The construction industry represents a significant portion of the global economy. None more so than in the UAE, for example, where the construction market was valued at $86.7bn in 2022 (equivalent to 17.1 per cent of GDP) and is expected to achieve an average annual growth rate of more than 3 per cent from 2024 to 2027, according to London-headquartered data analytics firm GlobalData.
But with this growth comes increasing concern over the industry’s environmental impact.
Construction accounts for 40 per cent of CO2 emissions and 25 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to McKinsey & Company.
Any reduction in harmful emissions would, therefore, have a significant impact on climate change.
One way to combat these issues is by adopting digital tools and technologies to improve efficiency and reduce waste through lost time and less than optimal use of resources.
On 12 October 2023, Autodesk and MEED co-hosted an event titled Design, Build and Operate Sustainable Developments. The one-day gathering brought together industry stakeholders across the value chain to discuss the urgent need to reinvent construction design and asset management methods to improve efficiency and promote sustainability.
Although the surge in construction activity is fuelling economic growth and urban development, it is also leading to significant wastage of resources in terms of materials and labour
Naji Atallah, Autodesk
With an opportunity to network, the event helped attendees understand how design, construction and operation teams can collaboratively create environmentally conscious and highly efficient developments.
Experts at the event presented case studies that showcased the impact such a transformational approach can have.
Efficiency in construction is more than just a buzzword; it is a fundamental driver of success, according to Lebanon-headquartered design and engineering firm Dar al-Handasah Consultants (Shair and Partners).
At the design stage, consultants can optimise their plans for cost-effectiveness and sustainability, incorporating energy-efficient systems and materials to reduce long-term operational costs.
“One of the approaches we are exploring is generative design and additive manufacturing or 3D printing,” said Balsam Nehme, head of sustainability at Dar.
Generative design uses the power of artificial intelligence and the cloud to develop potential design concepts in a short amount of time. On the other hand, additive manufacturing, as a construction technique, limits construction waste and reduces risks to construction workers.
“These concepts can be tested and vetted to optimise for sustainability,” added Nehme.
Dar’s Nehme highlighted how project owners can benefit by integrating technology and software at the outset of a project’s life cycle to ensure more sustainable and efficient construction.
“Dar has designed and 3D printed two pedestrian bridges in collaboration with Autodesk. This has validated how 3D printing can deliver exceptional value to clients working on ambitious building or infrastructure projects.
“We also use building information modelling (BIM) to find efficiencies, substitute traditional construction materials with recycled, low-carbon and locally produced materials, and incorporate designs that enhance sustainability in the built environment,” Nehme said.
Green building certifications such as LEED and the Pearl Building Rating System are an excellent way to measure the environmental impact of a given project.
Through eco-conscious and innovative design approaches, Dar has achieved success in several regional projects. Notable examples include LEED Platinum certification for Saudi Arabia’s Pavilion at Expo 2020 and the University of Dubai, LEED Gold certification for the American University of Beirut Medical Centre Expansion in Lebanon and Madinah International Convention Centre in Saudi Arabia, and Estidama 3 Pearl rating for Balgaiylam residential villas in Abu Dhabi.
“Moreover, we employ green operation and maintenance practices, including waste reduction, water conservation and indoor air quality management. These practices continue to drive sustainability even after the project’s completion,” added Nehme.
Leading by example
While it is crucial to integrate efficiency from the project’s inception, it is equally important to uphold and refine it at every stage. As the project advances, it guides decision-making, ensuring design changes and adjustments align with sustainability goals.
For a contractor, efficiency translates to streamlined processes, reduced costs and enhanced profitability.
This underlines the importance of embracing construction technologies in driving sustainable project outcomes. With modern construction techniques, such as prefabrication, lean construction and using digital tools to prevent errors, contractors can reduce construction time and minimise waste.
The UAE-based contractor Khansaheb highlighted how it has embedded sustainable practices within its operations to achieve efficiencies and reduce environmental impact.
“For us, sustainable construction means being efficient, using recyclable and renewable materials in building projects and minimising consumption and waste production,” said Jason Sams, general manager of construction at Khansaheb.
“It started with our physical initiatives and has developed into digitising our processes, then using digital tools for recruitment, health and safety, and finally implementing the Autodesk Construction Cloud platform to enable digitisation of site procedures and collaboration within the site teams so that projects are delivered on time and within budget.”
Over the past decade, the contractor has been actively working to reduce consumption and wastage through initiatives such as prefabricated site offices, battery-powered generators, solar power generation for onsite electricity requirements, centralised staff accommodation to reduce the number of vehicle movements to and from projects, and the refurbishment of all Khansaheb-owned labour accommodation to incorporate energy-efficient equipment and fixtures.
Such initiatives have resulted in a 65 per cent reduction in the contractor’s annual diesel consumption and an 80 per cent reduction in its petrol consumption in 2014-22.
Khansaheb also reduced its annual water consumption by 180 million litres and yearly electricity consumption by 11 million kWh between 2015 and 2022.
“Our collective efforts and timely adoption of new and emerging technologies have helped us reduce environmental impact and resulted in a sharp decline in our water and electricity consumption over the past ten years.”
Efficiency in operations
Software solutions such as digital twins are pivotal in promoting sustainability. These digital replicas enable real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance and informed decision-making.
With proactive and predictive maintenance schedules based on real-time data, a project’s owner and operator can ensure a safe and cost-effective working environment that minimises energy usage and reduces operating and maintenance costs.
Metro Istanbul, a subsidiary of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, is a compelling example of the transformative impact of digital twins on sustainable construction and operation.
“With digital twins, we gain a comprehensive understanding of the infrastructure, facilitating optimal planning and execution of projects,” said Ferdi Tatar, BIM and visual design lead at Metro Istanbul.
By enabling planners and engineers to simulate and visualise the network, digital twins minimise design conflicts and enhance the efficiency of construction processes, resulting in cost savings and timely project completion. It also ensures that the building is tracked even after the project’s construction phase and becomes more sustainable through analysis.
Digital tools such as BIM are also gaining traction for precise planning and streamlined workflows as they can decrease the chances of costly errors.
“For Metro Istanbul, sustainable construction and operation means creating virtual replicas of the physical metro infrastructure by integrating technologies such as BIM and real-time data analysis.
“Using tools like digital twins and BIM enable us to detect issues before they can lead to service disruptions and help extend the lifespan of metro assets and enable them to make remedial decisions to save on energy consumption.”
The need to transform
Digital transformation is not just a technological change; it is as much a human change. It takes sustained and intentional efforts to attain digital maturity, and this transformation should not be limited to adopting technology.
A fundamental transformation in how we design and build is essential to address the enormity of construction waste globally, said Naji Atallah, head of construction and manufacturing - EMEA Emerging, Autodesk.
In his keynote address, Atallah explained that although the surge in construction activity is fuelling economic growth and urban development, it is also leading to significant wastage of resources in terms of materials and labour.
“Research shows we need to build a New York City every month, for the next 40 years to answer the demand in our built environment. As we build all these houses, schools, roads and airports, we need to maintain, upgrade and protect this built environment because we have $4tn worth of assets under the threat of climate change.”
“Digital maturity will give the project the insight required for better decision-making and utilisation. It will also allow us to do more with less. Less resources, less waste and less negative impact on the planet.”
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