This blog was published in conjunction with RICS World Built Environment Forum.
As the effects of climate change become both more apparent and less deniable, the tech sector has been tasked with identifying solutions. In May of 2021, US Climate Envoy John Kerry suggested that half of all emissions reductions necessary to hit net zero by 2050 will “come from technologies that we don’t currently have.” While he drew some praise for his optimism, and much derision for, well…his optimism, the implied challenge to the tech sector was heard loud and clear.
For many years there has been a belief that sustainability targets require businesses to make financial compromises. It has created a significant barrier to institutions. But technological advances actually mean that the sustainability agenda represents an opportunity, rather than a threat, to business-critical commercial endeavors. This dawning realization, for those who have seen the light, has had a profound impact: a new symbiosis between environmental and financial performance has been established. For example, energy-efficient commercial real estate enjoys significantly lower operating costs. Google used DeepMind AI and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to reduce the energy used by heating and cooling devices in their buildings by 30%. Cloud computing—alongside affordable IoT technology such as real-time data and analytics software, submetering, and wireless sensors—has made building-automation systems more economically viable.
Thanks to technology we have never been in a stronger position to tackle the challenges facing our cities. We can anticipate, simulate and base decisions on data mined by AI and machine learning software. Cloud technology provides critical digital infrastructure to improve the way in which cities operate. For example, we can now better inform citizens of the best and worst times to travel and enable flexible working through better sharing of data. In doing so, we reduce crowding on public transport, and in business districts and offices. Governments have increased spending in areas such as 5G to ensure greater connectivity between people. Many private businesses are attempting to reduce hand-to-hand interactions through the use of contactless payment systems.
"Energy-efficient commercial real estate enjoys significantly lower operating costs. Google used DeepMind AI and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to reduce the energy used by heating and cooling devices in their buildings by 30%."
Digital twins will make urban planning and regeneration projects significantly easier, cheaper, and faster. By running tests on a created simulation, we can ensure that a built asset is working at optimal capacity at each stage of its lifecycle. Digital twins also allow for the global standardization of best practices; they can be applied, adapted, and implemented in various environments or ecosystems.
Technology also enables us to reverse some of the flaws seemingly inherent in industrialization. For example, 80% of today’s buildings will still be in use in 2050, but 75% are energy inefficient. The supply chain currently does not have the capacity or capability to complete the widescale retrofitting required to meet global targets. Therefore, we need to look to digital engineering technologies, in order to provide an alternative way of working. One means by which this can be achieved is to use a blockchain to improve supply chain traceability and create an information trail or “golden thread”. When used with IoT, this will bring about a level of automation that can reduce data inaccuracies. Mistakes throughout the supply chain are notoriously difficult to pinpoint—this difficulty scales up as supply chains become more complex and multinational. Blockchain can fill in gaps and complete the story, enhancing visibility across the lifecycle of a built asset.
As digitalization finds its way into all walks of life, it will be pivotal for the construction industry to adopt modern solutions or find itself left behind. Old operating models are outdated and unproductive, with information still confined to silos, and costly delays an ever-present feature of project management. The lack of any real data integration, fragmentation in supply chains, uncollaborative attitudes, and continued faith in single-solution platforms keep the sector chained to 20th-century working practices. Common Data Environments, BIM, artificial intelligence, and machine learning can help to break those chains. AI and machine learning not only improve productivity levels by undertaking simple and mundane tasks but also increase safety levels onsite.
"It is inevitable that resistance to new and emerging technologies will linger. People tend to get attached to tradition; change can arouse suspicion. The software industry can help construction professionals overcome these barriers to implementation."
It is inevitable that, in some quarters of the industry, resistance to new and emerging technologies will linger. People tend to get attached to tradition; change can arouse suspicion. The software industry can help construction professionals overcome these barriers to implementation. One of the strongest safeguards we have is to ensure the highest level of securities when introducing data integration practices. Compliance with the ISO 27001 designation, which is considered the global gold standard in information security, is an ideal first step. Technologies such as AI can drive significant efficiencies in construction projects. Research conducted by global consultancy firm Roland Berger has shown evidence for significant uplifts in labor productivity and a greater instance of projects reaching completion on time and under budget.
We are starting to see in countries such as the UAE constant investment in new technologies and infrastructure to meet their net zero carbon goals. Digital twins have the potential to completely revolutionize the way we build in sustainability—both pre and post-construction. In Dubai, for example, the Dubai Here system has been used to assist decision-making processes on major infrastructure works. By sharing similar examples of success, we are doing the necessary groundwork in creating a business case for sustainability-enhancing digital transformation. In doing so, we can nudge the construction industry towards the fulfillment of its net zero obligations.
Want to learn more about how ConTech can help the construction industry meet its sustainability goals? Learn more here.
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