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How the digital revolution can support Net Zero Carbon

Stephen Boyle, Strategic Programme Manager of the Built Environment at Zero Waste Scotland explores the digital investments the construction sector needs to make to achieve Scotland’s ambitious Net Zero Carbon targets.

The UK has set a target to become a net zero society by 2050 with Scotland going for the even more ambitious target of 2045. But is the construction sector ready to deliver?

Net zero carbon is an enormous challenge for the sector, particularly when we consider embodied carbon; the carbon in the materials and products that go into the fabric of our buildings and infrastructure.  

This is where the digital revolution can help. New technologies have the potential to transform the industry.  Innovation like off-site manufacturing, augmented reality, laser scanning, BIM, digital twins and artificial intelligence all have potential to advance the sector.

Technologies like these can reduce material use and construction waste, while improving quality, collaboration and supporting regulatory compliance. They will improve the lifetime value for the client and increase sector productivity, efficiency, and profits. 

Digital technologies can support the design process to consider the whole life carbon of a building or infrastructure. We will need to reuse the materials in the buildings we live in today if we want to deliver a net zero building* .  Today’s buildings are the material banks of the future and digital solutions within the sector will help us make this happen.  

Over the last six-months, Zero Waste Scotland has supported 10 Scottish businesses to introduce digital solutions.  
We supported a Scottish roofing company to identify 130 tonnes of carbon savings per year, and £74,000 cost savings, through the introduction of Building information Modelling/Management (BIM) software.
We supported a Scottish house builder to implement BIM.  The potential savings identified for a 50-plot site was up to 74 tonnes of carbon and £87,500 in cost savings. 
We supported a small Scottish construction firm where the implementation of BIM could save 33 tonnes of carbon per year. 
Working with a Scottish infrastructure SME we identified carbon savings of 44 tonnes of carbon per year through integration of digital systems. 

These projects have proven the carbon savings available from digital solutions in SMEs, but there is a great deal of work needed to make the adoption widespread across the sector. 

BIM is widely used in our largest companies and we’ve heard of some of the fantastic developments in creation of digital twins, in studies such as BAMB**  (Buildings as Material Banks). However, uptake is still limited to the smallest fraction of our sector and mainly in our largest organisations. 

Making up 99% of Scotland’s construction sector, SMEs face the largest barrier to uptake with limited access to software and knowledge.  Education, skills, and knowledge sharing are key to a digital revolution.  

The Scottish Leadership Forum’s ‘Industry Draft Recovery Plan’***  recognises the importance of the technology for the sector and acknowledges the need for “upskilling the workforce for a digitalised industry”.  

In Ireland, the Project Ireland 2040^  initiative is looking at the creation of a ‘national digital centre of building information modelling’ .  This is the type of initiative we need to see across the whole of the UK.

Lack of investment in digital solutions will impact on our competitiveness and ability to achieve government climate targets.  This needs to be addressed through widescale industry investment in digital infrastructure if we are to meet our net zero carbon ambitions.

To find out more about our work in the construction industry, and to and to see some inspiring case studies have a look at Zero Waste Scotland website



The new age of construction: technology as an enabler. A virtual CIRIA conference 
10 March 2021
Join Stephen and a host of industry experts at this event as they outline how advancements in technology are boosting productivity, streamlining construction processes, generating data to inform strategic decisions and supporting whole-life performance. Be sure to book your place.