable construction

Reduce Waste By Hannah Morton, Associate Director, Sustainability – 08 August 2022

Brick wall with tag showing material passport icons


Hannah wearing suit standing in front of a plant

Hannah Morton

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Information is key to delivering more sustainable buildings and improving bottom-line outcomes for project teams, building owners and tenants. Much of the information already exists – what is missing are the broader structures, processes and practices that collate it in useful ways.

There are several ways technology can be used as an enabler for sustainable change, starting with measurement and monitoring.

The importance of measurement and monitoring is long established, and we know that to improve performance, we must first measure it. In terms of an individual building, when we understand exactly where energy is being used, we know which areas of building performance to target. Are we exceeding our expected energy budget for chillers, or domestic hot water, or lighting, and what might be the cause? To further improve performance, do we need to tune services better, or can the controls strategy be improved, or occupant expectations reviewed?

For portfolio owners and operators, are they seeing data that confirms assets are performing in line with agreed environmental performance targets and if not, which ones are underperforming? Underperforming assets can receive targeted funding and attention via audits and upgrades, also ensuring capex is used in a manner that will deliver measurable operational energy cost savings.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Parametric Modelling are increasingly being used to engineer better designs, with whole of life environmental and social impacts becoming important factors in decision-making. For example, parametric modelling can be used to test a range of structural designs to establish designs that achieve the required structural integrity using fewer materials. The embodied carbon of different structural or architectural schemes can be calculated based on a model, preparing the building industry for future programs and policies relating to embodied Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from buildings. 6D BIM can be used to test operational energy efficiency of designs at an early stage, allowing whole-of-life energy use to be factored into a developer’s business case.

“The emergence of Materials Passports presents huge opportunities for a circular economy.”

The emergence of Materials Passports presents huge opportunities for a circular economy. A materials passport is a document which contains information about the characteristics of all the materials used in a material, product, building or piece of infrastructure, enabling them to be more easily reused or recycled at end of life.

For a building material, it might show the chemical composition of all the ingredients used to make that material, its structural properties, embodied carbon, toxicity, recyclability, age, life expectancy, care instructions and other environmental/social credentials (such as modern slavery risk). Passports could be stored in a blockchain ledger and assessed at different levels of the supply chain.

This de-risks many concerns about the quality and suitability of re-lifing materials, and could lead to the more widespread creation of second-hand materials markets. This in turn allows the true value of used materials to be recognised while reducing demand on non-renewable resources – keeping in mind the prices of these are set to increase due to scarcity. This is something already being seen with construction sand, which has risen enormously in price over recent years as available resource becomes scarce relative to demand.

Technology can facilitate both materials sharing and data sharing. The Burwood Brickworks shopping centre project by Frasers Property, for example, generated a list of approved products and materials free from toxic chemicals, for use by all tenant fitout projects, sharing many hours of research data to ensure a more sustainable outcome for the entire centre.

Other developers are looking at the creation of warehouses stocked with modular, prefabricated new products accessible by multiple projects in their developments. All of these initiatives can be facilitated by technology, gearing building supply chains up to a more circular economy.

The use of technology to measure, track, design and record, allows key stakeholders to be connected to the relevant information they need to procure, design and operate buildings more efficiently, responsibly and at lower cost.

This blog was originally published at Sourceable