BIM for Green Construction

Recently the ‘Design for the Environment’ (DfE) concept that has been applied by construction products manufacturers as one of their main efforts to improve their products in order to achieve minimal product life cycle environmental impact.

Considering the worldwide impact of the “New Natural” movement in all aspects of our society, it can surely be said that manufacturers adopting the ‘Design from the Environment’ strategy are right on track to meet the increasing market demand for green products. However, how does the sustainability agenda fit in with the collaborative data-based process of BIM?

coBuilder’s project “Green Construction products into BIM” funded through the “Green Industry Innovation” programme under the Norway Grants assistance is aimed at defining essential parameters of sustainable construction within the BIM process. The following article will outline the high-level rationale for developing a BIM tool for searching and selecting products that meet any set of environmental requirements that are relevant within any building or infrastructure project in Europe.

BIM and the sustainability agenda

Building Information Modelling or BIM is helping the sustainability agenda, because through the digitalisation of product information the BIM process gives us great control over the products installed in a building. Having the data about all the construction products, materials and chemicals available to all as early as the design stage gives the possibility to always check that the right products don’t cause harm to the environment and the actual users of the building or infrastructure. As hard as it might seem to believe – this is quite novel for the construction industry and a huge improvement.

A “window” to understanding green construction

Let us explore an easy example. When designing a building with specific requirements concerning its energy efficiency, the windows used in that building have been defined by a particular U-value – a  characteristic denoting the energy escaping through the window. A low U-value would mean that the window is very well insulating and it does not allow waste of energy when heating up the building. At the design stage, when the data about the U-value is available in digital manufacturers’ Product Data Sheets within an interoperable database the specifier can suggest a product that is fulfilling the U-value requirement. Later at the construction phase the contractor can purchase a product fit with the as-designed specification. Knowing the data about the product at the operate stage the FM can easily repair and replace the window without compromising the initial design. Through this seamless data flow the whole supply chain can contribute to the reduction of energy consumption so we can end up with a greener more sustainable building.

Many approaches – one common goal

More specifically, this concerns both architects and consulting engineers who largely rely on generic information about green products. Then it comes to the actual choices that need to be taken in the projects. Choosing and checking which products have documented green properties in Europe is something that is done in various ways, and according to different requirements when it comes to the national context of countries such as Norway and Bulgaria. In Europe these requirements are embodied in e.g. REACH, CPR (Construction Products Regulation) – harmonised product standards and European Technical Assessments), environmental requirements (REACH, ROHS II), national or regional requirements and a large scale of different environmental demands in the market such as BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology) and LEED Construction (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design). But what is common is the fact that giving the actors an option to choose green will make the buildings and the whole industry more environmentally friendly.

So through projects such as “Green Construction Products into BIM” , taking all these requirements in mind and thus providing the right information technology for choosing greener products, today the question of building green is more about the right industry policy and company policy  then about the availability of software for green construction.

On the right track

The bottom line is that clients, want to build more affordable, easier to manage, more sustainable buildings, but they just don’t often know the right questions to ask their supply chain to deliver it. The industry-wide effort in the UK to standardise and draw the EIR or Employer Information Requirements is a huge step towards enabling BIM to help clients/owners and point them in the right direction by asking the right question. This will allow the supply chain to understand how they work collaboratively and what information they need to help them build more responsibly, that is the benefit of using BIM.