How Construction Project Software Supports Environmental Sustainability
February 03, 2022
There are nuances to how environmental sustainability is understood and defined in the construction industry. It can mean using renewable and/or recyclable materials, ensuring structures have healthier indoor workspaces for tenants while having minimal impact on the outdoor surroundings, or constructing a building with energy-efficient systems that maintain optimal functioning beyond their normal expected lifespans. Yet one sustainability strategy that may not immediately spring to mind is adopting construction project software. Why?
Considering that much of what has been understood about going digital has focused on efficiency-based improvements for projects and business practices, the environmental benefits of digitalization can tend to be overlooked. In truth, they are many.
For now, let’s explore how two particular kinds of construction project software — document management and modeling — are already making a difference every day.
Document management software to reduce paper reliance
Because the construction industry as a whole is in the early stages of digitization, that means there’s still a lot of hard copy information being used and stored.
Just think of the amount of paper a single capital project amasses during the course of its build. There’s the paperwork generated that is unique to the project — drawings, changes to those drawings, contracts, permits, spreadsheets, daily reports, commissioning checklists, handover documentation, documents requiring signatures, and so on. Then there’s the preprinted materials that are ordered and stored, such as timesheets, equipment operating instructions, safety manuals and material safety data sheets.
How does this impact the environment? According to a ballpark estimate from Conservatree, one ream of paper (500 sheets) uses 6% of one tree. So, one tree makes just over 16 reams of paper. Think that doesn’t sound like much? Imagine how many reams of paper all those documents we just mentioned add up to be. Now multiply this by the number of projects in an entire portfolio — for just one construction company.
This is where technology comes to the trees’ rescue. Investing in cloud-based construction document management software is perhaps the key step to cutting back on the industry’s heavy reliance on paper. What does it enable you to do? Replace paper forms with digital ones — such as timesheets, checklists, daily reports, spreadsheets, change orders — to conserve the amount of paper being ordered and stockpiled. Use e-signature functionality to digitally sign and send documents. Organize and file all project-related paperwork in the cloud rather than strewn among filing cabinets. Consolidate handover documentation into one digital package with a few clicks.
Cutting down the amount of paper making its way into trash cans and landfills is far better than cutting down the trees it takes to make that paper.
BIM to minimize rework and associated waste
Rework is a significant problem and directly connected to sustainability. Rework can involve deconstructing structural work, removing incorrect materials for disposal, then bringing in the correct materials. It can also involve fixing mistakes or inadequate work that necessitates ordering extra materials to meet the original design intent and owner requirements. In either case, wasted materials are an unfortunate byproduct of that rework. And those wasted materials have to be transported and disposed of elsewhere, likely to a landfill if they can’t be donated, reused or repurposed somehow.
The best way to control the amount of rework is to keep it from happening in the first place. BIM is made for this. Using this intelligence-based process, you’re able to construct a virtual model that includes every single element — from concrete to drywall nails. Each individual element is digitally linked to all its usable data for that project, from size to price to warranty. Operating at such granular detail allows you to create more precise models from the beginning. This level of accuracy translates into fewer changes throughout the build, shrinking the potential of work having to be redone that can generate considerable wasted materials.
When BIM is used in tandem with advanced work packaging (AWP), another intelligence-based process, an even smarter model can be created that organizes the work into more focused Installation Work Packages (IWPs) that define the exact type and amount of materials per IWP. Again, the result is far less potential for calling back site crews to redo work and for unnecessary material waste.
BIM also eliminates the potential for construction waste in ways that don’t involve rework at all.
Working with the model’s information-rich data linked to all the proposed materials, decisions can be made at the design stage among the construction, engineering and procurement teams as to the most sustainable materials and systems to use in terms of composition, lifespan and maintenance. This sharpens the inventory list that the procurement team orders, leading to less excess materials from miscalculated overbuying.
Using BIM’s modeling precision, you can design prefabricated components — from doors to air vents — that are manufactured off-site in a controlled environment, then brought to the jobsite for installation. The result? Far less excess material being wasted and none of the air and ground pollution that can result when otherwise assembling those components within the structure itself.
And finally, one of the capabilities for which BIM is most known: clash detection. With BIM, you can see the unseen, behind walls, below floors and above ceilings. Reviewing the model with this kind of visibility before building has begun keeps unseen clashes or mistakes from being built into the project. Even when experimenting with alterations during construction, you can “see” clashes or hazards that surface due to those suggested changes. In both instances, BIM’s clash detection removes what could likely have become costly rework and needless waste.
Going digital to go green with construction project software
Digital transformation can pave the way for sustainability transformation. Construction project software solutions like InEight Document and Model can introduce planning accuracy, reduce the degree and likelihood of costly rework and give you more control over your sustainability efforts from a technology perspective. We can show you how going digital can support you as you go green.