Mankind’s insatiable drive for new buildings has far reaching environmental effects, and they’re only accelerating as the rate of construction increases to meet the growing demand. Some estimates suggest the global volume of construction output will grow up to 85 percent by 2030.
This sounds alarm bells when you consider that, at current levels, construction accounts for around half of all non-renewable resources mankind consumes. Break that down and we can see that construction consumes between 45 and 50 percent of all global energy, around 50 percent of all the water we use and accounts for 80 percent of agricultural land lost, primarily to urbanization.
And that’s just the consumption. We then have to take into account the outputs that construction contributes – somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions, 23% of air pollution, 50% of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, 40% of drinking water pollution and 50% of landfill waste and ozone layer depletion. It’s clear then that our current approach to construction is environmentally unsustainable at existing levels – and unimaginable with the kind of growth being predicted.
But it’s not just the construction of the building we have to consider – there are also the resources it will consume and that will be needed to maintain it throughout the duration of its multi-generational life. So on top of our earlier stats, we can now add that, globally, operating buildings consume around 35 percent of the world’s energy.
“If we don’t make buildings more efficient, their rising energy use will impact us all, whether it be through access to affordable energy services, poor air quality or higher energy bills”
Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency
Better sustainability creates more stable long-term profitability
In the case of real estate, sustainability doesn’t just refer to environmental impact. Real estate, as we’ve mentioned in other articles, is the biggest asset class in the world. And that value is intrinsically interwoven into the functionality and durability of each building.
If it doesn’t perform as intended, if it’s inefficient to run, if its impact on the environment around it is negative and if it doesn’t meet the needs and demands of the people who interact with it, a building will not sustain its value over the mid to long term. If on the other hand it’s well designed, environmentally neutral (or even better, positive), adaptable to future needs and provides a well lit, well ventilated, well laid out space in which to work, live and play, the building’s long-term value makes it a sound investment.
To frame this, the typical economic cost of running a commercial building over a 50 year period is double that of the initial construction cost. The question, then, is how we address the environmental issues from the outset to dramatically improve the sustainability not only of the construction and operation of a building but also its value and return on investment.
Digital Twins improve sustainability for the building’s entire lifecycle
Bringing Digital Twins into the equation from the outset of a real estate project allows them to play a key role in tackling sustainability challenges not only during planning, regulation and construction but also throughout its built life.
Current barriers to achieving sustainability
Regulatory restrictions and conflicting business interests prevent sharing of insights and best practices across markets and industries.
The lack of shared information leads to poor decision making, reduced learning and repeated mistakes.
There’s no single source of truth – a coherent, unified and reliable source of relevant, real time data creating a more circular economy, guiding the repurposing of buildings and reuse of materials.
The growing number of disparate real world sensors and devices makes it harder and harder to penetrate and find the data that can deliver meaningful insight.
Digital Twins have the capacity to break through these barriers at a project level and over time develop into a wider ecosystem that can deliver the same benefits at industry level.
Planning and design
The Digital Twin gives architects, designers and planners an accurate and to-scale virtual model in which to test designs, simulate outcomes and explore different scenarios to understand impacts and find the most effective final design. This can include everything from choosing the right materials to finding the most efficient construction methods aimed at balancing environmental impact and CO2 emissions with costs.
Architects can test potential performance scenarios for any feature or function – think energy use efficiency, lifespan, material reuse and more – as well as gain understanding of the building’s impact on its surrounding environment with shadow, noise, seasonal and other simulations.
Performance and analysis
At its simplest, a Digital Twin is used to access, collate and organise multiple data points into one coherent model that behaves and responds like its real world counterpart in real time. Through an interface that makes it easy to focus on chosen data to meet targeted challenges, building managers and owners can monitor performance of any object in the model that’s connected to real world sensors. This can uncover inefficiencies in everything from energy consumption to maintenance, traffic flow to waste management.
By analyzing this real-time information alongside historical data, Digital Twins also have powerful predictive capabilities. With trend patterns and forecasting, we can use them to predict future challenges and create sustainable, ready-made responses, be that pre-ordering parts for maintenance, reducing disruption to services, optimizing logistics or building resilience against climate change.
Coherence and certainty
Data-based decision making empowers investors and owners to invest and direct resources to the places that drive the best long-term results and most sustainable ROI. Digital Twins can act as the single source of truth to create that certainty for any given project. This helps avoid mistakes in planning, construction and maintenance, which inevitably reduces waste, emissions and environmental impact.
Businesses, organizations and municipal bodies can also, via the Digital Twin, make any data they choose available to anyone. The impact of such open source data is not to be underestimated – it widens insight, improves shared learning and creates a benchmark for others to work from, enabling us all to create and expand on a more circular economy where resources are better used and reused.
This kind of open, sharing approach, whether it comes from the public or private sectors, is the spark that will open Digital Twin technology to everyone and in doing so light the fire of sustainability.
A future focused on decarbonization enabled by Digital Twins
Awareness of the impact of climate change and the importance not only of eco-friendly practices but also long-term sustainability in construction and real estate is now global. To the point, in fact, that some more progressive governments are now incentivizing real estate projects that have an environmental ‘green’ focus, creating so-called smart cities. Digital Twins are already playing a primary role in this transition away from consumption and expansion and towards optimization and conservation.
“Digital Twins play a primary role in our transition away from consumption and expansion towards optimization and conservation.”
For real estate developers, investors and managers as well as everyone else involved in the lifecycle of a building, now is the time to embrace Digital Twin technology and start applying it to future and existing projects, whether your goal is reducing construction emissions, improving energy consumption, minimizing waste levels, creating a carbon neutral building, reducing costs and improving profits – or all of the above.
Praedia – our first Digital Twin solution for real estate – is tackling this globalization of data phase by phase, constantly growing with more functionality, features and data points that will help real estate professionals contribute to a more sustainable future. To find out more, explore Praedia or speak to one of our team to see what we can do.