More Than Carbon

Joshua Colucci Joshua Colucci October 17, 2023

3 min read

The combination of BIM and GIS data is helping developers to take a more holistic view of sustainability.


Published on behalf of Josh Colucci, Sr. Manager AEC Strategic Alliances & Partnerships

Often, the terms “carbon reduction” and “sustainability” are used interchangeably.

But while carbon and climate change are incredibly important components of sustainability, other aspects shouldn’t be overlooked. Part of the reason we at Autodesk are so excited about our alliance with geographic information system (GIS) software developer Esri is that the company takes a holistic view of sustainability, incorporating environmental stewardship, social equity, and resilience into its definition.

No building or infrastructure is planned, designed, built, or operated in a vacuum. Everything exists in the context of its surround environment, and GIS data is essential for providing this context. Building information modeling (BIM) data from Autodesk tools is also essential, of course, for helping designers and engineers deliver the best plans for their projects. By combining BIM data with GIS data, designers and developers can unlock new levels of sustainability in their buildings and infrastructure.

Environmental Stewardship – During the planning and design stages, the combination of BIM and GIS data can help with processes like site selection, biodiversity mapping, and natural resource mapping – all of which can have profound environmental impacts. The alliance between Autodesk and Esri can also help to power specific construction goals and processes that can lead to greener operations. For instance, modular construction has huge potential for reducing the overall environmental footprint of the built environment. But to create optimal designs, development teams need to be able to seamlessly integrate their BIM and GIS data. Together, Esri and Autodesk help design and development teams to access predictive climate data for resilient planning and asset maintenance.

Social Equity – In recent years, we’ve seen a growing recognition that people are part of sustainability. If infrastructure isn’t serving its community well, then it really isn’t sustainable, and land and road development projects have, historically, disproportionately affected disadvantaged communities and minority populations. Esri’s tools offer access not only to geographic data, but also demographic information, helping to mitigate negative effects via visibility into real-world impacts. Combined with BIM data from Autodesk, this information can help development teams make decisions that promote positive impacts for people and communities. This type of design process starts with an understanding of how people interact with a physical space, including commute times, congestion, traffic patterns, and even income and purchasing habits. We only need to look to the fairly recent past to see how the built environment can have a detrimental impact on social equity. Consider, for instance, ring roads around cities that were essentially used (at least in some instances) as tools to enforce redlining. By combining BIM and GIS data, development teams can avoid these mistakes and instead create buildings and infrastructure that lead to positive change.

Resilience – Scientists, developers, and public officials have long given up on the idea that we will be able to prevent all adverse effects of climate change through carbon reduction. Indeed, we are already seeing many of these effects playing out in increasingly common extreme weather events. While carbon reduction continues to be important to limiting the impacts of climate change, it is also essential to design and construct resilient buildings and infrastructure that can stand up to a variety of unpredictable events. Here again, the combination of BIM and GIS data can yield important benefits. For instance, through flood analysis based on impervious surface mapping, GIS data can help development teams to better understand the risk of flooding in low-lying areas. Then, BIM data can help architects to design buildings with features (such as floodable floors) that will help them bounce back after floodwaters recede. Together, Esri and Autodesk tools are also helping planners to map out existing infrastructure to help them design the future. For the built environment to become truly resilient – and truly sustainable – the industry will need to invent entirely new ways of doing things. Unifying BIM and GIS information is an important step in the right direction.

In many ways, the alliance between Autodesk and Esri is a digital transformation story. Digital transformation has mostly been used to describe changes that lead to new business efficiencies or revenues. But as sustainability becomes more central to many companies’ operations, business leaders will need to use data in new and creative ways that promote environmental stewardship without sacrificing profits. Together, BIM and GIS data can lead to projects that have a positive environmental, social, and economic impact.

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