Sustainable Construction


According to the 2018 UN Environment Global Status Report, the building industry currently represents almost 40% of the global CO2 emissions. Simultaneously, the World Green Building Council expects the number of buildings on the planet to double by 2060. This boils down to the building of a New York City every month for 40 years. 

Sustainable building, which aims at reducing environmental impact by focusing on clean energy use and energy-efficient buildings, can be viewed as a significant opportunity for the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry (AEC). Sustainable building refers to all sustainable initiatives transforming the building life cycle, from the sourcing of materials to the end-of-life. 

From a linear model to a circular economy… 

Up to recently, the construction industry has been revolving around a “take-make-consume-dispose” linear business modelhighly detrimental to the planet. However, sustainable development and corporate social responsibility are now contributing in triggering the shift towards a more circular economy. Because it is based on the reuse and refurbishing of used materials, the circular economy has a positive environmental impact by decreasing resource extraction, CO2 emissions and by reducing landfill operations. 
Looking at the construction value chain from material sourcing, building use to end-of-life, 28% of carbon emissions are originated in the daily use of buildings (energy consumption, etc.). Nevertheless, another 11% of emissions are generated by the building material itself throughout its entire life cycle, from sourcing to disposal. This is what we call embodied carbon. According to the UN in 2018, embodied carbon is expected to account for up to 50% of total construction carbon footprint by 2050. 

In order to accelerate the ecological transition of the Construction sector and face the growing carbon footprint challenge, several digital and data-based technologies provide a solution. 
Overview of the Sustainable Construction industry

Sourcing of materials

As the construction eco-system is highly fragmented, the key pain point is the lack of transparency between suppliers and construction clients. Using a blockchain technology can ensure a higher level of transparency regarding the chosen materials and improve the reporting of carbon emissions. Indeed, blockchain is able to identify the origin of materials, ensure the compliance of materials with specifications and check for quality. 

In 2019, seven metals & mining companies have joined a World Economic Forum initiative aiming at designing a blockchain solution for the industry. By tracking the origin of materials, that blockchain platform will improve trust between upstream and downstream partners.
Tata Steel Limited’s chief executive explained that “scaling up technology can certainly accelerate” the ecological transition of the heavy industries, which are responsible for 1/3 of global CO2 energy emissions today. 

Sourcing of materials can also become more transparent through supplier ratings. For instance, EcoVadis, a French startup, intervenes as a third party evaluating more than 300 suppliers’ compliance to their Corporate Sustainability Responsibility (CSR) guidelines. EcoVadis provides scorecards revealing insights on the environmental position of the supplier as well as action plans in order to improve their CSR performance. EcoVadis operates with multinationals such as Coca-Cola or Heineken to shift their decision making towards more sustainable goals. The worldwide consulting firm Bain & Company has recently taken a minority share in EcoVadis and is planning to integrate its scoring into its missions.  

Green building

Green building encompasses three steps of the supply chain: the conception, the construction and finally the use of the building. Over the last 20 years, Green building has become a booming sector. Indeed, in 2018 in the United States, Green construction initiatives accounted for 3.3 million jobs
Sky Garden in London

Moreover, Green building practices are highly profitable for the real estate industry since the establishment of sustainable building certifications such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies). A study realized by Bentall Kennedy, one of the largest real estate investment advisors in North America, showed higher rent and occupancy for certified properties. In the long-term, certified properties experience a 9% increase in their value relatively to non-certified assets.

The use of tech-enablers, optimizing resources, creates significant efficiency and energy gains for the construction industry. Indeed, according to the World Green Building Council, green buildings realize up to 35% energy savings and 39% water savings compared to a regular building. 
In particular, the Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology is a digital solution allowing architects and engineers to design, build, and operate infrastructure in a more efficient and sustainable way. In order to achieve those goals, analysis forecasting energy, and lightening consumption depending on the structure of the building are realized. Prior to the construction, BIM allows architects and engineers to obtain data on predictive maintenance and facility management. Powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) such as sensors, augmented reality, and virtual reality, BIM allows contractors to better reach their environmental goals.

Presentation of the Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology

End of life

One of the most significant challenges for the construction sector is to be able to reuse, reassemble, reconfigure, and recycle already used materials. Indeed, in 2016 in Europe, construction and demolition waste accounted for 374 million tons of waste. This number underlines the necessity of shifting towards a circular economy in order to manage construction and demolition waste. The circular economy partly depends on initiatives that are closely linked with the proper implementations of technologies throughout the supply chain. 

An important part of recycling is to know what went into the recycled material. In order to do that, blockchain technology can be used. For instance, the Circulor platform tracks raw materials from source, into components to finished products. Therefore, the more traceable the product is, the more likely it will stay in the circular loop of recycling between different partners or even industries.  

In order to encourage a transition towards a circular economy and increases the accessibility of recycling centers for contractors, digital platforms have arisen. For instance, EcoDrop, a French startup in partnership with the multinational Saint-Gobain, helps uses geolocation through its application to help smaller contractors find recycling centers near them. The recycling topic is pressing and especially in the construction industry. Indeed, according to the French Agency of Ecological Transition, on average in the EU, the AEC industry recycles only 30% of its plastic waste. EcoDrop aims at either recycling waste, reusing it in another production, or convert the waste into energy. 

Another example of a circular initiative that improves the construction and demolition waste management is to design products for disassembly (eco-design). That way, it makes it easier for contractors to reuse the materials if a building has to be destroyed. In that case, using BIM technology is a significant competitive advantage for the company. For instance, Consolis, the leading precast concrete solution in the EU uses this technology. As the company operates with prefabricated materials, BIM allows Consolis to assembly faster the materials. BIM ensures to clients of the successful execution of the project; therefore, it has become a standard requirement from downstream supply chain actors.