Lorraine McMorrow, BIM and digital construction manager at the McAvoy Group, outlines how digital construction can be used to support the green agenda, deliver successful projects responsibly and transform the reputation of the industry to become a force for good
The creation and advancement of innovative technology has had the power to change the world ever since the Stone Age, and the rate of change has been accelerating since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Technology can also, of course, significantly impact the way industries work, including both the manufacturing and construction sectors.
While the expansion of construction and manufacturing since the Industrial Revolution has been substantial, it has had grave effects on the environment.
The shift to digital
As an industry, the move to digital technologies has created a significant shift in how we have traditionally operated. As part of this, a lot of people in the industry have opined on how technology can help us to change and improve the construction sector. McKinsey & Company are just one of many who have written about how digital could or should change the future of construction, rightly stating that “first movers can build a sustainable competitive advantage” and that “resisting change is no longer an option”.
As technology advances, so does the impact it has on the construction industry. With these advancements come innovative and inspiring opportunities to improve not just the industry but wider society too.
The decisions we make today will shape our future and that of the generations after us. No more is this true than when we consider the environment and the industry’s historic and ongoing effect on it.
The net-zero agenda
I would argue that we, as an industry, can and need to use technology to drive a sustainable green agenda and, in time, reach a stage where our built environment not only improves quality of life but delivers greater social value and reduces environmental impact.
The manufacturing and construction industries can create better outcomes for current and future generations by driving the adoption of manufacturing and digital approaches that improve the delivery, resilience and performance of our built assets. A crucial step is to place environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria at the centre of a digital strategy that everyone working within the sector buys into. We can do this by adopting technology that supports renewable energy, tracks ethics in supply chains and across businesses. By doing this, we would contribute to an overall reduction of business impact on the environment.
This drive for a sustainable green agenda would also need to be tangibly backed by government. In the lead-up to COP 26, Boris Johnson encouraged his fellow world leaders to embrace green initiatives at the UN General Assembly in September. The UK government also put some accountability behind its public drives for environmental friendliness by bringing in new rules requiring some large UK businesses to start annually disclosing their environmental impact publicly. It is also worth noting that PPN 06/21 requires all companies bidding for public sector contracts worth more than £5m per annum to have a Carbon Reduction Plan (CRP) in place and to have it displayed on the company’s website. At McAvoy, we have a CRP and also have a Net Zero Carbon Plan 2050 in place to demonstrate that we will achieve net zero by the 2050 deadline.
In addition to creating pressure from the public, policies like this will also drive scrutiny within the built environment and should hopefully lead to companies putting policies in place that lead to real change. To help the government’s new rules along, we also need to be asking how technology and accurate digital information can capture data that will support this policy too. For example, one way technology could support the goals of a green agenda is through live data analytics. This could be used to manage and monitor ESG strategy KPIs, allowing organizations to measure performance and drive improvements. By doing this and being transparent with the data collected, constructors and manufacturers could also benchmark themselves against their industry peers, then optimize the processes and operations that directly contribute to ESG data.
The UK government is not simply trying to boost its green credentials through regulations and requirements to UK businesses – it has also entered partnerships to help drive reductions in emissions, reduce the impact UK business has on the environment and find fresh solutions.
The Seismic project
For example, we at McAvoy are one of three industry partners, along with Elliott Group and Tata Steel, as well as blacc (the consortium and project manager), the Manufacturing Technology Centre, the Active Building Centre and National Composite Centre, who are part of a major collaboration aimed at transforming the way schools and healthcare facilities are built.
Funded by UK Research & Innovation, the initiative, known as Seismic, is an 18-month research and development project that will create a set of standardised reconfigurable components, working closely with the Construction Innovation Hub to align platform interface standards. These components will reduce waste, cost and carbon dioxide emissions while increasing speed of delivery.
It is hoped that collective innovation, such as the Seismic project, will drive the adoption of manufacturing-led approaches to construction, digital tools and secure, connected data that will then support sector growth and open export opportunities, accelerating recovery and the transformation to a future-ready sector. As part of Seismic, the project partners have looked to other industries such as automotive and aviation to see if there are learnings and best practice that could be leveraged by MMC.
Projects like Seismic will hopefully lead to increased collaboration across all industries and stronger collective leadership by industry heads who feel empowered to implement change with the support of those around them. Individual companies, as well as the industry as a whole, can then say they are working to be more environmentally friendly and can publicly put policies in place. However, if the will to do it is not there in a company from top to bottom, it is really nothing more than greenwashing for public relations purposes. This desire to effect real change also needs to extend to all the major players in the industry and cannot just be within the UK either – for real change to take effect, industries across the entire world need to be on board.
BIM and digital construction manager