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Why big data analysis will give sustainability a big boost

BY: Sherief Elabd, ORACLE.

Construction companies across the industry are under increasing pressure from governments and customers to build as sustainably as possible – in both their design and construction processes. With the focus now firmly on green building practices, sustainability has become a crucial part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

Sustainability regulations and carbon targets, designed to reduce the built environment’s carbon emissions – which make up 39 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions globally according to the World Green Building Council global status report[1] – present construction firms with a challenge that can be managed with the help of data analytics, says Sherief Elabd, director of industry strategy for Oracle Construction and Engineering.

Yet the construction industry’s relationship with data is, let’s say, complicated. While some industries have become extremely mature in terms of the way they’re using data analytics due to the nature of their work, many construction companies are not as advanced in their adoption.

“At a basic level, businesses across the sector are turning to data for carbon counting, showing where they are against sustainability targets – a compliance measure for companies looking to reduce the risk of being penalised for carbon reduction regulations,” explains Elabd.

Much more can be done with data across the industry, he says. “Used to its full potential, data analytics can overhaul the way we construct not just individual buildings, but entire cities and major public infrastructure projects.”

Rather than using data to simply look at how sustainable a company’s construction methods are now, he advises firms to turn to data analysis and apply those insights to the entire construction lifecycle. Engaging with data correctly, through the planning, building and operating phases, will ensure a new build runs as sustainably as possible in the long term, and is key to moving the construction and engineering industries towards sustainable development methods.

“We can see this in the construction of smart cities,” says Elabd. “As we start to get smarter in the way our cities are developed, construction will rely more on data analytics in everything. That’s because many smart cities have access to live data from the built environment providing insights into efficiencies, emissions and how citizens are using the city.

“They’re designed to operate as efficiently as possible because they run according to how their inhabitants and citizens want to live,” he explains. “They take and create data in a cyclical fashion: using information to inform how they should run – but also sending new insights back, so incremental changes can be made to improve the way they operate.”

An example is Amsterdam. The city has become ‘smarter’ by bringing technology to its centuries-old infrastructure. Analysing data from city-wide Internet of Things (IoT)-empowered edge devices has allowed Amsterdam to be more sustainable in its management of traffic congestion, energy usage and water waste.

But these insights are not just taken to help construct more sustainably today. Indeed, the data these devices capture, when analysed, can help to inform the future development of any new capital asset or city in its entirety – in other words, ensuring it is sustainable from the word go.

“Take cities like Neom and Al-Qiddiya in Saudi Arabia,” says Elabd. “Both are being built from the ground up. They provide a great opportunity for construction companies involved to analyse and use data from existing urban cities, so they can build sustainably from the beginning.

“On a smaller scale, any building or piece of infrastructure that’s constructed from here on in can be built using data analysis for maximum sustainability,” he adds. “That can be in the construction itself: using data to constantly refine development methods to be more sustainable, or to constantly address carbon footprints based on insights from previous projects.”

Data analysis can also be used to reduce waste throughout the construction lifecycle. If data from existing smart cities and buildings is used to understand human needs, trends and behaviours, then new buildings will operate in the most resource-efficient way possible, significantly reducing carbon footprints.

The pressure is on, but here lies an opportunity for construction companies to adopt data analysis to help them build more sustainably. “There’s so much information available to not only improve construction methods, but to acquire a better understanding of what humans really need from buildings and cities,” says Elabd.

Going forward, data analytics will change not only the way things are built, but what will be built, he concludes. “As the world gets smarter, we’ll reap even more data from these environments and, if we’re analysing and applying these insights to future builds, we’ll naturally become more sustainable in our approach, not only being greener today, but laying the foundation for a greener industry in the future.”

[1] World Green Building Council – Global Status Report 2017