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How can BIM support carbon reduction and net zero ambitions?

Our Digital Technical Director Craig Hardingham shared his invaluable insights on how information management/BIM can support carbon reduction and net zero ambitions in a panel discussion at the recent Digital Construction Week show in London. We caught up with him this week to get a quick download of his thoughts… 

Thanks for sparing a few minutes of your time Craig after a busy time at #DCW2023. So, what is the importance of BIM in the modern – and future – world of planning, design and construction?

“BIM is an important cornerstone of a digital future for the built environment as it provides structured datasets of the designs we plan to build. Having that, allows us to interrogate it and provide insights to inform better decision-making on our projects.”

There’s a constant shift in terminology across the digital landscape…how has BIM been evolving from BIM to IM?

“The Information Modelling & Management part of BIM has always been there, but unfortunately, the industry skewed BIM to be more about 3D models rather than what’s important, the Information. The release of ISO 19650 has refocused the industry on the Information part of BIM – the critical ‘I’ – and how BIM fits into the wider Information Management spectrum of best practice to project delivery.

Through this refocusing I can see that more stakeholders across the industry are awakening to the value and power of having the right information at the right time to the right people, has on making informed decisions. As a result, we are starting to see more emphasis on the information requirements element of our projects and the outcomes desired from those.”

Lean and efficient design that leads to better outcomes is always twofold: Form and Function. Both need to be aligned to achieve sustainability. Form viz structure, materials and construction techniques. Function through human-centred design that enriches the environments, and people’s experience, whilst minimising negative impacts of use. Both can be better enabled by BIM.

Gordon McGregor Chief Sustainability Officer


And through this holistic lens, what is the role of information-centric ‘Digital’ in carbon reduction/net zero?

“Digital has a fundamental role to play in our carbon reduction/net zero ambitions. Huge amounts of data needed to be federated and structured to allow us to review and enable insights on what actions we need to take to improve how we are scoping, designing, procuring, constructing, and using our assets. I do not believe we would be able to achieve what we need to without the use of digital workflows and tools to enable those discussions.”

Finally, for now, do you have any predictions for BIM in this area over the next five or so years?

“I think the use of BIM in tackling our carbon and net zero ambitions will assist in turning it from the reactionary measure it is currently, to a more proactive approach. For example, currently a design is undertaken and then passed through a carbon workflow, possibly using digital tools to calculate the carbon impact of that design.

I predict that the more we understand about what carbon values we need to be looking for, our design tools and datasets will evolve to the point of allowing carbon factors to be visualised at a point of material selection. I.e. you select cast-in-place concrete as a material for a design and it colours itself red in terms of carbon footprint, then the tool offers alternative materials that could be used to meet the appropriate criteria, thus impacting decision-making right at the point of design.”

Craig’s top 5 ways to harness digital to achieve carbon reduction and net zero ambitions

  • Provide a defined structured dataset on how we measure carbon and cost across the built environment.
  • Enable visualisation of carbon impacts of our decisions, both at the initial asset optioneering stage and at the point of design.
  • Scanned datasets of existing assets to inform the carbon footprint of our already existing built environment.
  • Give access to carbon data to the users of our facilities/assets to inform them of how they use them has an impact on the carbon footprint.
  • Use digital tools within schools/universities when covering this topic to encourage the right behaviours on how we need to tackle this issue, and embed those behaviours in future generations.

In a complex world, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. At Sweco, our expert BIM – and IM – consultants will work with you to understand your specific needs and risks. We’ll then use our practical experience to align the workflows, documentation and tools needed to reduce your risks, minimise waste, implement collaborative working methods and enable smart project delivery which is tailored specifically to your needs.