Construction site of a real estate property

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.

17.06.2021

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 it 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. If on the other hand it’s well designed, environmentally neutral (or even better, positive), adaptable to future needs and provides a well lit, well ventilated, well laid out space in which to work, live and play, 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. The question, then, is how we address the environmental issues from the outset to 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

Investment can relate to any phase and category of a real estate project. 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. But responsible investment needs to incorporate several processes that involve numerous industries to have a chance of profitability.

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.

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.

Current barriers to achieving sustainability

Regulatory restrictions and conflicting business interests prevent sharing of insights and best practices across markets and industries.

  • The lack of shared information leads to poor decision making, reduced learning and repeated mistakes.
  • There’s no single source of truth – a coherent, unified and reliable source of relevant, real time data creating a more circular economy, guiding the repurposing of buildings and reuse of materials.
  • The growing number of disparate real world sensors and devices makes it harder and harder to penetrate and find the data that can deliver meaningful insight.
  • Digital Twins have the capacity to break through these barriers at a project level and over time develop into a wider ecosystem that can deliver the same benefits at industry level.

But how?

Planning and design

The Digital Twin gives architects, designers and planners an accurate and to-scale virtual model in which 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 materials to finding the most efficient construction methods aimed at balancing environmental impact and CO2 emissions with costs.

Architects can test potential performance scenarios for any feature or function – think energy use efficiency, lifespan, material reuse and more – as well as gain understanding of the building’s impact on its surrounding environment with shadow, noise, seasonal and other simulations.

Performance and analysis

At its simplest, a Digital Twin is used to access, collate and organise multiple data points into one coherent model that behaves and responds like its real world counterpart in real time. Through an interface that makes it easy to focus on chosen data to meet targeted challenges, building managers and owners can monitor performance of any object in the model that’s connected to real world sensors. This can uncover inefficiencies in everything from energy consumption to maintenance, traffic flow to waste management.

By analyzing this real-time information alongside historical data, Digital Twins also have powerful predictive capabilities. With trend patterns and forecasting, we can use them to predict future challenges and create sustainable, ready-made responses, be that pre-ordering parts for maintenance, reducing disruption to services, optimizing logistics or building resilience against climate change.

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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