Architecture Engineering & ConstructionFebruary 28, 2024

Sustainable Construction: Digital Technology to Build a Better Future

Arthur Montillet, Dassault Systèmes addresses the sustainable transformation of the construction industry.
Avatar Mariam Sedaeva

What can be done to reduce the environmental impact of buildings throughout their life cycle? This was discussed in an interview with Arthur Montillet

Reducing the environmental impact of buildings throughout their life cycle means turning to new ways of designing and organizing construction sites. Arthur Montillet, Industry Sales Strategy Director – Architecture, Engineering & Construction for Dassault Systèmes, addresses the sustainable transformation of the construction industry.

Arthur Montillet, Industry Sales Strategy Director – Architecture, Engineering & Construction for Dassault Systèmes
Arthur Montillet, Industry Sales Strategy Director – Architecture, Engineering & Construction for Dassault Systèmes

Why is it important to foster sustainable construction?

AM: The answer is simple: to build a better world! At the global scale, the construction industry accounts for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the 2022 GLOBAL STATUS REPORT FOR BUILDINGS AND CONSTRUCTION from the United Nations, greenhouse gas emissions from the production of construction materials is estimated at approximately 3.6 GtCO2 (concrete, steel, aluminum, glass, bricks, etc.), buildings accounting for roughly 37% of overall emissions in 2021. That report also highlights that certain geographic zones have yet to establish any Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to commit to the sustainable transformation of the construction industry. An NDC is an action plan aimed at reducing emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change. The authors of the report reveal a lag behind schedule, specifically in the Middle East region, in regards to this challenge (fig4 -pVII). All the parties involved in construction are unanimous on the need to take action. The goal of sustainability applies equally to the construction of new homes and renovation of existing buildings. The current economic context, between rising interest rates and higher prices for raw materials, has put a halt on construction programs. The sector must reinvent itself, in particular by resorting to more sustainable materials (low-carbon concrete, mixed materials, combinations of wood and concrete).

It is vital to conduct life cycle analyses of buildings to better understand the impact of construction. Such analyses will make it possible to zoom out and consider the impacts on logistics, the choice of materials, etc. for the construction of buildings. This is how the sustainable transformation of construction can be approached to have a greater overall impact on the transformation of urbanization… Improvements to buildings, innovation in materials and combinations of materials, the organization of construction sites… The opportunities for transformations in this sector are considerable. We must seize this unique opportunity to reinvent ourselves!

What role might collaborative digital technologies play in the world of sustainable construction?

AM: The construction industry is one of the last to embark on its digital transformation. That delay can be attributed to the very nature of the industry. Each building is unique and relies on an ecosystem and unique processes, unlike the automobile or aviation industries, where everything is standardized. One of the keys to sustainable transformation of the construction industry is the ability to bring together various standard elements within a unique envelope. For that, the various parties involved must be interconnected. Collaborative digital technologies offer a solution to that challenge: aligning the entire value chain on a single foundation of knowledge. The virtualization of knowledge takes the form of a broader phenomenon that we call “Productization”. It is a question of making it so that each party involved can speak a shared language, from the architect to the building owner to the construction contractor and its ecosystem.

Our technological solutions aim to make information smart and dynamic, centered on a digital model of the building. Sharing reliable information—up to date and in real time—is key to the transformation. That does not just extend to the goal of sustainability. Sharing information makes it easier to plan ahead for unknown factors on construction sites and keep costs under control. Working collaboratively with a digital model—using the digital twin—lets us look into the future and make the construction phase more like an assembly phase, because everything has been thought out ahead of time. The digital technology promises to improve organization while also being more cost effective, to better take on the challenges of sustainability. The strategy that drives us at Dassault Systèmes leans more on the desire to build the world of tomorrow than on the transformation of the construction industry today. We wish to preserve creativity and human intelligence by relying on computer intelligence that creates a virtuous framework for delivering the right information to the right person at the right time.

Flexibility, organizational agility, standardization, how might the digitalization of the construction industry pave the way for sustainable development?

AM: A building site is like a musical score, a conductor, and an orchestra all brought together in one concert hall for a given period of time. Each link must contribute their best so the team can advance towards their shared objective. Digital technology makes it possible to bring together all the various building trades at the same period and location and offer processes and methods aimed at ensuring the safety of everyone involved. 3D simulation and digital modeling enable us to work on optimizing each operation and contribute to the immediate safety of the teams. It also lets us anticipate problems that are more hidden, such as the onset of musculoskeletal disorders, by turning to human kinematic modeling, for example.

Is sustainability a goal in itself, a holy grail to be attained, or is it more a matter of marking out a path to more responsible practices?

AM: We have no choice but to advance towards a shared objective. As such, even if the concepts of responsibility or sustainability change over time, that must not stop us from making a commitment towards transformation. We must move forward step by step. We must set out an ambitious roadmap for ourselves, one with attainable objectives. Sustainability is an ongoing journey. We will always find new ways to further improve and develop methods of designing and building. Sustainability is on the horizon. The more we move forward, the farther away it seems. But we must think of that reality as an opportunity to do better and go further!

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