Digital Transformation: Creating a Sustainable Future
The recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) saw country leaders convene to discuss upcoming commitments and goals in the mission to end climate change.
“COP26 has kept the 1.5 degrees alive. But its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action,” said Alok Sharma, President for COP26. However, sustainability is bigger than just green initiatives – it includes issues around people. It is the positive impact a company makes in its communities and eventually the world. Sustainability has moved away from a buzzword to actions consumers look for as a part of a brand’s strategy. Every industry needs to take accountability to innovate sustainable processes and ensure implementation has an impact, including a set of nonfinancial criteria like diversity, business ethics, wellbeing, and shareholders rights.
For the architecture, engineering, and construction industries, it has become a priority in order to respond and prepare for the future, with the pandemic being the catalyst for this change in thinking. To change what we create, we must change how we create, with sustainable, equitable and resilient outcomes in mind. As these industries are notably major contributors to pollution and waste, with the construction industry generating over a third of global waste, with volume expected to double by 2025, a key factor in making this shift is digital transformation through actionable information and digital tools that help achieve sustainable outcomes. This is already seen as a top priority, with 69% of Autodesk industry customers currently supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goal 13 regarding climate action.
The future of sustainability has many avenues however we focus our efforts to advance positive outcomes across three primary areas: Energy & Materials - maximizing energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions from materials used to make the supply chain more sustainable; Health & Resilience - building safer, healthier, and more sustainable infrastructure; and Work & Prosperity - aiming to have an impact on the entire workforce by advancing access to learning skills of the future.
Digital transformation will, therefore, need to be the partner for the new possible, with tech and software transforming industries. Reshaping the processes and developing the tools needed to meet the intensifying industry demands of today can propel the industry towards a more sustainable world that benefits everyone. These industries need to be unified in their approach, with industry-focused solutions, such as the Autodesk Forge platform, empowering customers with data and insights, as well as delivering total carbon solutions to help these industries to get the insights that will allow them to design and develop products in a more sustainable, equitable and resilient way.
Notably, rethinking business plans, design, and manufacturing of products is no small task. While many companies understand the importance of digital transformation, the process of transitioning entire processes and securing the necessary buy-in is a colossal effort.
A significant impediment is that many digital tools are too complex and too siloed, making change unnecessarily difficult. However, through innovative software enhancements, such as through Autodesk Fusion 360, it is fulfilling its mission of providing leaders, innovators, and designers of tomorrow with the digital tools and the knowledge needed to address some of the biggest challenges.
In a global research project by Altimeter and Autodesk conducted in July 2021, the research surveyed approximately 750 software buyers and users across key geographies, job titles, and company types. Ultimately, the research confirmed that the past two years had made digital transformation critical, with 65% saying digital transformation had disrupted the industry to a moderate or great extent (69% for D&M, 58% for AEC). It then increased to 71% when respondents were asked if digital transformation will disrupt industries in the next two years to a moderate or great extent (D&M 75% and AEC 65%). Businesses reported a myriad of benefits for digital transformations, including improved efficiency and reduced costs as key components.
To develop sustainable digital transformation processes, convergence is ultimately the solution, meaning the blending of previously separate technologies, processes, and data to create new combinations of products, services, and experiences that reshape industry structures. Companies are now anticipating and preparing for the next wave of digital convergence disruption. It is notable that 95% of all respondents said convergence of some kind was already affecting their industry today and 73% agreed that their organization approached convergence as a competitive advantage for their company. Through the process of convergence, it benefits organizations first, translating into improved efficiency and reduced operating costs.
To put it into context from an industry standpoint, it is common to find technologically obsolete wastewater network infrastructures and an increasing number do not meet the standards of being in a state of good repair. Updated processes are integral to the health and well-being of community residents and critical to improving society and protecting the environment. However, to understand the condition of the network, teams need the tools and resources to manage, inspect, and respond to risk before it becomes a problem. An example of how digital convergence is assisting in sustainability can be seen through Afsluitdijk - a 32-kilometer dam with a sustainable infrastructure that has been at the forefront of Dutch hydraulic engineering. The project has focused on protecting and preventing damage to the dam and its surroundings, whilst offering ecological and recreational mechanisms. The planners rely on the latest technology so each team can work collaboratively and efficiently, allowing them to strengthen the enclosure dam, increasing the capacity for it to discharge water, as well as constructing pumps to move water into the sea.
Another instance comes from the late 19th century when scientists began to recognize urban heat islands through the discovery of the city of London often being a few degrees higher than the surrounding rural areas. A few degrees difference can impact thermal comfort, caused in part by the process of concrete, asphalt, brick, and other materials absorbing and re-emitting heat during the day and cooling more slowly at night. This isn’t just a comfort issue, but rather it is also a sustainability issue.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates an increase of just 2°F may increase the use of air conditioning by 1-9%—powered mostly by electricity produced by fossil-fuel-powered plants. Through microclimate analysis tools, real estate developers, urban planners, and architects can evaluate the thermal comfort of outdoor spaces. While methods of calculating the urban heat island effect already exist, they’re often accessible only to expert users, take hours to run, or do not visualize the data. New microclimate analysis programs, such as Spacemaker, are fast, intuitive, and highly visual. For the first time, the entire site planning team can quickly see the impact of design decisions on thermal comfort, specifically in this case heat islands, and resolve any issues efficiently and effectively.
Buildings generate nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. A combination of processes can therefore help meet emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement – and reinforced by Glasgow Climate Pact - , such as the Autodesk Total Carbon in beta. Combining Revit data with open-source energy analysis and material carbon data in the cloud, Total Carbon provides real-time, accurate, and reliable total carbon analysis. Tools such as this give users the insights they need to create sustainable designs in Revit, making it easier for them to design for environmentally friendly outcomes from the start.
It is safe to say that new solutions and the convergence of current software processes have been key in unlocking the insights and unleashing the innovation that is needed to help industries design more sustainable buildings, construct more resilient cities, and make a better future for all. What we build must be paired with how we build, and digital transformation for sustainable outcomes is undeniably at its core. By industries accepting and working together to develop new processes, it allows for sustainable goals to be met and most importantly, become the industry standard that is needed to ensure a sustainably led future.