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Glodon Co., Ltd.

Glodon Co., Ltd.

Jun 21.2023

Shaping a Sustainable Future with Digital Buildings

By Cristina Savian

The Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria have become increasingly important in today’s rapidly evolving world. With companies becoming increasingly aware of their need to create a more sustainable future, digital building is becoming increasingly clear that it has the potential to help towards these goals as well. How do we leverage digital buildings to promote environmental, social, and governance issues and transform them into effective tools to create a sustainable future? 

Digital Building: An Overview

A digital building refers to the application of digital technologies and processes throughout the entire lifecycle of a building project, starting from the initial design and planning stages to the construction, operation, and maintenance stages. People often believe the term only refers to operations and maintenance phases during a lifecycle; however, its purpose, in fact, starts much earlier. To achieve our sustainability objectives and make decision-making more effective, we must have access to structured digital information about our building assets throughout their lifecycle.

Having access to a digital replica of our building can offer numerous benefits, including enhancing efficiency, reducing costs, improving collaboration, enabling data-driven decision-making, promoting sustainability, streamlining asset management, simplifying regulatory compliance, optimising resource usage, streamlining facility management, and enhancing the overall performance of the building and ultimately increasing resilience throughout the entire project lifecycle, ultimately contributing to the achievement of ESG goals.

ESG goals and climate change are closely linked. The built environment is responsible for 79% of total carbon emissions [1] , of which the sector directly controls 43% [2] . To understand what these statistics mean, it is crucial to contextualise them to determine what interventions are required and how a digital building may be able to assist.

Let us first look at whole-life carbon emissions as explained by the equation provided below and illustrated in Figure 1.

Whole-life carbon emissions = Embodied Carbon + Operational Carbon + Beyond the Lifecycle Carbon

A building’s embodied carbon emissions include the net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from construction materials, construction processes, and demolition throughout its life cycle. A building upfront embodied carbon is associated with construction, its lifecycle embodied carbon is associated with use, maintenance, repair, replacement, and refurbishment, and its end-of-life embodied carbon is associated with demolition, transport, and waste removal.

An asset’s operational carbon is the GHG emissions it produces over its lifetime from energy and water use. Beyond the lifecycle, carbon emissions are emissions beyond the system boundary from reuse, recycling, energy recovery, and other recovery, covering aspects of circularity.

Over the last several decades, the focus has been on reducing operational carbon, primarily through reducing energy and water consumption. And now, as operational carbon reduces, the importance of embodied carbon increases.

The embodied and operational carbon emissions of an asset or portfolio are interconnected. For instance, when designing a building envelope, the designer should opt for one with a low embodied and operational carbon footprint. A whole lifecycle comprehensive approach is required in the selection process, as well as efficient data and information sharing between project members [3] . This is where digital buildings can provide assistance.

Digital Building: Impact on Reducing Embedded Carbon

Digital buildings can significantly support reducing the environmental impact of construction projects by minimising embedded carbon throughout the construction lifecycle. Here are some of the aspects that can be influenced:

Optimised Design:   Digital buildings can enable architects and engineers to create more efficient and sustainable designs by allowing them to evaluate the most sustainable option. By optimising design, the types of material used and reducing waste, and incorporating energy-efficient systems, digital buildings can significantly lower the embedded carbon footprint of a project.

Material Selection:   Digital information allows in-depth analysis and comparison of different materials based on their environmental impact. This enables the selection of materials with lower embedded carbon, contributing to a more sustainable construction process.

Construction Efficiency:   Digital building can streamline construction, reducing material waste and improving resource management. This can result in lower emissions from transportation, manufacturing, and disposal of excess materials.

Prefab and Modular Construction:   Digital building processes facilitate the use of prefabricated and modular components, which can be produced more efficiently in controlled environments. This reduces waste, transportation emissions, and the overall embedded carbon of a project.

Supply Chain Management:   Digital tools can help track and manage the supply chain, ensuring that materials are sourced responsibly and sustainably. This contributes to reducing the overall carbon footprint of the construction process.

Adaptive Reuse:   Digital tools can facilitate the adaptive reuse of existing buildings, reducing the need for new construction and the associated embedded carbon emissions. By repurposing existing structures, digital buildings promote a more sustainable and circular approach to the built environment.

Ultimately digital buildings enable a comprehensive lifecycle assessment of building projects, considering the environmental impact from design to demolition. This helps identify opportunities to reduce embedded carbon during construction and throughout the building’s operational life.

How to put digital buildings in practice

Now that we know the theory, the question remains, how do we put it into practice? I am frequently asked about the best technology solution for creating a digital building. While I wish there were a single, definitive answer, the reality is that our industry is highly fragmented, and it’s unlikely that a one-size-fits-all solution will ever emerge. Instead, we have numerous excellent point solutions addressing specific use cases or the challenges described above.

My best advice is to invest time and effort in developing a well-thought-out business case that clearly identifies the desired outcomes for the digital solution. Focus on data interoperability to ensure that whichever solution you choose, its most valuable asset—the data—can be easily reused and repurposed across different applications and platforms.

A platform solution approach, such as Glodon, could indeed be beneficial. The Glodon digital building platform is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive and fully integrated solutions I have encountered. However, it’s essential to recognise that the construction market in China has evolved distinctly from the rest of the world, primarily due to significant sociopolitical differences. The Chinese construction industry has achieved a higher level of standardisation, supported by an exceptionally advanced degree of digitisation. This unique development has allowed China to establish its own construction approach, setting it apart from other global markets and enabling companies like Glodon to develop such advanced digital building platform solutions.

Whether we can replicate China’s achievements and apply them to the rest of the world remains to be seen. However, we currently have the opportunity to learn from an excellent practical example of how digital buildings can support sustainability, as demonstrated by the Glodon (Xi’an) R&D Centre project.

Glodon (Xi'an) R&D Centre: A Benchmark in Digital Building Practices

The Glodon (Xi'an) R&D Centre project stands as a remarkable example of a digital building. Spanning a total construction area of 66,000 m², the building features 3 underground floors and 12 above-ground floors. As a property owned by Glodon, the Digital Building paradigm is employed throughout the entire lifecycle of the project, establishing it as an exceptional benchmark for Digital Building practices.

Construction on the project began in September 2019, and the structure was completed in May 2021. By leveraging Building Information Modelling and Integrated Project Delivery, the project successfully breaks through industry silos, fostering effective communication and collaboration among all stakeholders throughout the entire lifecycle.

This innovative approach has led to outstanding sustainability results and a significant reduction in resource usage. Key achievements include:

·       7% faster completion compared to traditional construction methods

·       5% fewer management personnel required

·       0% reconstruction, eliminating waste and inefficiencies

·       70% improvement in collaboration compared to analogue processes

·       400,000 USD saved through optimised construction from the initial design

These accomplishments showcase the enhanced sustainability and resource efficiency made possible by adopting the digital building approach.

Realistic Achievements in Digital Building

The achievements of the Glodon (Xi’an) R&D Centre project may not appear as remarkable as they truly are. The results seem humbled and realistic to me, more so than the unattainable promises made by some solution providers that no one seems to ever be able to replicate.

This raises an important question: How many technology solution providers construct their own buildings using their own solutions? The answer is none, leading to another simple yet crucial question: Why aren’t they?

By constructing its own R&D Centre, Glodon has effectively demonstrated the practical application of its digital building platform, thereby validating its efficacy and offering a valuable model for the industry. This approach underscores the significance of setting realistic expectations and attainable objectives when it comes to digital building technology and its potential influence on the construction sector. As a renowned quote states:

"A leader knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way."

In my opinion, Glodon's initiative serves as a prime example of true leadership in the field, motivating others to adopt similar practices and work towards a more sustainable and efficient future in the construction industry.

[1] Thacker S, Adshead D, Fantini C, Palmer R, Ghosal R, Adeoti T, Morgan G, Stratton-Short S. 2021. Infrastructure for climate action. UNOPS, Copenhagen, Denmark.

[2] United Nations Environment Programme (2022). 2022 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction: Towards a Zero‑emission, Efficient and Resilient Buildings and Construction Sector. Nairobi.

[3]  https://www.pbctoday.co.uk/news/featured/digital-twins-decarbonise-the-built-environment/124030/