Environmental data is the least likely type of information to be managed through specialist software, according to companies surveyed for Procore’s How We Build Now 2020 report. It does, however, touch on multiple areas construction firms find challenging, including regulatory requirements, material costs and client expectations.
The survey found that only two in five companies are using specialist software for collecting and managing environmental data. By comparison, 36 per cent of firms use specialist software for cost controls, and a third for both design management and site activity records.
The main types of environmental data projects need to consider include energy use on site, materials lifecycle impacts, carbon emissions, operational energy and water use of the completed building, as well as construction and demolition waste.
Good for Projects and Good for Business
Capturing this data digitally means it can help improve outcomes for individual projects and encourage innovation and best practice across a company, as leading contractor Built has found.
Clare Gallagher, Sustainability Manager for Built, explains that environmental data collected and utilised throughout the construction lifecycle now forms a valuable dataset for company performance metrics.
In the design phase, consultants generate useful data to evaluate the project’s performance including modelling for energy and water, Gallagher explains.
Lifecycle Assessment software is also used to calculate embodied carbon and materials. This helps the design team identify where project savings can be achieved through reduced material use or alternative materials.
“It is very informative—and it is a good way to communicate to the design team the advantages of an approach in terms of saving money and reducing emissions,” Gallagher said.
“Modelling data on energy and water establishes baselines of what the final building performance is expected to be, which contributes to establishing targets, such as the expected Green Star rating and NABERS rating. This data is particularly valuable for design and construct projects where we can continue to interrogate the design and look for further efficiency opportunities and ratings uplift.
“At Built we have a track record of being able to uplift ratings on 50 per cent of projects through this approach.”
Environmental Data on Site
In the construction phase, data is also collected on waste and energy. Waste recycling targets are set, to support both Built and Green Star targets in the reduction of waste to landfill.
Collecting the data involves putting user-friendly, simple systems in place.
When tendering for waste contractors for a project, Built asks them about their capacity to provide waste data digitally and broken down by waste type.
Built is also interested in data around direct energy use on site. For instance, through bills and fuel receipts, the company monitors electricity use by cranes and other equipment, and diesel fuel for plant and vehicles.
“We brought in digital systems so our project teams can upload the data into the Built network, which aggregates the data, turning it into useful information that can be analysed at a project, region or state level,” Gallagher said.
“It enables us to very quickly see how we are tracking against our targets to use 100 per cent renewable power on site and divert 90 per cent of waste from landfill. The digital platform provides a useful way to show others within the company what the wins and the challenges are.”
Spotting trends to Flag Issues
At a site level, the data can be quite revealing. Sudden changes in waste streams or higher than expected quantities can be drilled into and discussed to check whether there is an issue.
“One month the waste to landfill was higher than usual on one site, so we talked to the waste contractor,” Gallagher said. “The problem was the little bit of concrete left at the end of a pour was being disposed of into a skip, gluing together all the other waste. As a result, the waste contractor could not recycle any of the contents.”
An easy solution was implemented. One skip was dedicated just to end-of-pour concrete, which could then be crushed up and recycled but only if it is free of other materials or contaminants.
Data can Enhance Team Performance
Collecting and regularly analysing waste data has a positive influence on site and project culture. However, according to Gallagher, managing environmental factors is more challenging without data.
“But if we are sharing information with the team on what is being measured and reviewed, it raises awareness, and people inevitably pay more attention to it and are more open to making simple changes to improve performance.
“That works on many levels.”
Gallagher gives an example of Built’s focus on driving positive site culture and ensuring sites are orderly at all times which has both environmental and safety benefits.
“If people come to a site that is clean and tidy, they will leave it clean and tidy,” she said. “It becomes part of the site behaviour for everyone.”
Air Quality data is increasingly being measured on site too. “For a WELL rating at the end of the build, there is air quality performance testing on site,” Gallagher said.
Air quality is examined from a human health perspective, including factors like carbon monoxide levels, particulate matter and toxins, such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
Post-completion, there is also important data to manage, including energy and water usage of the occupied building, to confirm the building is operating as designed and is on track to achieve targeted performance ratings, such as NABERS, WELL, Living Building Challenge or Green Star. For WELL rating and a NABERS IE (Indoor Environment) rating, occupant satisfaction and ongoing air quality data are also measured.
“For the data we collect to be useful, it needs to be communicated as relevant and easily understood information. So, ensuring the systems that hold our data are user friendly and clearly track against targets is essential if we want to use the information to become better informed and drive improvement,” Gallagher concluded.