How digital tools are helping the construction industry to choose carbon-smart materials

Infrastructure investment has become a cornerstone for economic growth and development in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region. However, as the construction sector continues to expand in many countries, there is a growing awareness of its environmental consequences.

There is a significant need for change. Our latest white paper, ‘Building Net Zero and The Role of Data in Green Construction’, investigates the current landscape for sustainability in construction across APAC – as well as potential solutions.

The APAC region accounts for more than half (53%) of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, producing 18.3 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2020. The manufacturing, construction and building sectors account for 17% and 4% of GHG emissions in the region respectively.

Potential environmental impacts of construction

Some impacts construction can have on the environment include destroyed ecosystems due to mining and logging; pollution and high energy use in material manufacturing; damage to local waterways and plant life; air pollution from heavy machinery; high CO2 emissions; and toxic chemical spill contamination.

However, there are ways to mitigate these impacts.

A closer look at green construction

Green construction is clean, sustainable construction, minimising the impact of building projects on the environment and communities and making the finished project as environmentally friendly as possible.

The components of green construction include:

  • Focus on energy efficiency, with green building methods using less energy during construction – resulting in energy-efficient structures.
  • Waste reduction – with sound planning and onsite waste reduction directives, it’s possible to generate almost no waste when building a new structure.
  • Low-impact materials – Building materials that generate less waste during manufacturing help cut a project’s environmental footprint significantly.
  • Indoor air quality protection – the careful selection of materials, such as interior finishes that release little to no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), lead to healthier environments for people who occupy the finished building.
  • Minimal site impact – such as careful site placement and preparation, which can help reduce erosion and water damage to foundations and the reduction of a building’s energy use through natural light, and passive heating and cooling opportunities.
  • Limiting water use through use of green building techniques, which can minimise water waste and control excess water outside the building.

Green construction is enabled by powerful technology and digital tools.

Digital solutions that can help with green building

Creating a more sustainable construction industry must start with data. Traditionally, building projects tended to be fragmented, with architects, engineers and contractors operating in silos.

Digital solutions, such as a common data environment (CDE), enable all parties to securely access and share data in real-time, bringing greater transparency to projects and connecting and making sense of millions of data points. Shared data means improved productivity, fewer errors, less rework, lower costs and less waste on projects. This exchange of information also facilitates better decision-making regarding energy-efficient designs, waste reduction strategies and, importantly, sustainable materials.

Similarly, to reduce the total embodied carbon emissions of the built environment, architects, engineers and contractors need to be able to make informed decisions about the materials they use on their projects while balancing costs, performance and climate impact.

Embodied vs operational carbon emissions

Making a distinction between buildings’ operational and embodied carbon is important because these two types of emissions have different scales of impact and are generated at different times along the asset lifecycle from design through end of life.

Operational carbon emissions can be mitigated by implementing a variety of measures such as energy-efficient building systems and renewable energy initiatives. In contrast, the effects of embodied carbon in construction materials are irreversible post-construction. Once the building is erected and the materials are already used, any negative consequences that result from sourcing those materials cannot be undone.

The EC3 tool helps users choose carbon-smart materials

Autodesk Construction Cloud (ACC) users can choose carbon-smart materials through the integration of the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3). EC3 is a free, cloud-based tool created by Building Transparency with input from nearly 50 industry partners, including Autodesk.

The EC3 tool takes data from Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to assess and present embodied carbon impacts in a way that’s easy to use and act upon. Users can view the embodied carbon impact of the materials going into projects, enabling the selection and procurement of those with the lowest carbon impact.

The time for change is now. Construction is becoming green construction, and as powerful construction technology tools continue to grow and evolve, green construction will transform and thrive too.

Sasha Menon

Regional Content Marketing Manager, Autodesk