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Towards a Transformation: Deloitte’s 2023 Sustainable Buildings Report

Towards a Transformation: Deloitte’s 2023 Sustainable Buildings Report

By Luke Carothers

The AEC industry is engaged in the ongoing process of defining and realizing a green future.  While new technologies and methods for reducing our impact on the natural world are developed, pressure is steadily growing to begin implementing climate-friendly solutions on a wider scale.   One of the ways this greener future has been envisioned–both inside and outside of the AEC industry–is the pursuit of net-zero emissions by 2050.  United by such goals and their outcomes, the AEC industry is engaged in the continuous process of introspection–seeking to find more sustainable ways to continue our important work.

Misha Nikulin believes that, to achieve these goals, the transformational approaches for sustainability need to apply to strategy, processes, technology, and people.  Misha Nikulin is a Managing Director with Deloitte’s Engineering and Construction practice, and focuses on technology strategy, data and analytics, emerging technologies, and innovation.  Deloitte recently released a report that focuses on sustainable engineering and construction to help create a greener future.  In this report,  Nikulin points out that there are nine transformational changes that can “help decarbonize buildings across various construction phases.”

The first of these transformational changes starts with planning for sustainability and lowering emissions.  As AEC firms begin to shift more and more of their focus towards sustainability goals, they must establish their approaches and platforms.  For Nikulin, this involves defining how firms calculate their own emissions and what approaches to take about lowering them.  It also involves thinking about material suppliers, which Nikulin believes will require additional technological approaches.  Once firms have established their own sustainability goals and emissions as well as understanding emissions from their suppliers, they can begin to look for opportunities for stakeholders to reduce emissions.

Nikulin also believes that these opportunities will be further supported by advancements in digital technologies like IOT, artificial intelligence, and digital twins.  By investing in these digital technologies, firms can begin to close the data gap and improve timing.  When it comes to planning for and executing sustainability initiatives, the ability to access real time data that monitors key parameters is essential.  Nikulin notes that, as these transformational digital technologies continue to develop, firms should be aware of data sharing standards across multiple stakeholders and technology companies.

Another transformational approach mentioned in Deloitte’s report is the use of energy efficient and environmentally-friendly equipment and technology.  One major area of emissions can be reduced through investments in electrification and energy storage.  The use of electrification and utilization of renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, are an important first step in achieving sustainability goals, but Nikulin believes that these efforts must be paired with digital solutions to create smarter job sites.  Technologies such as digital twins can be used to optimize equipment utilization and monitor its usage in real time.  This can be further supplemented with telematics–built with additional technologies such as visual intelligence–to reduce downtime and maximize the effective use of equipment.  

Deloitte’s report outlines several other transformational approaches that will have to be adopted to achieve these larger sustainability goals, but key to their wider adoption is their effect on a firm’s finances.  Nikulin believes that, in order for these wider goals to be achieved, firms must continue to make investments in sustainability that exist within their realistic capital expenditure.  While this varies from firm to firm, Nikulin points out that there are several good starting points, such as switching to the use of sustainable materials and digital technologies.  While these have traditionally been cost prohibitive, many of these investments–such as recycling materials and prefab modular construction–can offset a high initial investment with long term benefits.

This recent report by Deloitte assesses the current state of the AEC industry as it relates to our larger sustainability goals.  The report outlines our contribution to carbon emissions–of which buildings represent over 60 percent in cities–and defines a current of pressure towards sustainable design choices.  This pressure from shareholders, employees, and wider society mean that firms want to increasingly occupy buildings that reflect their sustainability goals.  As we move forward towards our proclaimed 2050 climate goals, our efforts must be supported by accurate introspection and planning, which will allow us to make the changes necessary to achieve these goals.

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.