Nordic Construction Leading the Way on Sustainability  

May 4, 2021 Chris Moore

A recently published report from Autodesk titled Digital Sustainability: The Path to Net Zero for Design & Manufacturing and Architecture, Engineering, & Construction (AEC) Industries shows that the Nordic construction sector is in a healthy position with regards to sustainability and digital technology adoption, in relation to other European regions. The report also highlights opportunities for further development of sustainable practices in the region.

The comprehensive study from Autodesk, in partnership with Market Research Consultancy Frost & Sullivan, is based on a quantitative survey of 600 organisations across the AEC and Manufacturing sectors in three key European regions: UK & Ireland, Benelux and the Nordics. The survey garnered responses from 126 companies in AEC across the region, 53 of those surveyed were in construction.

The goal of the research was to explore how businesses are approaching sustainability and the role technology can play as well as present the steps they are taking to improve their standing and look at future trends to identify the path to sustainable growth. 

The report highlights the efforts by firms to develop or enhance their sustainability strategies, including tangible targets and the development and/or utilisation of digital tools and services to monitor, measure, integrate, and manage their processes and systems on the path to net zero. 

In this piece we’ll take a look at the drivers of sustainability efforts, the current state of play in the Nordic construction sector and outline what the future holds in terms of sustainability trends for the region. 

Firstly, let’s take a look at some of the positive highlights of the report: 

  • The Nordics is the most mature region for sustainability, compared to Benelux, UK and Ireland.
  • The region has the lowest level of perceived challenges with regards to sustainability.
  • Companies in the region are most likely to leverage software and technology to drive sustainability.
  • Levels of investment in training and upskilling employees is strong.

nordic sustainability construction 1

Mature market

The research positions the Nordics market as the most mature for sustainability ahead of Benelux, the UK and Ireland. But what factors are driving the advancement in sustainability? 

There is a long legacy of companies in the Nordic regions driving sustainability through strategic leadership rather than through government, focusing on the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) aspects of corporate strategy and building capabilities and expertise in sustainability when servicing their projects and clients. 

The maturity of digital sustainability in the Nordics is highlighted further by the region’s view of access to software and technology as less of a challenge (12%) when compared to views from the other regions. Companies in the Nordics leverage software and technology to drive sustainability across the region.

There is also a cultural drive towards sustainability, innate in the region, evidenced by the fact that customers and investors are driving the urgency and momentum of sustainability. In addition, employees are also key internal stakeholders and are strongly driving sustainability strategies. 

Current influences and benefits of sustainability 

Let’s now take a look at the priorities in the Nordics, how companies view the benefits and motivations in adopting a sustainability agenda. 

Sustainable use of resources

Sustainable use of resources emerges as the strongest perceived benefit to the industry. Companies in the Nordics region are least likely to engage in sustainability initiatives for awards and recognition when compared to Benelux and the UK & Ireland. Reduced energy consumption is also seen as a key benefit of sustainable initiatives. 

Reducing carbon 

Embodied carbon in materials, in both manufacturing and construction, is a priority as companies look to reduce carbon intensity by using alternative materials on their journey toward net zero.

Chart 14: Industry Trends to Reduce Carbon Emission in Construction

Circularity 

In terms of customer focused decision making, circular design is the strongest driver for customer projects in the Nordics

“Circularity is emerging as a new way of thinking. Success requires a shift in a mindset of the construction industry enabled by technology. The main objective is to help our customers achieve their sustainability goals by driving circularity”. – Janicke Poulsen Garmann, EVP for Norway at Norconsult

nordic sustainability construction 3

Supply chain

Supply chain sustainability is particularly high in construction (52%) across the board, due to the relatively large number of suppliers and vendors involved. This is in contrast to Architecture and Engineering’s (A&E) 43%, which has far fewer suppliers. However, support via new data insights and capabilities are stronger in A&E given the need to influence the downstream construction segment in terms of material specifications and performance linked to sustainability.  

nordic sustainability construction 4

Material alternatives and zero waste (lean construction) is a key trend set to accelerate in the sector also. The high rating of zero waste (lean construction) is a strong indication of the promising prospects of key technologies, such as robotics, 3D printing, and pre-fab and modular construction. 

There is a growing importance of a common data environment (CDE) so that teams have access to real-time data for design coordination and review, which streamlines the process and helps drive project efficiency.

nordic sustainability construction 5

Areas of opportunity for the construction sector

While the report shows that the Nordics is a leader in the movement towards sustainability, there are a number of opportunities for the region to make further strides. 

  • The research indicated that the A&E segment has progressed farther than the construction segment in the sustainability journey.
  • Sustainable use of materials emerges as a strong driver in the industry but there is still opportunity to progress. 
  • Circularity is being explored but is yet to become established in an effort to make incremental improvements.
  • Deployment of digital solutions in construction and manufacturing is relatively concentrated. There is a definite need to push for more penetration and utilisation of digital solutions, especially among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and across large organisations.
  • Methods to more effectively streamline data collection and enable effective data-driven decision-making is an area of growing need.
  • Forward integration in the construction industry is needed to tap into buildings’ sensors and thus design efficient, cognitive buildings and pipe networks.

How can digital technology improve sustainability?

As we’ve seen there are many opportunities for continued progress towards a sustainable construction sector and the utilisation of digital technology is a key enabler. Here we examine how digital can make the difference. 

Building Information Modelling (BIM)

Construction of infrastructure and buildings is an extremely carbon-intensive process that encompasses the entire supply chain, from the extraction of natural resources to its transportation and manufacturing. In the construction sector, digital tools like BIM are being implemented by companies such as Sweco (especially in large construction projects). 

“When we do large scale construction projects we place a big emphasis on BIM to ensure we minimise the impact in the process. We also do this to digitise what is in the building, such that years later, it becomes a resource bank so that we might not need to go to Congo for cobalt or to China for earth metals”. – Mattias Goldmann, Head of Sustainability at Sweco

Robotics and 3D printing 

Cement production and calcination account for 8% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions, which is about four times that of the aviation industry. Due to the massive consumption of carbon-intensive materials and the associated high emissions, robotics and 3D printing can significantly reduce the construction sector’s environmental impact. 

“Our focus is on how the technologies we develop can have a potentially enormous positive impact in reducing construction’s environmental footprint. To achieve this, we are making robots accessible. Factory on the Fly is a robot module in a container and can go to the construction site and the factory. Basically, that means that you can avoid a lot of emissions that are related to logistics because you can bring the factory to the construction site”. – Asbjørn Søndergaard, Co-founder and CTO at ODICO

Track & trace and material passports

In Sweden, research and development projects involving various stakeholders in the construction sector are aimed at tracking the information from the source to the building, and then developing standards, frameworks, and protocols. This will have a significant impact and help drive sustainability and circular economy agendas with respect to construction projects.

Safety, good health and wellbeing

Companies are also looking to drive good health and wellbeing in construction, with a focus on air quality and lighting. The role of digital solutions is increasing, ranging from sensors to drones. A shift in design and manufacturing from mitigation to adaptation is needed as the world deals with systemic change from increased natural disasters and the Covid-19 pandemic.

BIM and digital twin

Net zero building construction is gaining importance due to the critical contribution in tackling climate change. The evolution of BIM extending to the use of digital twins enables sustainable construction by incorporating economic efficiency, energy and resource efficiency, as well as environmental performance in different stages of construction. The key role of the solutions is monitoring, measuring, and managing the processes and operations, in terms of architectural and energy performance, with the ultimate goal of optimising energy consumption.

What does the future hold?

The perception of sustainability and how it impacts our lives has changed massively in only a few years. There are some interesting trends outlined below which give a flavour of what’s ahead but the onus is on the industry to adapt quickly and ensure we’re working towards a more sustainable future.  

  1. CO2 and climate change will certainly continue to be important—with the focus shifting to mitigation and adaptation. 
  2. Circularity influenced by digitisation – increasing focus on design thinking from the start, with a shift in focus on material use from what needs to be built to the most efficient use of resources in a circular economy. 
  3. Machine learning and AI that are more accessible and available will help in extracting and delivering value on sustainability. 
  4. Systems thinking of connecting the different dots and looking at it from a platform perspective will help in reaching new levels of sustainability. 
  5. Pre-fabrication will become mainstream. Delivering the numerous benefits of off-site construction and reducing the requirement of on-site team members. 
  6. Building automation and control systems – understanding the interaction of the different systems such as pressure, heating, air quality, both inside and outside buildings. 
  7. Supply chain sustainability and associated focus on embodied carbon is also set to witness a digital sustainability push to address key bottlenecks of measurements associated with Scope 3 emissions. The need to access data will drive open protocols and greater transparency from the producers. 
  8. Data management will also be an important area given the volume of information. Associated sustainability challenges will increase a focus on deriving value from the data available. 
  9. Digital technology will drive tangible efficiency improvements in manufacturing and AEC with greater integration of design, process and operational workflows.

As we know, rapid urbanisation and the continual depletion of limited resources are driving the need for a new systems-thinking approach to how resources are consumed and retained in a closed loop circular economy. 

The deployment of data-driven solutions is set to unleash an era of value-driven data analytics. This in turn takes a step beyond delivering insights toward achieving optimised decision-making based on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

The Nordic region is well placed to drive further towards a more sustainable construction industry, enabling sustainable growth. However, further evolution in collaborative practices and adoption of technologies is required to keep the momentum going. The path to sustainability is built with technology. 

If you’re interested in finding out more, download your copy of the report today. 

You can also get a free demo of Autodesk Build software here. 

The post Nordic Construction Leading the Way on Sustainability   appeared first on Digital Builder.

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