Accelerating Sustainability in Construction: How Technology Opens Opportunities

construction sustainability technology

“It is unacceptable nowadays not to have sustainability goals. Nobody wants to work for an archaic company that isn’t playing their part.” – Asvor Brynnel, Head of Communications and Sustainability, Assemblin 

Sustainability has rapidly shot up the global agenda in recent years. According to the World Economic Forum, environmental issues are the biggest worldwide risks that we face.

Governments, customers, employees and investors want to see companies doing more – and frameworks from the EU Green Deal to the UN’s sustainable development goals are mandating changes in every industry.

In construction, becoming a more sustainable organisation can have an impact in a range of activities. Your business might be focused on reducing the environmental impact of builds, creating assets that can adapt as needs change or protecting the wellbeing of employees and occupants.

By looking across the industry, we can learn how different companies are approaching sustainability, responding to the opportunities ahead and recognising the role that technology can play.

That’s why we’ve partnered with Frost & Sullivan to commission new research on sustainability, featuring construction businesses across Europe.


What’s driving sustainability in the construction industry?

Construction firms are focusing more on sustainability than ever before. Our research surveyed 200 companies in Ireland & the UK, Nordics and Benelux – and one in ten say sustainability is a cornerstone of their strategy.

And what’s the main driving force behind this? For 84% of businesses, it’s customers and clients – although employees (67%) and the supply chain and partners (64%) are important influences too.

Businesses are planning to invest an average of €900,000 in the next five years to become more sustainable. Seven in ten businesses are investing in technology, to improve collaboration with the supply chain on sustainability and simplifying the capture of sustainable approaches, for example.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is amongst the most common tools used in sustainability initiatives (36%), enabling owners and project teams to make more data-driven decisions.

And very positively, companies are already seeing a number of benefits from their sustainability initiatives, starting with better use of resources (75%). Reduced energy consumption (62%) and improved project quality (50%) come next – which underlines how becoming more sustainable can also mean improving your business’ overall performance.

What’s accelerating sustainability and where are the roadblocks?

Construction firms cite a number of roadblocks on the journey to sustainability. A lack of financial resources (40%) and access to skills and training for workers in the industry (35%) are the most common. Perceptions about sustainability can also be an obstacle. Half of construction companies see initiatives as a cost driver, compared to only 16% that see measures as in any way cost-saving.

This is where lean construction can play an important role. Reducing errors, minimising waste and increasing quality can not only support sustainability but improve performance on projects and across the business. Almost half of our respondents are using lean construction today (47%), and most see its importance increasing in the future.

Construction professionals believe that prefabrication is the approach with the greatest potential to reduce the industry’s carbon emissions (53%).

Nils Rage, Sustainable Design and Innovation Manager, Landsec, explained that using a design for manufacture methodology on a project in London also optimised the amount of materials needed.

“Just this year at the Forge in Southwark, London, we've designed a building for it to be assembled as if out of a kit of parts. In doing that, we also happen to optimize and reduce the amount of materials we need. So for that building, we’ve shown a reduction of about 20% in embodied carbon compared to the same product being built traditionally.” 

The drive for sustainability will also create opportunities for new services. Professionals believe smart infrastructure, net zero energy buildings and sustainability as a service hold the greatest potential for their businesses. Opportunities to use new and different materials in construction are on the rise but many of these measures depend on creating dynamic digital records today.

Accelerating sustainability

The construction industry has a lot to gain from using technology to become more sustainable. Initiatives come with benefits like better quality, less waste and higher productivity.

Assets can become more adaptable and so deliver better value for their owners, users and occupants throughout their lifetime. And on top of that, organisations become more attractive to customers, employees and partners – supporting competitive advantage and long-term success.

Download the full Frost & Sullivan report, Digital Sustainability: The Path to Net Zero for Design & Manufacturing, and Architecture, Engineering & Construction (AEC) industries, for in-depth findings and analysis.

Mike Pettinella

EMEA Director, Autodesk Construction Solutions