Sustainability in AEC: What does the future look like for it?

The world around us is always changing. So, the question is - what kind of world will replace the one we used to know?
Professionals working in Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) face the ultimate challenge – to redesign and rebuild our schools, hospitals, offices and homes ready for a more equitable world. And this has to be achieved sustainably.

Issues around sustainability are more than just buzzwords for IT departments. Sustainability is a strategic imperative guiding all decisions, from selecting suppliers to policies on recycling and sustainability for workers in the office. Sustainability also guides IT decisions. What’s more, IT has to lay the groundwork to help employees build a more sustainable future.

The AEC sector has its own challenges with sustainability, and IT can help to address these challenges. For example, the sector actively uses natural resources, which are growing increasingly scarce. Better IT will give those working up and down the construction chain the chance to find ways to reduce waste and create a more sustainable built environment .

In addition, many firms in the AEC sector are, on balance, less digitized than in other sectors and this can be a barrier to greater overall sustainability – this is an opportunity for IT.

Worse, a recent paper presented at the 5th National Construction Summit in Ireland showed that, “there is a disparity between construction professionals’ understanding of sustainability and how their perceptions of it are translated into practice.”

This means that despite an awareness of sustainability in construction, other less sustainable avenues are often taken in practice. This could of course be down to pragmatic concerns about build cost or even pressure from a client. But whatever the reason, this must be put right for a more sustainable future, and IT will be a key component to giving workers access to the tools they need for a more sustainable built environment.

Why build green?

IT gives those working in architecture, engineering and construction the tools to drive down the waste associated with the sectors and drive up the sustainability of projects.

The main motivation for building greener buildings is because a client demands it, or because of regulation, and these regulations are likely to become more like minimum requirements in the future and green buildings will become the norm.

According to the 2018 World Green Building Trends report , there is little synchronization on international targets for green building. For example, in the UK 27% of construction projects were expected to be green, rising to 40% by 2021. Despite Brexit, the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) will drive up the proportion of green buildings both in the UK and EU in the medium term.
In the USA, initiatives differ by state, with California taking perhaps the most ambitious green building programme. National coordinated efforts are driven by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system, used as a benchmark for green development.

The UAE, however, has already directed the majority of new projects to be green by 2021, driven by tough environmental regulations already in place.

Whole life costs

So change is inevitable. More sustainable buildings use fewer resources but are also less expensive to run and operate. People living in green buildings will find they use fewer resources and have lower energy bills.
There are clear benefits throughout the value chain.

BIM workflows give architects, engineers and contractors the ability to harness digital simulation tools and consider the impact of a building and its operation and even eventual demolition before it has been built .

This gives experts at every level the ability to make more informed, better decisions at every stage, but needs IT to give workers the means to make these decisions easily, for the benefit of the project and of society.

Using technology to be green

As with so many other aspects in construction, the devil is in the detail.
Individual choices made at every stage will have an impact on the finished design and performance. Performance analysis gives specialists the ability to consider options to increase the sustainability and decrease the carbon footprint of any project.

For example, it’s possible to model the amount of light that falls onto a building, and so find the best possible site for either solar panels to help with hot water or heating, or photovoltaic cells to produce energy. Such considerations can be modelled in detail, and can be applied to the air conditioning, lighting, waste, etc.

New apps are arriving on the market to delve further into what’s possible to make designs more sustainable and drive down the carbon footprint of projects.

For example, Singapore-based Digital Blue Foam uses information from a multitude of open sources, including weather, energy regulations, wind, pollution, traffic density and more, feeding into an Artificial Intelligence system to find more sustainable solutions to construction projects . The company claims to be able to reduce the environmental impact of a project by up to 98%.
Without IT embedded into operations, less of this is possible.


A building project is always complex. Paying attention to specific elements and modelling them in detail will produce small improvements in sustainability, but occasionally produce a breakthrough.

But such improvements are cumulative, and architects, engineers and construction workers need the tools to make these improvements on every job. Using large format print can be part of this, with plotters that are designed with sustainability in mind now a realistic alternative, giving professionals a way to benefit by minimising the cost to the environment.

Printing in large format colour helps to reduce waste with fewer revisions and errors because plans will be clear and unambiguous, and in the format clients expect to see.

It’s a great tool to help AEC professionals deal with the ultimate challenge – the rebuilding of our global infrastructure to be more sustainable, ready for a more equitable society.

HP DesignJet and PageWide XL plotters are pushing the ways in which it is possible to deliver better large format printing with a strong commitment to leaving a positive impact on the environment for our future generations, to help build a better future.
Let’s create a better world, together.

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