Neighborhood built with sustainable methods

How are Digital Twins driving sustainability in real estate?

Construction and real estate are among the world’s most resource-intensive industries but Digital Twins can make them more sustainable.


Mankind’s insatiable drive for new buildings has far reaching environmental effects, and they’re only accelerating as the rate of construction increases to meet the growing demand. Some estimates suggest the global volume of construction output will grow up to 85 percent by 2030.

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How does construction sites affect the environment?

At current levels, construction projects accounts for around half of all non-renewable resources mankind consumes. Break that down and we can see that construction consumes between 45 and 50 percent of all global energy, around 50 percent of all the water we use and accounts for 80 percent of agricultural land lost, primarily to urbanization.

And that’s just the consumption. We then have to take into account the outputs that construction contributes – somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions, 23% of air pollution, 50% of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, 40% of drinking water pollution and 50% of landfill waste and ozone layer depletion. It’s clear then that our current approach to construction is environmentally unsustainable at existing levels – and unimaginable with the kind of growth being predicted.

But it’s not just the construction of the building we have to consider – there are also the resources it will consume and that will be needed to maintain it throughout the duration of its multi-generational life. So on top of our earlier stats, we can now add that, globally, operating buildings consume around 35 percent of the world’s energy.

“If we don’t make buildings more efficient, their rising energy use will impact us all, whether it be through access to affordable energy services, poor air quality or higher energy bills”

Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency

Better sustainability creates more stable long-term profitability

Sustainability doesn’t just refer to environmental impact. Real estate is the biggest asset class in the world. And that value is intrinsically interwoven into the functionality and durability of each physical asset.

If a building doesn’t perform as intended, if it’s inefficient to run, if its impact on the environment around it is negative, and if it doesn’t meet the needs and demands of the people who interact with it, a building will not sustain its value over the mid to long term. However, if sustainability-focused building maintenance is employed to ensure the building operates at peak efficiency and data-driven sustainability decision-making is utilized to make strategic improvements, the building’s long-term value makes it a sound investment.

To frame this, the typical economic cost of running a commercial building over a 50-year period is double that of the initial construction cost. By implementing real-time energy efficiency analytics and adopting sustainability-focused building maintenance and data-driven decision-making, we can dramatically improve the sustainability not only of the construction, operation, and maintenance of a building, but also its value and return on investment.

Digital Twin infographic for the sustainability of real estate

The 4 important phases of a construction life cycle

Digital Twin applications at each stage of the real estate value chain

Investing in real estate

Real estate is undeniably one of the most popular and profitable investments available. Investment can relate to any phase and category of a real estate project, and now with the advent of digital twin technology, sustainable real estate investments are more achievable than ever before. From the blank canvas of building on an undeveloped plot of land to the renovation and redevelopment of existing buildings, the rezoning from one use to another (for example residential to commercial) or the assembly of combining different plots and buildings for a new use.

Investors take on the risk of financing a project with the expected outcome of making a profit. Digital twin-enabled risk management can help investors minimize risk and ensure a successful outcome. Measuring sustainability impact for informed real estate investment decisions is also crucial in today’s market. By leveraging digital twin technology, investors can create long-term value, improving due diligence and overall decision-making.

But responsible investment needs to incorporate several processes that involve numerous industries to have a chance of profitability. Sustainable real estate investments with digital twin technology enable investors to consider and prioritize sustainability throughout the investment process, ensuring that the project delivers sustainable outcomes while also meeting financial objectives. Data-driven investment decisions for sustainable real estate projects allow investors to analyze and mitigate risks while simultaneously creating more profitable outcomes.

Planning real estate projects

The planning stage brings in architects to design and finalize the details of the build, whether you’re starting from scratch, redeveloping or renovating an existing building or plot. This will also involve regulatory bodies, surveyors and structural engineers to ensure all the necessary structural, safety, environmental and land regulations are adhered to.

Digital Twinning optimizes the planning process. By contextualizing buildings in their real world locations and giving designers and architects the power to manipulate, test, redesign and rebuild them virtually, we can create more efficient designs, reduce impact on surroundings, test everything from noise levels for residents to light and shadow implications for neighbors. These kinds of spatial services, and the digitalization of the real estate industry, are already bringing planning projects to life, helping companies plan, design and visualize their projects.

Building, renovating and redeveloping real estate

Construction plays a major part, from the smallest renovation to the biggest commercial or industrial developments, getting the build right is vital. This will involve not only primary building companies but also an array of sundry services and contractors – everyone from labours, bricklayers and glaziers to electricians, carpenters, plumbers, interior designers and tradespeople.

The Digital Twin of a building can contain resources to help any and all of these trades, from structured information like BIM and CAD data to unstructured information like operating manuals. It also enables a range of tools to help optimize workflows.

Property management

The fourth stage in the real estate lifecycle is property management, which incorporates every possible facet of maintaining the property once the build is complete. Property management firms take care not just of the rental – be it a single occupant for, say, a residential property or multiple residential, commercial or industrial tenants for everything from a housing development to a shopping mall or industrial park – but also the building maintenance and relationships with tenants.

Depending on the initial investment plan, this could also mean selling the property, properties or parts thereof once the build is complete. This brings in realtors to market and promote, brokers to facilitate the sale, and professional services like lawyers to finalize the process.

Current barriers to achieving sustainability in real estate projects

Achieving sustainability in real estate projects is essential for reducing the environmental impact of the construction industry. However, several barriers prevent the industry from reaching its sustainability goals. These challenges require collaborative efforts from all stakeholders to overcome, and to develop a sustainable and resilient real estate industry for future generations.

High costs

One of the biggest barriers to improving sustainability in construction projects is the high cost of sustainable building materials and technologies. This can make it difficult for developers to justify the investment in sustainability, especially if they are focused solely on short-term financial returns.

Lack of knowledge and awareness

Many construction industry professionals, including architects, engineers, and contractors, may lack the knowledge and awareness necessary to design and build sustainable buildings. This can result in a lack of adoption of sustainable practices and technologies.

Absence of shared information

The absence of shared information in construction projects can be a significant barrier to achieving sustainability goals. When stakeholders do not share information effectively, it can lead to duplication of efforts, communication breakdowns, missed opportunities, and limited collaboration. These issues can result in poor decision-making, reduced learning, and repeated mistakes, which can have a negative impact on the project’s sustainability outcomes.

No single source of truth

Without a single source of truth for relevant and real-time data, decision-making for sustainable practices becomes challenging. This leads to difficulties in identifying opportunities for repurposing buildings, reusing materials, and creating a more circular economy. Consequently, it can hinder the progress towards achieving sustainability in construction projects.

Disparate real world sensors and devices

The increasing number of real-world sensors and devices in construction projects can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they can provide valuable data that enables more informed decision-making towards sustainability goals. However, on the other hand, the sheer volume and disparate nature of these devices can make it challenging to access and analyze the data they generate. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult to derive meaningful insights from the data, making it a barrier to achieving sustainability in construction projects.

3D model of house with solar panel on rooftop

Renewable energy, like solar power, is one of the foundations of the sustainable future

How do Digital Twins improve sustainability for the building’s entire lifecycle?

Bringing Digital Twins into the equation from the outset of a real estate project allows them to play a key role in tackling sustainability challenges not only during planning, regulation, and construction but also throughout its built life, breaking through these barriers at a project level and over time developing into a wider ecosystem that can deliver the same benefits at the industry level

Planning and design

Digital Twins give architects, designers and planners accurate and to scale virtual models to test designs, simulate outcomes and explore different scenarios to understand impacts and find the most effective final design. This can include everything from choosing the right sustainable materials to finding the most efficient construction methods aimed at balancing environmental impact and CO2 emissions with costs.

Through digital twin technology, building designers, site planners, and architects can test the potential performance scenarios for energy efficiency, lifespan, and material reuse, while ensuring compliance with building codes and regulations and incorporating renewable energy solutions. By utilizing shadow, noise, seasonal, and other simulations, they can also gain a better understanding of the building’s impact on its surrounding environment, enabling them to create more sustainable real estate projects in compliance with zoning laws and regulations. Real estate developers can also benefit from these simulations, allowing them to make informed decisions on sustainable design choices for their projects.

Performance and analysis

At its simplest, a Digital Twin is used to access, collate and organize multiple data points into one coherent model that behaves and responds like its real-world counterpart in real time. By integrating data from various sources, including sensors connected to energy-efficient systems, renewable energy sources, indoor air quality monitors, and building automation systems, the performance of the building is analyzed and optimized.

By using Digital Twins, building managers and owners can analyze real-time information alongside historical data to uncover inefficiencies in everything from energy consumption to waste management. The predictive capabilities of Digital Twins can help forecast future challenges and develop sustainable solutions, such as pre-ordering parts for maintenance, optimizing logistics, and building resilience against climate change. In short, Digital Twins are a powerful tool for creating smart buildings that are energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, and capable of providing a healthy indoor environment.

Coherence and certainty

Data-based decision making empowers investors and owners to invest and direct resources to the places that drive the best long-term results and most sustainable ROI. Digital Twins can act as the single source of truth to create that certainty for any given project. This helps avoid mistakes in planning, construction and maintenance, which inevitably reduces waste, emissions and environmental impact.

Businesses, organizations and municipal bodies can also, via the Digital Twin, make any data they choose available to anyone. The impact of such open source data is not to be underestimated – it widens insight, improves shared learning and creates a benchmark for others to work from, enabling us all to create and expand on a more circular economy where resources are better used and reused.

This kind of open, sharing approach, whether it comes from the public or private sectors, is the spark that will open Digital Twin technology to everyone and in doing so light the fire of sustainability.

A future focused on decarbonization enabled by Digital Twins

Awareness of the impact of climate change and the importance not only of eco-friendly practices but also long-term sustainability in construction and real estate is now global. To the point, in fact, that some more progressive governments are now incentivizing real estate projects that have an environmental ‘green’ focus, creating so-called smart cities. Digital Twins, and PropTech in general, are already playing a primary role in this transition away from consumption and expansion and towards optimization and conservation.

“Digital Twins play a primary role in our transition away from consumption and expansion towards optimization and conservation.”

For real estate developers, investors and managers as well as everyone else involved in the lifecycle of a building, now is the time to embrace Digital Twin technology and start applying it to future and existing projects, whether your goal is reducing construction emissions, improving energy consumption, minimizing waste levels, creating a carbon neutral building, reducing costs and improving profits – or all of the above.

Nomoko Platform is tackling this globalization of data phase by phase, constantly growing with more functionality, features and data points that will help real estate professionals contribute to a more sustainable future. To find out more, explore Nomoko Platform or speak to one of our team to see what we can do.

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