Software: Green construction – Mastering the art of keeping track
March 18, 2016 by Jacob Stoller
Whether a project is a high-profile green office tower or a cost-efficient single family dwelling, environmental is gradually becoming the norm. While contractors own only a segment of the environmental pie, their ability to deliver on eco-friendly projects is becoming a competitive differentiator.
Information management is one of the most critical competencies for filling this niche. The key is that green projects, particularly those seeking certification according to recognized standards, depend on a wider range of parameters than traditional projects. Consequently, they raise the bar for the organization’s IT capabilities.
“Previously, decisions were based only on cost. Now, you’re doing two things – balancing the budget, and also, meeting other requirements,” says Lauren Hasegawa, co-founder of Kitchener, Ont.–based construction software firm Bridgit.
Many owners of environmental projects seek certification according to Leadership and Environmental Design (LEED).
LEED uses a point system for a variety of categories including: energy-efficient design, water conservation and green construction practices, creating a framework for tracking numerical information pertaining to environmental performance. Of that large pie, general contractors own two portions—construction materials and maintaining an environmentally friendly jobsite.
The challenge is that these parameters are cumbersome to track manually. “It could be anything from materials to construction practices,” says Hasegawa.
For example, an organization may have to track numbers for recycled content. The distance materials have to be shipped to the jobsite, low-emitting or rapidly renewable materials. In terms of jobsite management, a contractor may be required to develop and monitor a waste-management plan, or a plan to control erosion on the jobsite.
Managing the data
Most contractors manage their environmental data manually. A set of supporting files might include Word documents, pdf files, photographs, and a spreadsheet that ties everything together. Consequently, the management of this information is haphazard—there’s no consistency, and it’s subject to human error.
Tommy Linstroth confronted this problem when, as a LEED consultant, he had to manage the information for multiple LEED projects for his contractor clients. Seeing the need for a better way, he founded Green Badger, a Savannah, Ga.-based software company specializing in managing LEED information for contractors.
“There wasn’t a good way to manage all this data, especially across multiple projects,” he says. “LEED has continued to evolve over the last 15 years, but the way that people are managing data is exactly the same… There are inherent inefficiencies, and apparent risk. So I wanted to build a platform that would alleviate that situation.”
The Green Badger product captures and provides visibility of LEED-related data for single projects, or across multiple projects through a single portal. In addition to convenience, the product helps protect contractors against the risk of failing to meet contractual obligations, says Linstroth.
“Contractors are expected to contribute points in terms of LEED credits across these construction projects,” he says. “Once the building is done, you need to show where you earned the points. If you’re not tracking it, it opens you up to an elevated level of risk.”
Doing more with less
Environmental performance, however, is about more than compliance with standards. Construction projects are notoriously wasteful, reducing the amount of resources that a project uses, makes the project effectively greener.
“If you increase efficiency, you get off the site quicker, and that translates into less environmental impact,” says Hasegawa. For example, this would translate into lower power requirements, fuel consumption and equipment utilization.
Information management can play a major role here. According to Stacy Scopano, senior industry strategy manager for building construction at Autodesk, who is based in Atlanta, Ga., one of the main causes of waste in construction is inaccurate information, such as incomplete details about constructability requirements.
“You’re constantly living in a world of over-estimating just to cover yourself, because you’re not confident in the numbers or the quality of design,” says Scopano. “So from day one, you’re injecting waste that’s going to ripple across manpower, equipment and materials.”
This provides one of the strongest business cases for BIM systems, Scopano says, because BIM allows entire processes to be simulated in advance, preventing wasted materials or labour.
“Being able to ‘spell check’ a building before anyone cuts the material, even as far back as fabrication, is key,” he says. “BIM allows the big-ticket systems to go together like a bunch of LEGO blocks.”
Although green will unfold on multiple fronts, the trend is here to stay, and contractors will have to make sure they have the IT capabilities to keep pace.
Jacob Stoller is principal of Toronto-based consultancy StollerStrategies. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org