Green buildings and BIM

Green buildings and BIM

Green buildings, green standards, green approach… Is green just one of many colors in the palette, or is it truly a leading trend in the modern AEC industry? What does it take to see the difference between various shades of green? And finally, where does BIM come into the picture? These and many other questions will be answered in today’s post by our guest author – Karolina Poczobutt.

This post was written by BIM Corner’s Guest Author, Karolina Poczobutt.

This is the second article in the series titled: “BIM, a step towards a more sustainable future”, where I investigate BIM methodology in the context of sustainable development. If you are an AEC professional working with sustainability or if you just want to expand your horizons in an “easy to digest” way, this post is definitely for you.

For those of you who skipped my previous article, please follow this link to read it. It will be particularly useful, if you are a newbie to the subject of sustainability or simply feel that you lack the understanding of some basic definitions.

For all the others, please make yourself comfortable, so you can fully enjoy the reading.

Today I will introduce you to the concept of green buildings and sustainability certifications. Then I will briefly go through the leading schemas, which emerged over the past two decades. In the end, I will share some tips and tricks on implementing BIM in a company’s sustainability strategy. The last chapter will be based on my own experience when working as an intern sustainability consultant in Denmark.

Now, it is finally the time to continue our journey towards a more sustainable future. Ready or not, let’s go!

Table of contents

1. Green buildings and sustainability schemas in the modern AEC industry

When reading the updates from today’s construction industry, one could get the impression that nearly every building is referred to as sustainable or green. However, what does it mean for a building to be green? After doing some research, I was surprised to find out that there isn’t one, commonly accepted definition of a green building (in fact, there are at least 10!). Nevertheless, I was able to determine some common characteristics. These characteristics indicate that for a building to be considered green, its construction and the processes associated with creating it must be environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout the building’s entire life cycle.

With that in mind, one cannot help but wonder, how can we really tell if a building is green and what makes one building greener than the other ones. That is exactly where sustainability schemas (also known as sustainability certifications) come into play. The best way to understand sustainability schemas is to imagine that all the aspects of sustainability are put in a formula, where each aspect is weighted based on its importance (please, refer to Equation 1 below).

Sustainability formula BIM Corner
Equation 1 - Three aspects of sustainability put into a formula

Certification systems create the possibility to measure and compare the buildings’ sustainable performance by applying quantifiable criteria. Before the development of certification schemes, such a rating was impossible. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the overall certification scores allow for the comparison of buildings certified under the same system, but not the ones certified under the different ones (Or at least I am not aware of such a method. Please correct me if I am wrong!).

Please note that the term “sustainable certification” can apply to building as a whole, but also to a particular product/building element (please, refer to Figure 1). Even though Equation 1 would be mostly used for building certifications, the product declarations (such as Environmental Product Declarations) might turn out to be the key players in obtaining a higher score when rating buildings’ level of sustainability.

Different types og green certifications in sustainability
Figure 1. Categories of green certifications (source: Guide to Sustainable Building Certifications, can be found here: https://build.dk/Pages/Guide-to-sustainable-building-certifications.aspx)

So, what is the aim with sustainable certifications you may ask. Well, the truth is that certified buildings are heavily assessed in terms of sustainability and therefore they tend to outperform conventional structures, especially when considering the three main pillars: environment, economy, and society. Moreover, in a world where everything revolves around time, money, and resources; building designers, consultants, and even producers are constantly being challenged to live up to market’s sustainable expectations by making informed decisions based on a thorough analysis. Yes, I know, shown from this perspective, sustainability sounds like one hell of a rat race. The truth is that this race adds value to our living and working conditions, by creating healthy buildings and healthy surroundings. The industry becomes somewhat forced to actively respond to the official sustainable goals (with the perfect example being the Paris Agreement), and to be up to date with current sustainability trends. Finally, certification systems have been truly successful in raising awareness about sustainability in all the industries, not just in the AEC branch.

With all the core definitions in place, it is now time to have a look at some examples of sustainable schemas.

2. Examples of green certifications and varied approaches to sustainability assessment

Sustainable building certifications available on today’s market differ widely in their scope, structure and content, including the variations in building type and local adaptations. In fact, there are over 600 product and building certifications worldwide. Figure 2 features some of the most popular sustainability schemas, together with their geographical distribution.

Map with Sustainability schemas around the world
Figure 2. Sustainability schemas around the world, source: https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/69954

Even though the overall number of the certifications worldwide can be overwhelming, from my experience, there are 4 leading sustainability schemas when buildings are considered. These schemas are: BREEAM (Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method), LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), DGNB (translated from German: The German Sustainable Building Council) and WELL (the name comes from associating the standard with human wellbeing). Sustainable building certifications follow diverse sets of objectives and guidelines, which consequently results in each of them setting focus on different sustainability aspects. In Figure 3 you can see DGNB, BREEAM, LEED and WELL standards, together with their sustainability criteria distribution.

Different Sustainability aspects distribution for DGNB, BREEAM, LEED and WELL
Figure 3. Sustainability aspects distribution for DGNB, BREEAM, LEED and WELL (source: Guide to Sustainable Building Certifications, can be found here: https://build.dk/Pages/Guide-to-sustainable-building-certifications.aspx)

When talking about BIM in relation to sustainability schemas, it is crucial to mention that integration of these two concepts is still a challenge, especially in terms of finding one, unified process. Personally, I have never performed a study on which BIM tool would deliver results that respond to every sustainability criterion. I have, however, witnessed the process of implementing a BIM – based sustainability strategy in a concrete-manufacturing company. This will be described in the next chapter.

3. Tips and tricks when working with BIM in sustainability - my internship as a sustainability consultant

In the final chapter of my article, I want to share some observations made during my internship at one of the leading concrete manufacturers in Denmark, where I worked as a sustainability consultant. Hopefully, it will raise your awareness of challenges and issues that need to be addressed, when executing BIM in ‘’to-be-sustainable’’ projects. Here is my list:

  • Whenever working with sustainability, no matter the discipline, it is important to tackle the subject holistically and make sure that all the participants are on the same page, when it comes to the common goals. This can be monitored by conducting regular team meetings, where information about the progress is exchanged and future goals are discussed. Make sure that every person has the correct understanding of the project and remember that responsibly incorporated BIM and sustainability measures can be adapted to the future projects.
  • Secondly, up-to-date documentation is the key to projects’ success. This applies to drawings, models, but also to any product declaration obtained for a building. If you are a manufacturer/producer, make sure that you invest in product declarations, which are complete and recognized by the assessment body. This way you will avoid additional costs and the so-called ´green washing´ – ‘’an activity that gives a false, exaggerated picture of products’ environmental value, which results in creating an impression that the company delivering the product does more for the environment, than it actually does’’ (source of the definition). Having the right documents will make the whole project more organized and will increase its value.
  • As for the model and drawing creation, always remember to follow the Level of Detail and Information appropriate for the current project phase. Implementing unnecessary data creates chaos and does not bring you any closer to obtaining sustainability certification.
  • Next, remember that introducing BIM and sustainable principles in your project will require additional costs, especially at the initial stage. Even though in the long run BIM can contribute to higher savings, one should have the correct understanding of how the costs are distributed, as they are asynchronous throughout the lifespan of a building.
  • Finally, be aware that working with sustainability and BIM is an enormous challenge. With so many different sustainability schemas for products and buildings, it can be overwhelming for building professionals to integrate sustainability criteria in their design processes, as well as monitor and integrate the numerous parameters that need to be included in building models. Therefore, everyone needs to have time to get used to the new way of working and the interdisciplinary collaboration must be truly taken care of.

4. Summary

In this article I introduced you to the ideas of green buildings, sustainability schemas and gave some tips and tricks on implementing BIM in a company’s long – term sustainability strategy. Please note, that even though my post focused on buildings, some sustainability certifications can also be applied to infrastructure projects, although with different names – like for example CEEQUAL.

At this point, I would like to encourage an open discussion. Tell us about your experience with BIM in sustainability or share projects that you find interesting. We are looking forward to hearing from you!

Thank you for bearing with me on this journey towards a more sustainable future. I hope you will visit BIM Corner for the upcoming articles. Enjoy your day and see you next time!

Karolina Poczobutt
Karolina PoczobuttAuthor of the post
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Karolina works as a BIM engineer at Wavin Shared Services in Poznań (Poland). Before taking on the position, she lived in Denmark, where she obtained her education (VIA University College and Aalborg University) and worked for several Scandinavian companies. She is a young professional with a passion for sustainability, BIM, and their impact on the building industry. To develop her knowledge further, she is currently taking an additional education as a BIM manager. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, learning languages, meeting new people, running, and creating art.

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