When it comes to economic growth, much of the action has been centred around Asia Pacific over the past decade. Driven largely by investments in manufacturing, infrastructure, energy, and real estate, Asia is the fastest-growing region and will likely account for 60% of the world’s GDP by 2030.
The economic boom has led to an exponential increase in activities among architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries. It is also applying unprecedented pressures on our natural resources. Studies show that construction is directly or indirectly responsible for almost 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions and 25% of the overall greenhouse gas emissions.
The good news is sustainability isn’t a zero-sum game. It is possible to achieve economic growth without exhausting natural resources and laying waste to the environment. How do we make decisions that are good for both business and the environment with the myriad technologies available?
Asia Pacific’s sustainability report card
Asia Pacific has some major catching up to do on the sustainability front. Currently, 52% of global carbon dioxide is attributable to the region. In fact, the region as a whole will likely not achieve any of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) come 2030.
Progress differs from one country to the next. For example, Singapore currently ranks 27th out of 142 countries in terms of emissions per capita — a considerable amount relative to its geographic and population size.
However, according to a recent report by Frost & Sullivan, Singapore leads as the only country out of nine Asia Pacific countries surveyed that has achieved two out of the five SDGs that are impacted by the AEC industries. The SDGs achieved were ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’ and ‘Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure’. Trailing behind the city-state are India, Japan, New Zealand, and the Philippines, which have each achieved one SDG.
Singapore was able to achieve this due largely to the comprehensive slate of green initiatives that were recently introduced. For example, it established the Resource Efficiency Grant for Energy to help manufacturing facilities and data centres become more energy-efficient.
As part of its recent Budget 2022 announcement, the Singapore government announced the Growth & Transformation Scheme, which encourages developers, builders and consultants across the construction value-chain to form strategic alliances and outline their digital construction and long-term sustainability plans. This is supported by the wider Green Plan 2030, which focuses on five pillars, including green spaces, cleaner energy fuels, sustainable living, a green economy, as well as building a climate-resilient future.
Construction as a leader of sustainable change
One study estimates that up to 27% of SDG targets are directly or indirectly dependent on construction and real estate activities. If Asia Pacific wants to contribute to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and effect significant and long-lasting change, that change has to come from within the construction industry.
Fortunately, steps are already being taken in the right direction. Our recent research found that nearly half the companies surveyed in Asia Pacific mentioned sustainability as a crucial part of their business strategy. These companies share a similar approach to tackling sustainability – adopting digital technologies.
This approach has proven to deliver improved productivity, workplace safety, increased profit margin and improved sustainability — all major contributing factors to business growth and competitiveness.
For instance, Internet of Things-enabled (IoT) management systems can automate the tracking of material deliveries to building sites, increasing efficiency and ensuring the entire project remains on schedule. This is especially critical as estimates show that more than 30% of ‘mega projects’ experience cost overruns, and three-quarters of them are at least 40% late.
Furthermore, after the project has been completed, IoT sensors can be installed at strategic locations for energy management purposes. IoT provides an opportunity to deliver efficiencies while simultaneously managing sustainable practices.
Other digital solutions also provide a bridge to approach sustainability challenges in a new way. Advanced technologies such as building information modelling (BIM), generative design, and digital twin can boost predictive capabilities, optimise resources, save costs, improve building efficiency and spur innovation. Additionally, such solutions can help ensure sustainability standards and optimisations are met, such as those outlined in Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark standard.
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One such example is BCA’s Zero Energy Building, which incorporates different technologies to achieve nearly a decade of net-zero energy consumption. These technologies include an advanced building management system, which controls, monitors, and manages all equipment installed in the building, as well as a smart air-conditioning system that reduces energy consumption by as much as 40%. In fact, [email protected] Academy is the first net-zero energy building in Southeast Asia. This is one example of how Singapore aims to have low-carbon buildings make up 80% of Singapore’s building stock by 2030.
It is evident then that the increasing adoption of digital technologies in construction is a critical enabler for sustainability in Asia Pacific. It provides construction organisations with the means to make substantial headways to a net-zero future without compromising economic and business growth.
Breaking out of status quo
Reactions to the recently concluded 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference were equally optimistic and sceptical. While the Glasgow Climate Pact, targeting coal-fired power and fossil-fuel subsidies, was criticised for not being enough to save the world, others called it a ‘real and vital progress’.
For the world to truly achieve or even come close to its net-zero goals, it is important for various sectors in Asia Pacific to make a change in how they approach sustainability — and construction is no exception, given the opportunity it holds to drive change.
As more nations in Asia Pacific declare their carbon-neutral goals and drive green initiatives, action must now be taken to embrace digitalisation as an enabling pillar of sustainability. Organisations in the construction sector must realise that what’s good for the environment can also be good for business, and therefore, remaining in the status quo is simply not an excuse.
Haresh Khoobchandani is the vice president of APAC at Autodesk