Tackling carbon emissions in global construction

The integration of digital technologies across a project lifecycle is essential to achieve net-zero carbon objectives

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By 2060, worldwide building growth is projected to increase the amount of space taken up by buildings to about 223 billion square metres (2.4 trillion square feet), according to global consultancy Deloitte.

While this growth will have a positive economic impact, it also poses a significant challenge for ESG (environment, social, and governance) goals.

“Globally, the built environment accounts for almost 40% of carbon emissions,” Toufic Riman, manager for the Gulf region at Autodesk, told the Sustainable Asset Management forum, hosted jointly by Mashreq Al Islami and MEED in Dubai on 7 December. Manufacturing, including for the construction supply chain, “adds another 18-20% on top of these emissions,” he said.

Greener buildings

The increased production of embodied carbon– the upfront greenhouse gas (GHG) emitted during the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance and disposal of building materials – has led to growing demand for greener buildings.

Substantial changes need to be made to the built environment, with the focus firmly on constructing energy-efficient, durable and high-performing structures.

This will require massive investment.

According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC) emerging markets require $1.5tn in investment before 2035 to make new and existing buildings environmentally friendly.

“Achieving net zero by 2050 does not imply waiting until the year to act,” said Hussam Abdel Al, senior director for origination and head of sustainable finance, investment banking at Mashreq. “There are interim goals that need to be addressed and require decarbonisation efforts to commence immediately.”

Greener buildings come with inherent benefits. Environment-friendly structures are advantageous to capital investors as they are more likely to have a better market value and attract premium tenants.

But to ensure an optimal outcome, design and operations must be considered from the onset.

“It is very important to think about the sustainability and economic factors right from the design stages of a project,” said Katarina Hasbani, director of strategy and advisory at sustainability consultancy AESG.

To move in this direction, developers must analyse their operations and look to work with partners capable of delivering cost-effective solutions that present opportunities for savings.

“Efficient energy usage, water conservation methods and strategic waste reduction contribute significantly to cost reduction while enhancing sustainability efforts for businesses or property owners,” said Hasbani.

“Implementing energy, water and waste management measures across existing assets offers potential savings of up to 10% in operating costs.”

Moreover, with about 72% of landfill emissions coming from construction waste, according to Autodesk’s Riman, there are further opportunities for savings during the building phase.

New-age digital tools

While the Middle East has lagged in terms of shifting to greener construction, tools that enable sustainable design construction and operations have led to significant progress in the region in recent years.

Tools such as building information modelling (BIM), geographic information systems (GIS) and digital twins today play essential roles in facilitating eco-friendly design and evaluating embodied carbon.

The advent of sustainability-geared digital technologies has empowered project owners. They are now able to oversee construction projects in real-time, enjoy enhanced communication with contractors and use data to underpin informed decision-making among all stakeholders.

In 2013, Dubai Municipality mandated the use of BIM for architectural and mechanical (MEP) works on projects.

BIM integrates smart data analysis and predictive modelling into a building’s physical components, improving workflow efficiency and reducing the risk of expensive mistakes.

The tool can optimise efficiencies, substitute traditional construction materials with recycled, low-carbon alternatives and prevent potential issues in both the design and construction phases.

BIM has been used on several high-profile projects in the UAE, including the Dubai Opera, Dubai’s Museum of the Future and the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi.

Saudi Arabia is ramping up the integration of new and innovative technologies across the majority of its projects. Sustainability is a key part of the government’s Vision 2030 strategy as the country strives to achieve net zero by 2060.

Saudi’s five official gigaprojects have put sustainability at the core of their procurement processes. The $500bn Neom project, for example, will be powered entirely by renewable energy once operational, while Public Investment Fund-backed real estate developer Roshn has integrated power-saving technologies and adopted water treatment and reuse across the communities it is developing in the kingdom.

“For any company to stay competitive and attract more business and financing, it is crucial to embrace the most recent innovations and technologies, particularly those that have demonstrated success on a global scale,” said Riman.

Digital twins, if integrated effectively during the design phase, enable the post-completion tracking of assets to detect issues and enhance operational effectiveness. This is achieved by creating exact replicas of real-world spaces and generating real-time data.

Additionally, the tool allows the monitoring of key performance indicators that measure the project’s sustainability criteria, helping project owners to assess efficiency.

“We are seeing a drastic change when it comes to owners and operators, especially in the Gulf region, regarding their expectations from projects,” said Riman.

“Leaders are seeing the incredible opportunities a digital twin can offer.”

A study by McKinsey states that the deployment of digital-twin technologies could boost revenues by 10%, halve the time to market and enhance product quality by up to 25%.

GIS, meanwhile, is a mapping software that allows project managers to create detailed maps of project sites to determine their suitability for construction. These maps provide information on the topography, soil type, drainage patterns and other environmental factors that could impact construction.

Furthermore, the integration of artificial intelligence, specifically generative design, is helping to solve manufacturing challenges in unique ways. The technology allows design goals, materials, cost constraints and other data points to be inputted and evaluated, providing diverse solutions.

ESG objectives

Green building certifications and codes serve as valuable frameworks, guiding investors towards environmentally and socially responsible development. This aligns with their ESG objectives and offers financial and reputational benefits in the long run.

“The increasing significance of ESG lies in its integration within corporate strategies,” said Mashreq’s Abdel Al.

“For larger organisations in particular, failing to integrate ESG into their strategic planning could lead to future irrelevance and potentially result in a competitive disadvantage.”

International certifications such as LEED and BREEAM help determine the environmental impact of any given building.

Sustainability requirements are becoming essential in global markets, influencing decisions, disqualifications and procurement mandates. Holding these premium certifications helps clients adhere to principles laid out by the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC).

The WorldGBC works alongside businesses, organisations and governments to deliver on the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and UN Global Goals for sustainable development.

“Businesses are urged to consider sustainability not as a cost centre, but a pathway to results,” said Hasbani.

“The focus remains on making these discussions practical and relevant to each clients’ digital capabilities and financial growth, drawing inspiration from successful examples.” 

14 March, 2024 | .By Mrudvi Bakshi