Supporting Sustainability With Technology in the Built Environment

The right technology can be an invaluable tool for construction companies that want to reach, maintain, or even exceed their sustainability goals. With the ability to improve workflows, collaboration, and transparency, adopting digital advancements has become essential for future success in the industry.

To be as effective as possible, technology should be user-friendly and carefully regulated. Director of Built Environments at BSI, Keith Bryan, recently shared best practices for incorporating technology into a company’s sustainability strategy at Procore’s Groundbreak conference. Sustainable practices are quickly becoming a necessary requirement for contractors.

“Globally speaking, we have agreements and protocols. The government is going to start to ask for this kind of stuff to be reported at some point. So, you’ve got to get your act together,” says Bryan.

Despite increasing governmental pressure, there are reasons why contractors might resist such a change, even those that are pro-environmental. For starters, the rapid pace of this changing landscape can be overwhelming. New regulations pop up seemingly every month, and implementing another piece of technology to support these rules can become disheartening and confusing.

Getting smarter about sustainability

To assist in making sustainability work, contractors often reach out to technology platforms that promise to make the transition easier.  So-called mega-platforms often fail to deliver on their promises. This realization sparked a trend among contractors. They moved away from large platforms to ones that deal with a specific problem or an area of their business. One example would be the Procore platform for collaboration and real-time connected data and insights. 

As the construction industry continues to move toward sustainability solutions, one area that needs attention is standardization. No matter what is being talked about, whether it’s materials or sustainability assessments, there’s probably a standard for it out there. However, one problem is that many standards overlap or compete with each other, and some are also more applied or enforced than others. Foundational details like naming conventions or data transfer protocols are often handled very differently from one department to another, creating competing priorities and room for confusion or waste.

Moreover, managing communications with so many stakeholders can quickly become an insurmountable task that can ultimately impact the sustainability of a project. It might not be hard to coordinate resources, vendors, and architects for two or three buildings, but many more than that, and the manual labor and time it would take to communicate accurately with all parties can be overwhelming. Poor communication slows down construction, which uses up valuable time and resources, costing you money and contributing to unsustainable practices.

Standardization is only one issue facing sustainability today, but thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities to fight back during the lifecycle of a building. In preconstruction, the right tech can help you select materials based on their locality or environmental impact. Real-time collaboration with architects and vendors can reduce supply chain woes and minimize time to construction. 

Once building begins, the right technology can leverage virtual or augmented reality features that allow contractors to visualize a project before spending resources or labor. Contractors can even impact a building’s maintenance and decommissioning with the proactive use of tech. Tech-assisted materials selection and enhanced communication with architects and suppliers could help pre-plan for adaptive building reuse or carbon reduction, for example.

How contractors can better implement workable technology

When considering new technologies that could help reach sustainability goals, the first step is to holistically evaluate the needs of the entire organization.

“Don’t just go to your energy managers,” says Bryan. “Go to your entire team and ask, ‘What are our needs right now? What are our potential future needs?’”

Once a company’s sustainability-related needs have been identified, it’s time to find solutions that solve those problems. Before integrating these technologies, an assessment must be done to understand how they affect any systems that are already in place and whether it warrants the removal or replacement of existing parts of a company’s business and sustainability processes. After these adjustments, the actual implementation can begin.

Identify and Train Champions for a Successful Rollout

To ensure a successful merger with existing systems, it’s important to pilot new technology by rolling it out to a small subset of the organization first. That way, contractors can quickly “quarantine” a problem should it pop up and thus avoid unwanted consequences from rippling throughout the entire company.

To make this initial step easier, Bryan suggests identifying and training champions who can help implement the rollout — first on a small scale and then, eventually, on an organizational level.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s essential to provide ongoing training and support. Too many contractors make the mistake of implementing new technology, rolling it out, and thinking they’re done. Quirks and user difficulties are bound to arise, especially at the beginning. Every new employee that joins the company and works with the technology will need guidance. For this reason, it’s a savvy move on a contractor’s part to ensure that they have designated people who can provide training and support where necessary.

By using the right tech to get everyone on the same page in every phase of a project, you can create sustainable opportunities today and down the road. Contractors must join the larger community discussion and collaborate to make sure that everybody is collectively heading in a more sustainable direction.

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