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A MEED EDITORIAL on Technology helps deliver a sustainability agenda or a plan for a future without the nocive industrialisation development as known today.

Thus Mohammad Saleh, head of Autodesk Middle East region, argues in MEED. Let us see how the Environmental Impact on the Built Environment could be affected amongst many other things.

Technology helps deliver sustainability agenda

24 May 2021

Digital solutions play a crucial role in helping engineers and designers to achieve environmental sustainability goals, says Autodesk’s Mohammad Saleh

The debate around sustainability has moved on from recycling plastic and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. This concept has now evolved to encompass how businesses operate.

Put simply, no matter what industry the business is in, it must have sustainability at the core of how it operates.

The impact of the pandemic has highlighted the need for greater resiliency in all fields. And sustainability will play an important role in enabling industry to adjust to the challenges ahead.

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At its heart, this means designing our businesses, infrastructure and manufacturing processes to be more resilient. Businesses must harness the power of data and insights to allow teams to collaborate closely and more effectively.

This is not a theoretical challenge. The world is faced with a race against time to meet the huge demand for new housing from an ever-growing population, estimated to hit 10 billion by 2050, according to data from the UN. This means that about 13,000 new buildings must be built every day just to keep pace with demand.

If this was not daunting enough, the fact that 30 per cent of all the world’s waste every year comes from the construction industry reveals the true complexity of the challenges ahead.

We must do more, better and with less, if we are going to be successful.

Identifying the goals

By aligning business objectives with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we can find a way through.

There are 17 SDGs in total and they include providing access to renewable energy; building resilient infrastructure; promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation; fostering innovation; making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns; and taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Climate change is a significant issue for the UAE and the wider Gulf region. According to research conducted by the Stockholm Environment Institute’s US centre in 2010, the UAE could lose up to 6 per cent of its 1,300-kilometre stretch of coastline by the end of the century because of rising sea levels. This is a significant impact when you consider that 85 per cent of the population and more than 90 per cent of the UAE’s infrastructure is within several metres of sea level in low-lying coastal areas.

Furthermore, a joint report in 2015 by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), the UAE-based Masdar Institute and the UAE Foreign Affairs Ministry’s directorate of energy and climate change found that increasing renewables to 10 per cent of the country’s total energy mix, and 25 per cent of total power generation, could generate annual savings of $1.9bn by 2030 through the avoidance of fossil-fuel consumption and lower energy costs.

Resolving these concerns and achieving targets will require new and innovative ways of doing things.

In practice, that means technology must enable customers to design and make products, buildings and even entire cities that promote healthy, resilient communities.

But what does that mean for the UAE?

Tapping into new opportunities

The UAE has a significant construction market, but like many places around the world, it is one that is faced with the challenge of tackling waste and high vehicle use. It can prepare for a new future by adapting to emerging technologies that have the potential to deliver a better life for its communities.  

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This will be done by helping designers and engineers to gain insights into the impact of everyday decisions about materials and energy use.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) based generative design and the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3), a tool that gives builders and designers information about the embodied carbon impact of building materials during the materials selection process, are already enabling customers to use resources more efficiently and productively, thereby saving money and reducing carbon emissions.

Technology must also be used to further enhance people’s ability to adapt, grow and prosper alongside increasing levels of automation.

The power of the cloud really came to the fore in 2020 as millions of people worked remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This technology helped school children to attend classes from home, and helped construction teams on different continents continue to collaborate in an effective and productive manner that allowed projects to be completed.

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These factors, coupled with newer, three-dimensional (3D) design tools, make everything from products to building design far easier to create in ways that reduce waste while saving on time and cost.

Generative design, which is an iterative design process that can mimic nature’s evolutionary approach to create unique designs, is becoming increasingly prevalent within industry. Designers input their set of conditions for a project into a computer and then an algorithm will automate the process by going through many different permutations of the design to find the form that is best suited to the requirements.

There is no one technological solution to the problems we face, but by adopting a more sustainable approach that encompasses a broader range of technologies, these challenges can be overcome.