What is sustainability in construction? Does it refer to waste management? Reduced embodied carbon emissions? Job site safety? Financial savings?
Procore’s recent panel asked construction leaders from Mainbrace, Naylor Love, Prime Build and Building Transparency this exact question and it’s very clear that sustainability means different things to different people.
What was unanimous though, was that technology is part of the solution to improving economic growth, environmental care and social wellbeing.
Here are five ways these key leaders believe technology will build more sustainable businesses in the industry:
Digitisation in construction can lead to more environmentally friendly outcomes if executed correctly.
According to Mainbrace Construction’s head of data, technology and systems, Angus Greenwood, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure”.
When it comes to manually logging data or updating spreadsheets, accuracy can be difficult and there is a lot of room for error.
By digitalising data, and having accurate measurements, technology can support sustainability initiatives.
Angus posed practical questions: “Does every builder or developer know exactly how much carbon they’re emitting on their build? Or even just how much tonnage is going to landfill? Or even simpler, just how much they’re spending?”.
To create more environmentally friendly outcomes, measurements need to be made from the get-go. This allows teams to see where they are coming from and where they are headed.
Prime Build’s managing director, Dean Willemsen, spoke to sustainability from the angle of tackling construction waste and “holding ourselves accountable to those targets that we set”. Technology can be an incredible enabler, helping businesses avoid “environmental waste, wasted time and wasted effort”.
To do this successfully, you need to work more efficiently as a group, with smarter waste management tools and methods.
Prime Build’s approach is pragmatic—it doesn’t always need to involve the latest tech or a full system overhaul.
It can be “as simple as avoiding co-mingling recyclables with landfill waste on site,” he said.
Meaning, separating waste streams at the source and committing to drastically diverting the amount of rubbish sent to landfill.
This is where technology is an efficient enabler. Using it to document protocols or for communicating effectively with your team or partners onsite to facilitate these kinds of changes.
There are misconceptions in the construction industry that building sustainably costs more. However, if a project is built correctly the first time, it will cost considerably less than when changes need to be made, or sustainable initiatives are included as an afterthought.
Afterthoughts, or rework even, will cost more. Designing and building with sustainability in mind from the get-go will always yield a lower cost, than including those changes later in the piece.
Naylor Love’s general manager of construction, Pete Lockhart, considered building materials when thinking about sustainability: “There are a few little extra costs just around structure, but far outweighed by the capital expenditure against the operations cost. Look at those sorts of things and you'll get a good balance.”
With this in mind, taking environmental considerations into account upfront is a more viable, financially sustainable decision.
What if we could track the carbon savings of swapping the concrete or steel for timber on a standard build?
With the help of Stacy Smedley and the team behind The Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) tool, we now have this ability.
The EC3 tool is a free technology that benchmarks the carbon emissions of different materials.
Businesses can set embodied carbon limits and reduction targets and use the EC3 tool for insights during the material selection stage or even throughout a project.
“The data is free, and open which makes the whole database of carbon entity values available through an API to any other tool that wants to use it. Integrations into things like Procore cost estimating tools, and BIM software.”
According to Stacy, this kind of tool is helpful for sustainability as it means that we can “then work on putting it in place in the places where we need it to be, to make informed decisions”.
Stacy said that technology such as this calculator “enables owners to click a few buttons and get a comparison of materials.”
They can account for the carbon emissions of projects and make decisions about what is best for their targets.
According to Procore’s How We Build Now Report, 2022, businesses across Asia Pacific report an average potential savings of 20 per cent on total project spending, just by managing data more efficiently.
As the industry collects more data from job sites, the strategy for analysing and reporting on that data becomes more complex.
A successful shift from experienced-based decisions to those based on data involves a carefully designed process to ensure buy-in at all levels of the organisation.
This shift to using technology, like a platform technology that allows for multiple data sources to be integrated, rather than using disparate siloed systems can make an immense difference in cost saving and create one source of truth to measure and reduce global carbon footprint.
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