The technology propelling the built environment to Net Zero. By Arturo Leon

An intelligent approach

With regulation tightening across every industry, a solid Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy isn’t just about reputation, it makes commercial sense too. While building a strong ESG track record is difficult in any industry, in few is the task more demanding than in the built environment (buildings, roads and rail).

In this article, I will explore how digital twin technology, when delivered in a visually intelligent way, can super-charge sustainability strategies in the built environment.

Buildings are responsible for up to 40 per cent of global energy consumption and 33 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Cement production is not only the largest contributor to carbon in the built environment, but its manufacture also accounts for some seven per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions.

After notable successes in reducing the operational energy of built spaces, decision-makers now face a different challenge: reducing the carbon generated by the built asset itself, also known as embodied carbon. This includes emissions caused by extraction, manufacture, processing, transportation and assembly of every product and element in that asset. Embodied carbon is expected to make up nearly 50 per cent of the overall carbon footprint of new construction between now and 2050.

As urgent as the case for sustainable spaces may be, it is quite difficult to assemble an aligned environmental strategy for your built environment. Collecting the complex web of environmental data in one place can be an uphill battle, to say nothing of mining it for insights. The reason is that – in many organisations – most data is ‘dark data’ existing in disparate formats and siloed systems that decision-makers can’t holistically access, much less interpret. And then there is data on emissions and other invisible particulate matters that you may not have even captured yet.

Mastering the ‘E’ of ESG with technology
Now, however, with a new suite of technologies, things are changing. Decision-makers have more ways to collect, connect and communicate their data than ever before.

In the domain of sustainability, perhaps the most powerful of these is the digital twin, a 3D construction of your space that, when connected to various data sets from the real world, serves as a living, breathing recreation of your building or asset. Because it responds and behaves like its real-world counterpart, a digital twin allows decision-makers to manage anything in their space remotely. From insight and management of environmental emissions to forecasting the future performance of any asset or space, digital twins are fast becoming indispensable.

For sustainability planners, one of the most critical data sets for an effective digital twin comes from environmental and health-based sensors. Monitoring ‘invisibles’ such as emissions, pollutants, humidity and noise, such devices generate a steady stream of environmental data that delivers powerful insights into how your asset is performing against an agreed set of criteria.

But collecting and connecting this information within a digital twin is only part of the challenge. People must be empowered to act on these insights. For this, an advanced level of communication is needed – something that constantly communicates, that provides dynamic guidance and actionable intelligence to the people that really need it.

This advanced level of communication is called Visual Intelligence (VQ).
VQ is rapidly improving our ability to understand, communicate and, most importantly, respond to what the data in your digital twin is telling us. It is the practice of translating data from mere information into a dynamic source of visual and actionable intelligence for everyone involved in the operation of your built environment.

How does VQ help you to manage your carbon footprint?
Once sensor-based environmental data is overlaid with a 2D or 3D digital twin, VQ creates a golden thread of rich visual insight that allows you to see your data in situ and to observe how changes impact the space and environment either in a moment, in recurring time slices or as a predictor of future states.

Thus, VQ is good news for companies that are currently striving towards net zero targets with little or no idea of what their carbon footprint is today. Assisted by a VQ-powered digital twin, planners can establish a factual baseline of their assets and assess how far shy they are of their net-zero ambitions. In addition, a VQ powered digital twin allows decision makers to visualise, assess and resource future scenarios. This helps in the setting of realistic targets and roadmaps, shedding light on which levers to pull for an effective decarbonisation strategy.

Digital twins have broken new ground for decision-makers. But now, augmented by VQ, the insights needed for every stakeholder in your operation to manage their day-to-day actions are never more than a touch – or visual cue – away. VQ empowers everyone who needs a holistic view of the environmental footprint and who needs to act with real-time, pinpoint accuracy to manage its impact.

That’s real progress along the path to Net Zero.

For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor

Arturo Leon is BIM Sustainability Manager at Spinview. Spinview creates measurement accurate volumetric digital twins of buildings and infrastructure to deliver insights on both the health and structure of any building or space. Combining IoT, BIM, Scanning and advanced visualisation, data is processed into one simple to use visual model of the asset, and its AI translates and automates this data into usable information for all the employees in a business.