Data is both a challenge and opportunity within sustainable construction

SundaHus skulle have stået for debatten “Conscious choices – Undesirable chemicals in construction materials and how to effectively reduce and keep track of them” på Building Green Aarhus i marts 2020, som desværre blev aflyst på grund af coronavirus. Building Green Aarhus vender tilbage i 2021. I dette indlæg kan du læse et interview med Jan Boström, CTO i SundaHus, som blev lavet inden aflysningen. 
 

How does SundaHus work with sustainability?

With SundaHus Material Data, SundaHus make it easy for anyone involved in a construction project to find out if the product they plan to use complies with the project’s specific environmental requirements. It does not matter if those requirements are standard ones stipulated by a green building certification scheme, or if they are unique to that specific project. We also make it easy to handle deviations and create the product logbook that some of those schemes, or maybe just a foresighted building owner, requires. SundaHus believes that by making conscious product choices easy, not requiring special knowledge or a lot of time, we lower the threshold for them to happen. As a result, SundaHus also makes it possible for building owners and other stakeholders to raise their environmental requirements. Since it is now possible to live up to them within normal budget and time constraints.
 

What challenges and opportunities does SundaHus face in sustainable construction?

Data! Even though there are other challenges, data tends to pop up and it is both a challenge and an opportunity. Regardless of what you want to do when it comes to sustainability and circularity within the construction sector: When you try to scale it up, access or lack of access to relevant data is very often the difference between success and failure. If you want to lower your CO₂ footprint, you need LCA data, preferably product specific. If you want to make sure you avoid hazardous chemicals in your building, both to improve the indoor environment but also to reduce risks and prepare for construction product reuse in a more circular future, you need the content information. A material passport if you like. It is not acceptable that it might take many hours to first dig that information up and then assess it for a single product. A building consists of thousands of products, so if this is going to scale and become the standard way of doing things, we need to have the data easily accessible in a structured way, enabling automatic decision support and aggregation.
 
On the other hand, we have spent a lot of time to manually gather and structure data for over 190,000 articles, which puts us in a unique position to deliver our services in a cost-efficient way. This is of course an opportunity for us, but in the long run, manually typing data for thousands of products into our, or any other, system is not sustainable.
 

What sustainable choices and dilemmas in construction are we facing right now? And how do we solve them?

The built environment is responsible for a significant part of Europe’s resource consumption, use of hazardous chemicals and greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, the build environment is crucial for our society and everyday life, i.e. we will not stop building things. To me, that is a great opportunity, since I am convinced that we can improve the way we build things so that we use less hazardous chemicals and reduce the material consumption as well as the greenhouse gas emissions. If we do that in such a large industry, we will make a huge positive impact on a global scale.
 
The good news is that we already have a lot of knowledge about how to do this, and there is a lot of promising research and development taking place. As an example, I have been deeply involved in the EU funded project Buildings As Material Banks, a.k.a. BAMB, where we have shown that buildings can be designed in a more flexible way, allowing them to be easily adopted to changing demands without them, or the materials removed, losing value. However, the challenge we are now facing as an industry is the transition from theories, pilots and high-profile demonstration projects to business as usual. Don’t get me wrong, all those other things are good and necessary as first steps, but we must also take the next steps. We must make these solutions commercially viable by cutting away unnecessary overhead and streamline all those small decisions that are needed all through the process to really make it happen. Here I believe digitalization can play a central part. It is not the solution, but it is a necessary enabler for the solution.
 

SundaHus is behind the debate “Conscious choices – Undesirable chemicals in construction materials and how to effectively reduce and keep track of them”, why do you see it as an important debate?

Everyone that has been in the construction industry for a while know about asbestos. We also know that the problem has been identified and, except for all those places old asbestos might show up, is now handled. What is not equally well known is that there still is a real problem with undesirable chemicals in construction materials. It is a problem here and now, but it is also hampering the future reuse of products and materials. We will discuss both aspects.
 
But this session is not just about the problem, it is even more about what we can do about it. How does the different green building certification schemes help? What is SundaHus’ experience from using our system for conscious product choices and logging in over 5,000 real-world construction projects in Sweden? What can we do today and what is needed to do it even better tomorrow?
 
I think this, both the problems and the solutions, are important to discuss, since it is much more cost-efficient to do it right to start with then to try to fix it afterwards.
 
Last, but not least, I hope to learn more from the participants on what specific challenges and opportunities they see when it comes conscious material choices.