There is an increasing expectation and ever more urgent push for a greener society. The 2030 and 2050 carbon targets are looming large and approaching fast. More efficient services, energy systems, buildings and office spaces are needed. We are seeing heightened pressure across industries and sectors to reduce waste and consider carbon footprint.
Efforts are being made to address the sustainability issue on a global level and the UK is one of the countries leading the charge, having been considered the fourth most sustainable country in the world in 2020. The Government plans to launch a £400 million boiler scrappage scheme in April 2022, which will see £7,000 grants offered to homeowners, incentivising them to buy low carbon alternatives. At the same time, interestingly, the Government has already invested over £170 million in digital construction initiatives. Is there, then, a link between digitalisation and sustainability?
Let us first examine what digital transformation means in the context of the construction sector. The definition is extremely wide. It can embrace everything from the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) for viewers to visualise proposed building designs in situ, through to interactive, shareable 3D design models and even the digitalisation of building site logistics using sensors.
Green Building Design Consultants, who specialise in energy efficient building design, are adopting digitalisation in the form of virtual simulation to improve building efficiency. With an increasing focus on the climate crisis, ambitious global carbon reduction targets, and the latest Domestic Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) regulations pointing towards stricter Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings, it is more important than ever to ensure all buildings are energy efficient and sustainable. Thankfully, advances in technology, such as complex thermal modelling, mean that we can now simulate the energy efficiency of a building in a virtual environment.
Managing Director, Simon Green, comments: “Some buildings are currently losing up to a quarter of their energy – quite a shocking statistic in 2021. More needs to be done to ensure all buildings are energy-efficient and sustainable. Thermal Modelling is a key and powerful technology that can be managed from digital devices, enabling engineers and construction professionals to accurately predict the impact of making changes to buildings on their energy consumption.”
This is a prime example of how digitalisation and sustainability are indeed linked. Digitally enabled technologies can play a key role for construction and property management companies in meeting consumer demands whilst unlocking multiple financial benefits, such as driving down energy costs and reducing exposure to probable carbon taxes. Digital technology can not only identify relevant data, but also contextualise against other relevant factors such as weather, building occupancy and utility rates. Advanced software solutions can then be utilised to fully optimise assets and buildings.
All of this sounds great – but it must be prohibitively expensive, right? Not necessarily. In the aftermath of the pandemic, budgets are restricted for many organisations, but thanks to advances in digital technology, the Construction industry can start to do more for less when it comes to ‘going green’.
So, why are we not seeing digital transformation being adopted more widely? Simon Green admits there is a generational issue. Younger people in the profession – those who have grown up as ‘digital natives’ – tend instinctively to both understand and embrace new digital technologies. Paradoxically, however, for tools that are generally designed to facilitate collaboration, this is where the benefits break down, because the younger people often then have to explain the results to the senior people who ‘struggle to use that process’, Simon explains.
The result, according to Simon, is that the ’40-plus’ generation in Construction is often simply ‘slipping behind.’ He calls for ‘more investment in systems to make them much more intuitive and make it easier for them to do the job they were meant to do.’
There is much debate in the industry about how the usability and intuitiveness of digital solutions could be improved to boost adoption and effectiveness. It’s a theme that emerges time and again and is discussed in a recent paper by Voices in Construction, which you can download here.
With a broad societal acknowledgement that we need to improve sustainability and lower energy consumption, organisations will be turning to new solutions as they look to navigate old challenges in an era of tightening belts post-pandemic. As reported by Open Access Government, digital transformation is making the buildings in which we work more sustainable than ever, and for a lot less money than you may think. By grabbing hold of the real opportunities of digital transformation, organisations can take the next step in energy efficiency, create more environmentally friendly buildings, and enhance their reputation in the process.