Two thirds of architects now calculate environmental impact

  • 29th May 2024

More architects are using digital tools to calculate the environmental impact of building projects than ever before, according to NBS, the UK’s leading specification platform.

Results from its latest Digital Construction Report, a study on the industry’s evolving relationship between digital technology, safety, and sustainability, found that two thirds of architects now use digital tools to calculate environmental-related metrics.

In particular, two in five (41%) use technology to assess the energy demands of a project before construction begins – an important step in measuring carbon emissions and meeting sustainability goals.

A similar figure (39%) also use digital methods to understand the embodied carbon attached to a project and the components that go into it – that is the amount of CO2 emitted during construction. Despite room for improvement, these figures show a clear push towards lower carbon outcomes. 

From cradle to grave

Another important finding in report was around attitudes toward products and the wider construction lifecycle.

Over a quarter of architects (26%) now analyse the lifecycle of building products before including them within specifications.

This shows a growing effort to choose environmentally-friendly products that could potentially be recycled or reused.

Growing concerns around the use of water are also increasingly important for architects, with nearly a fifth (18%) turning to techlogy to predict project water demands.

Offsite on the up

Continuing with the theme of sustainable construction, NBS also analysed levels of offsite construction, an area often associated with greener building practices, due to greater control of materials and waste.

And the results found that Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) continue to gather pace.

Over half of architects (57%) had been part of a construction project that had used or required offsite construction within the last year.

This is an increase of 13% since 2021 and comes despite the closure of several high-profile MMC factories.

Delving deeper, manufacturers are the group most likely to be involved with MMC – seven in 10 had worked with an offsite element, followed by nearly two-thirds of contractors (63%) and over half of consultants (58%).

This increase could reflect an industry drive towards net zero as well as recent government backing for further standardisation within MMC.

Taking full responsibility

NBS’s report also highlighted increases in the number of professionals following naming conventions when sharing information (77%, up from 2021 figures) – an area that can improve the organisation and management of data.

Additionally, over half of respondents reported using interoperable formats like IFC, revealing the growing importance of easily-shareable construction data.

However, the report also showed there are more opportunities to be unlocked by using digital technologies to help with compliance.

The study found that only a third of respondents (34%) were involved with detailed responsibility matrixes (DRM), a process that sets out responsibility for each element of design to ensure greater accountability.

Worryingly, this figure has dropped since 2021 (39%).

And, notably, this figure hovered at around half for architects.

This comes despite increased levels of legislation attached to the Building Safety Act, such as the introduction of planning ‘gateways’ which requires a detailed breakdown of responsibilities on an individual level.

Additionally, less than a third of suppliers (28%) currently use a PIM system to manage product information, pointing to information gaps in the construction supply chain.

Nevertheless, well over half (56%) provide digital objects for the majority or all their products, a positive result.

Commenting on the survey’s results, David Bain, NBS’s research manager, said: “The uptick in professionals seeking environmental-related metrics shows an industry putting sustainability front and centre. The drive towards net zero has no doubt been a catalyst alongside the evolving legislative landscape – there’s never been a greater emphasis on the environmental impact of building practices.

“The study has also yielded unexpectedly-positive stats around offsite construction.

“Despite media headlines and high-profile factory closures giving the impression that MMC isn’t a popular choice, the results show a different story: more professionals are embracing offsite elements than ever before.

“Overall, we’ve seen some marked improvements that the industry should be proud of.

“There’s an opportunity here to improve digital information sharing, for which professionals have a legal requirement.

“The ‘golden thread’ and the use of structured data is creating a safer future for all.”

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