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Digital tools key to choosing carbon-smart materials

Autodesk’s latest report looks into how digital tools can help businesses choose lower-carbon materials

US software company Autodesk, Inc. has announced the release of its latest whitepaper, Building Net Zero and The Role of Data in Green Construction’, which provides insight into the current sustainability landscape across Asia Pacific – as well as potential solutions.

The whitepaper finds the global push to achieve net zero carbon emissions, coupled with increasing national and regulatory insistence, is driving the shift to sustainable practices in architecture, engineering and construction (AEC).

“Construction is becoming green construction, in every country and sector,” Autodesk Construction Solutions industry strategy manager Sumit Oberoi says.

“As Australia and the world continue to respond to the challenge of climate change, powerful construction technology and digital tools mean the call for sustainability will no longer be a barrier but an enabler of progress and profits.”

The APAC region accounts for more than half (53 per cent) 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 per cent and 4 per cent of GHG emissions in the region respectively.

“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, and it must start with data.”

Green construction

Green construction is clean, sustainable construction, minimising the impact of building projects on the environment and communities – making the finished project as environmentally friendly as possible. Components of green construction include a focus on energy efficiency, waste reduction, low-impact materials, indoor air quality protection, minimal site impact and limited water use.

“Green construction is enabled by powerful technology and digital tools,” Oberoi says.

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

“Digital solutions enable all parties to securely access and share data in real time, bringing greater transparency to projects and connecting millions of data points. Shared data means improved productivity, fewer errors, less rework, lower costs and less waste on projects.”

Embodied and 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,” Oberoi says.

“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.”

Autodesk Construction Cloud users can choose carbon-smart materials through the integration of the free tool Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3).

The EC3 tool takes data from Environmental Product Declarations 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.

“In the Australia and New Zealand region, for example, there is an increased use of straw, mud brick and timber in construction. These materials have a lower carbon footprint compared with conventional materials like concrete and steel,” Oberoi says.

The use of waste and recycled materials is becoming common practice in road infrastructure. In February 2020, Chatham Street in central Adelaide became the first road in Australia to be made entirely out of recycled materials. Composed of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) and recycled vegetable oil, the road is 25 per cent stronger than standard asphalt.

“Creating a more sustainable construction industry starts with data. Creating shared data environments and leveraging the latest technology solutions facilitates better decision-making regarding energy-efficient designs, waste reduction strategies and sustainable materials,” Oberoi says.

More environment news: Environment & Research

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