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Sustainability and social responsibility in the AEC sector

Adopting a more sustainable, environmentally friendly approach to projects is a critical priority for the UK's AEC sector, both due to the launch of manifestos such as Architects Declare and Construction Declares, and growing recognition of the BREEAM standard - which set out clear sustainability goals for the sector - and growing environmental awareness amongst both businesses and the general public.

However, concerns persist across the sector, as firms consider how best to achieve these goals while still remaining profitable. With the Government planning on investing £26 billion of public capitol in green initiatives and the move towards net-zero as part of the wider 'levelling up' initiative, the sustainability of future projects remains a pressing concern for firms across the country. Indeed, 55% of construction workers surveyed at the beginning of 2022 believed that investors were more concerned about the sustainability of projects than just a year before.

Fortunately, there are several ways AEC firms can not only position themselves as responsible, ethical organisations, but also deliver numerous benefits to their organisations, customers, and end users. And it all begins within harnessing one of the most valuable resources firms already possess… Their data.

Why effective information management is the first step to a more ethical, sustainable AEC sector

"Information management is the collection, storage, curation, dissemination, archiving and destruction of documents, images, drawings and other sources of information."

APM Body of Knowledge, 7th edition

Information management, as defined above, is a critical component of high-quality governance data-driven decision making, and digital transformation across the AEC sector, both at the organisational and project levels. While the collation, storage, and analysis of data has often been highly time-consuming for firms across the AEC sector, with the recent technological innovations embraced by forward-thinking firms, this need no longer be the case.

With an increasing number of firms embracing Cloud transformation and the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM), along with smart technology now being embedded in the design of an increasing number of buildings, we are now seeing the entire sector generating more information in real-time than ever before. Equally importantly, many firms' digital transformation initiatives throughout 2020 and 2021 mean they are well positioned to start considering how the insights this offers can drive CSR initiatives that balance both sustainability and business goals.

For example… 

Improved social outcomes through effortless asset management

With an increasing number of physical devices and resources now securely interconnected and generating data in real time, asset tracking across multiple sites is no longer the onerous task it may once have been, with management enjoying a micro and macro view of assets' movement and usage in real-time. Beyond the immediate improvements in operational efficiency, this has huge implications for a number of sectors. For example:

  • When designing and managing residential buildings, a clearer picture of the available space, along with its layout and facilities, will help to avoid overcrowding, ensure critical services are always available, and - ultimately - ensure a better experience for residents.
  • In construction, information management opens the door to a better understanding of how roadworks and similar projects can be executed in a timely, cost-effective manner, while minimising any disruption to critical services.
  • In utilities, a clear picture of where and when the demand for energy is at its peak helps to avoid blackouts, by basing the deployment of resources around where they are most in demand throughout the day, with numerous opportunities for automation supporting the development of robust disaster recovery measures.

These are just a few examples of how effective information management can open the doors to numerous long-term benefits, improving the quality of infrastructure across the country, and ensuring critical services deliver the very best outcomes for citizens.

A clearer path to net-zero

The path to net-zero is a vital part of the AEC's environmental goals, and a key part of how the public evaluate organisations' overall social responsibility. As with daily operations, effective information management provides a real-time picture of organisations' carbon emissions - both on-site and in the data centre - which will highlight practical steps that can be taken to lower this figure and bring them closer to that elusive net-zero target.

We are already seeing excellent examples of these principles in practice at sites such as 9 Wellington Place in Leeds, where the cutting-edge sustainability measures incorporated into the twelve-storey office and retail space not only helped gain the backing of Leeds council, but looks set to bring hundreds of new jobs into the area - a clear demonstration of how environmental and social goals can effectively coexist with business ones.

Furthermore, forward-thinking firms across the UK's AEC sector are considering how to incorporate this sustainable approach into their day-to-day operations, and embracing digital transformation as part of this journey. For example, Barhale have worked closely with Exponential-e to lower their carbon footprint by migrating to a bespoke combination of Cloud and IaaS solutions, hosted at a Tier 3 data centre that has been built in line with the BREEAM standard and utilises renewable energy sources wherever possible.

Bringing together social and business value

All of the above examples represent incremental improvements that can potentially have a huge long-term social impact across the country. As many other sectors have already discovered, the high volumes of data the AEC now generates - far from being a mere storage and security challenge - is opening the door to a better understanding of how processes can be improved to enhance social value, without compromising profitability. For example, the use of rainscreen cladding and solar panels in domestic buildings will not only reduce residents' energy bills, but also boost the overall value of the building - a win/win all round.

As these principles become deeper ingrained in organisations' daily practice, they will become inherent to the design of future projects, allowing for the creation of safe, sustainable, and enjoyable buildings all over the UK.

Innovate & TransformLay the foundations for future growth in construction

View our AEC brochure - an introduction to digital transformation across the AEC sector

  1. A comprehensive guide to Exponential-e's portfolio of solutions and how they support the AEC sector's journey to full digital transformation
  2. Proven strategies and processes, drawn directly from Exponential-e's experience with AEC leaders and numerous other sectors
  3. Technology that drives future scalability, flexibility, and innovation, while allowing for full visibility and cost control
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