As the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events increases, exacerbated by the rapid pace of urbanisation and industrialisation, the fragile nature of our interconnected global economy is beginning to show. Structural and social inequalities have been exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, bringing to bear a digital underclass of disconnected communities. Even though the disruption of normal work patterns and social distanctancing requirements have diminished productivity in many industries, essential work has managed to go on.
A new report, Digital Sustainability: The Path to Net Zero for Design & Manufacturing and Architecture, Engineering, & Construction (AEC) Industries, explores the ways that we can avoid similar disruptions in the future, and build a more sustainable and resilient economy through greater levels of digitalisation. The report comes from Autodesk in partnership with Frost & Sullivan, who conducted research on sustainability and related digital technologies focused on the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC), and manufacturing industries in three major European regions: UK & Ireland, Nordics (Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark), and Benelux.
The research examines the ways that business operations can keep moving without the need for workers in close proximity thanks to digitalisation, and what this means for the work of tomorrow. Through tools like remote operations, automation, data analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI), the AEC and manufacturing industries will be best positioned to move forward in the face of challenges.
What’s more, the pressing issue of sustainability across multiple key stakeholders, including government, industry, and the public, compounded by the impending climate emergency, creates an urgent need to act now. The reality of our current era makes digitalisation a cornerstone of a more resilient future.
From the UN’s sustainable development goals to the EU Green Deal, regulators are mandating change across every industry, including construction. As a recent example, the UK’s Construction Leadership Council in March 2021 released its Construct Zero nine-point plan for reaching zero emissions by 2050. This new research looks at how construction businesses are approaching sustainability and the role that technology can play in moving the industry forward.
In this blog, we’ll share 10 surprising statistics about sustainable construction from the recent research report.
Download the Digitalisation: The Path to Sustainability for Business Leaders report here.
1: 82% of AEC companies have a dedicated sustainability team in place.
This very promising figure highlights that most AEC firms have dedicated teams and funding in place to address sustainability. A dedicated sustainability team is vital for prioritising sustainability at an organisation-wide level and pushing through initiatives while keeping the whole team accountable.
2: The average large architecture, engineering, and construction firm plans to spend €3.5m on improving their sustainability efforts in the next five years.
Firms are now investing more in sustainability than ever before. On average, construction companies are planning to invest €900,000 in becoming more sustainable companies over the next five years, which is less than their peers in manufacturing (€1.2m) and architecture and engineering (€1.4m).
The most common investment areas for these organisations are improved workflows (87%), regulatory compliance (75%) and technology and software (70%).
As for individual projects, gaining sustainable building certifications (55%) such as BREEAM is the most important consideration, the report found.
3: 74% of AEC firms are investing in technology to improve sustainability.
Technology adoption has accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic, and digital tools are also supporting sustainability initiatives.
Data-driven optimisation of decision-making is an important part of improving sustainability. Simplifying the capture and reporting of sustainable approaches (51%) and gaining new data and insights capabilities (44%) are two additional technology priorities at construction firms.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) is among the top digital tools used for sustainability initiatives (36%). Establishing dynamic BIM data today will also be central to the development of digital twins, or digital reflections of physical entities, which will help create better outcomes throughout the lifecycle of products, buildings, and infrastructure.
4: 52% of construction firms report using technology to collaborate with their supply chain and partners on sustainability.
A majority of companies are already using technology to make it easier to collaborate with their supply chain and partners on sustainability initiatives (52%), including communicating and measuring sustainability KPIs for contractors.
5: 3 in 4 construction firms report sustainability initiatives led to better use of resources.
Construction organisations are already seeing wide-ranging benefits from their sustainability efforts, with the improved use of resources leading the way (75%). This might include designing less material-intensive assets, or minimising errors and, as a result, waste. Sustainability initiatives are also translating to reduced energy consumption (62%) and improved project quality (50%), which can in turn improve business performance.
6: 87% of construction firms report customer retention is a driving force for their sustainability focus.
More firms are demanding greater sustainability practices in their businesses and facilities. In fact, all companies surveyed in the report have at least some focus on sustainability. However, for 35% of these organisations, sustainability is an important part of their considerations around business. And for nearly one in 10, sustainability efforts are a cornerstone of their corporate strategy (9%). It appears customer relationships are at the heart of this policy, as construction professionals point to customer retention (87%), customer expectations (84%) and competitive advantage (75%) as the main driving forces behind their sustainability initiatives.
7: 2 in 3 construction companies report their employees are an important driving force behind their sustainability policies.
It turns out that for many organisations, sustainability can also be a valuable method to retain and recruit employees. After customers, employees (67%) and the supply chain and partners (64%) are also major factors behind sustainability initiatives, underscoring the importance of sustainability for attracting and retaining new talent, as well as partners.
Asvor Brynnel, Head of Communications and Sustainability at Assemblin, notes, “It is unacceptable nowadays to not have sustainability goals. Our employees and customers expect us to be doing more. Nobody wants to work for an archaic company that isn’t playing their part.”
8: 40% of construction firms point to a lack of financial resources as a key challenge to overcome on the path to sustainability.
Despite the enthusiasm for sustainability efforts across the construction industry, challenges to sustainability programmes remain.
Construction companies surveyed indicate that key obstacles on the path to sustainability include a lack of financial resources (40%), access to skills and training (35%) and a dearth of customer buy-in (33%).
On the positive side, Covid-19 has actually helped to encourage sustainability efforts at numerous organisations. Construction professionals point to the increased adoption of digital tools and clients requesting more adaptable—and thus, sustainable—assets for the future.
Still, perceptions around sustainability remain an important challenge. Half of the construction companies surveyed in the report view it as a cost driver, compared to only 16% who view these initiatives as a cost savings. Overcoming this notion—and ensuring that companies are tracking key outcomes like cutting waste, enhancing quality, and improving productivity—will be vital to establishing sustainability programmes at construction companies.
9: 54% of construction firms report they see lean construction as a promising area for increasing sustainability in the next two years.
Looking to the future, there are many opportunities for sustainability in construction.
For example, construction companies surveyed in the report view material alternatives (57%) and lean construction (54%) as promising areas for improving sustainability over the next two years. Sustainability as a service (47%), net zero energy buildings (55%), and smart infrastructure (59%) are all viewed as additional opportunities for future sustainability initiatives.
Today, nearly half of construction companies surveyed are using lean construction (47%), and the majority see its role growing in the future. Critically, by minimising waste and increasing quality, lean construction can not only support sustainability but also improve job performance. For companies, access to data is key to this strategy—a common data environment gives teams access to real-time information, streamlining design and construction, and making projects more efficient.
Lean construction also offers owners clear benefits. As Helen Hough, Sustainability Lead at Bryden Wood, notes, “Obviously the fewer material you use, the cheaper it becomes for clients and potentially you have the opportunity then to specify more high-quality products that actually get your embodied carbon down.”
10: 43% of construction firms see circular construction as an area with significant opportunity to increase sustainability.
Research respondents viewed circular construction as a significant opportunity (43%), and said BIM could play a vital role in making eventual asset owners aware of the materials used in the construction process. This can help owners to both maintain assets and recycle or de-construct them.
Read more about these and other insights by downloading the Digital Sustainability: The Path to Net Zero for Design & Manufacturing and Architecture, Engineering, & Construction (AEC) Industries report.