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Cop26: ‘Greening Buildings And Construction’ Through Innovative, Digital Technologies

Autonomous Buildings

The global adoption of innovative low carbon technologies – including engineered timber – is one type of clean construction and ‘smart-climate’ solution that’s fostering sustainability and development, and combating climate change, according to Lendlease’s Mario Lara Ledermann during a COP26 panel in Glasgow. 
“On the materials front, we’ve introduced the use of low carbon steel,” said Lara Ledermann, UK-based technical lead, for Lendlease, during the discussion, ‘Cities, industry, Finance: Highlight of Clean Construction Actions.’ 

“We’re also introducing other materials with a higher increased recycle content like aluminium, and also looking at the use of engineered timber into our pipeline. We know that one ton of timber - replacing conventional materials like concrete and steel - could save us approximately 1.5 tons of CO2,” Lara Ledermann told attendees. 

COP – which stands for Conference of the Parties - is an annual event where world leaders gather to discuss the state of progress, and agree on vital steps and necessary actions on the quest to fight climate change.

This year’s global conference – now in its 26th year – brought together national governments, cities, regions and the private sector to build deep collaboration for ‘built environment’ climate action. The one-day spotlight on ‘cities, regions and the built environment’ – and the buildings and construction sector - hasn’t featured on the agenda since COP21. 

During the recent panel discussion, it was revealed that the buildings and construction industry is responsible for nearly a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and consumes over half of all extracted resources - prompting urgent calls for fundamental changes to be made to plan, design, build and maintain buildings, along with the infrastructure of cities. 

To be exact, buildings and construction contribute 40% of the global greenhouse gas emissions – which equates to 14 gigatons per year (a sum equivalent to the annual emissions of China). Globally, 11% come from the materials, mainly from the use of high carbon-intensive materials like concrete and steel, Ledermann explained. 

“Lendlease sets very ambitious targets. In 2020, we set to be net zero by 2025 for Scope 1 and 2, which means the fuel we burn and the energy (power) we use. And to be absolute zero by 2040 –that means Scope 1, 2 and 3 -  which includes the materials we use with no offsets, and no excuses,” Lara Ledermann told the crowd. 

“We believe this target - coupled with the nature of our global business - puts us in a leading position to drive the decarbonisation of the construction industry, which contributes 40% of global  emissions. However, we know it’s not an easy task. We don’t have all of the answers, and we need to work together.” 

In fact, deep collaboration amongst all stakeholders is required in order for the built environment to succeed on climate action and foster sustainability. “We need to embrace innovation and new technologies as well as working with our employees, the supply chain and other key internal and external stakeholders to bring them on the journey to decarbonise buildings.” 

Trees leading the way 

Certainly, one way to provide a cleaner, more sustainable and resilient built world is to embrace new technologies – like engineered timber - and to innovate, Lara Ledermann said, continuing the discussion (after COP26) and speaking about why mass timber is so important to both sustainability and digital conversations.

“What if I told you there’s a technology that captures CO2 from the atmosphere and turns it into a building material, and in the process, stores carbon for long periods of time? You’d say, where do I sign, right?

“Well that technology exists, and has existed for millennia - it’s called trees. Trees sequester CO2 and lock the carbon into the wood - 50% of the biomass of a tree is carbon. 

“Now, since the development of engineered timber products – including glulam and more recently cross laminated timber (CLT) - we have an opportunity to use the by-product of this technology that captures CO2 (trees) as an alternative to some of the bigger sources of emissions -  the production of concrete and steel.

“But it’s very important we ensure timber is used in a positive way without negatively impacting forests, carbon sinks, biodiversity and local communities. To do that, we need to source timber from sustainably managed forests,” he said. 

In terms of digitalisation, he said engineered timber is an ideal material for offsite manufacturing and automation – it’s light and easy to cut – and enables productisation, which is vital for creating social and economic value for the building sector.

This type of sustainable building material – engineered timber - is already in action at International House Sydney – one of four buildings that comprise Barangaroo’s South Precinct. “We reduced approximately 33% of carbon emissions just by using wood and selecting that material.” 

In fact, it’s these types of sustainability measures – enabled by Lendlease Podium – that have contributed to Barangaroo being crowned the ‘first urban precinct in Australia’ to be awarded carbon neutral status.

Digital to the rescue 

So, what other measures pave the way for a greener, more sustainable world that reduces the carbon footprint? 

Lara Ledermann said the use of digital technologies, in particular, will help curb carbon emissions. Take digital twins, for example, which is central to the carbon reduction movement.

“Having a digital replica of a physical building that behaves as the real structure and provides crucial information on real life performance, can enable us to better understand how our buildings are performing and how it may perform in the future based on many scenarios. This can help us analyse and improve our energy use, reducing the impact on the planet.” 

Lara Ledermann said understanding how multiple design scenarios perform under embodied carbon criteria, for example, could help in the decision-making process of the design, efficiency and in selecting the most adequate quantity and type of materials for any given building solution. 

Indeed, this technology is already making environmental inroads and changing the face of property and construction. In fact, a Digital Twin as-a-service offering was used by Lendlease Digital and Podium to design and visualise Daramu House, one of Lendlease’s most sustainable buildings to date, and setting a new benchmark for sustainable developments.

What’s more, Daramu House is the first large-scale project of its kind to include integrated solar photovoltaic panels on a rooftop that’s home to a ‘bee hotel’ and almost 10,000 plants, capturing and harvesting rainwater while supporting local urban biodiversity.  

‘Greening’ construction through value creation 

But these sustainability efforts won’t amount to much if value isn’t generated across the entire supply chain - and conversations need to move beyond cost, Ledermann urged. Create economic value in way that also creates value for society. 

“Podium is central to enable the creation of this value. For example, Podium is creating social and economic value through its reconception of digital and physical products,” Lara Ledermann said. 

Podium, for its part, is already generating value in the supply chain by helping to reduce risk (making construction safer); increasing efficiency; and reducing the carbon footprint of Lendlease projects. 

But the global industry needs to do more and see beyond cost – find impactful ways to create value – and adopt cleaner, newer technologies that vastly improve on the technologies of the past, he urged. 

“Podium is central to enable the creation of the social, environmental, and economic value necessary to deal with societal challenges like climate change, affordability, safety, etc, as well as improving productivity and profit.”  

So, how is Podium creating social and economic value? Ledermann highlights a trio of measures:
  • Reconceiving digital and physical products – Focus of the Podium solutions is to meet societal needs (like climate change and affordability), as well as shareholders’ needs (profit);
  • Redefining productivity in the value chain – In collaboration with the Integrated Supply Chain, Podium is re-examining energy use and logistics, the use of resources and creating procurement partnerships (Lendlease and Stora Enso launched a global sustainable timber partnership last year to supercharge the use of environmentally friendly construction products in some of the world’s most recognised cities; and
  • Enabling local industry clusters globally – Lendlease Podium is working with partners locally to enable the use of innovative technologies like engineered timber globally.
Future Vision – Better Alignment 

Asked his vision for the future, and hopes for COP27 (slated for November 2022 in Egypt), Ledermann said he’s hopeful the world’s decision-makers will stay closely aligned with the 1.5C target from the Paris Agreement – otherwise there are consequences. 

“The UK presidency said COP26 managed to keep the 1.5C target alive; however, some say it’s ‘on life support’ as current global policies can still lead us into a 4C rise by the end of the century. The consequences of moving towards a 2C trajectory include:
  • 16% of plants will lose ½ their habitable area (2x worse than 1.5C)
  • 18% of insects will lose ½ their habitable area (3x worse than 1.5C)
  • 99% further decline in coral reefs (29% worse than 1.5C)
  • 37% of the global population exposed to severe heat every 1 in 5 years (2.6x worse than 1.5C)
  • At least once every 10 years sea-ice-free summers in the artic (10x worse than 1.5C)
“Therefore, it’s very important there’s as much global attention on COP27 as there was in COP26 in Glasgow - as I believe global attention drives commitment and action,” he said, urging the importance of having a dedicated ‘built environment’ track on the COP27 agenda.

At the same time, he wants the industry to recognise the profound impact and role that technology plays in changing all facets of life, and in helping to avert a global climate change disaster. 

“Technology is critical in the process to reduce emissions. A greater focus on technology, practical evidence of its impact, and coordinated actions to scale its potential benefits, are what’s needed – and that’s where Podium can help.”   

And while COP27 is still several months away, Podium is already setting its sights on the not-too-distant event, South by South West (SXSW), slated for March 11-20 in Austin, Texas.  SXSW is an annual conglomeration of parallel film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences. 

At this year’s event – which also features a climate change track (discussing renewable energy and fossil fuel alternatives, sustainable practices, coastal relocation, plant-based foods, and forward-focused green start-ups) - Podium is set to launch Planet A, an interactive virtual reality (VR) game that showcases the scientific, economic and social innovation of the upcoming Milan Innovation District (MIND).
Innovation Technology Sustainability Autonomous Buildings