Embrace sustainability to get ahead

New analyst research points to the adoption of sustainability strategies as key drivers in providing companies with a competitive edge

Shining a light on technical and environmental trends driving AEC and infrastructure is a new report from Autodesk in partnership with global consulting partner, Frost & Sullivan, which shines a light on sustainability initiatives and maturity levels in Northern Europe. It is particularly relevant when you relate it to the drive towards Net Zero Carbon as outlined by ICE President Rachel Skinner elswhere in this issue, as it details the benefits that can also accrue alongside a climate initiative.

The report combines quantitative interviews with 600 business decision makers plus 24 in-depth qualitative interviews with sustainability leaders in AEC and manufacturing industries. It also explores the new areas of digital sustainability being pursued in the path towards Net Zero. The research includes the UK & Ireland, Nordics (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland), and Benelux Regions.

The findings illustrate the need to enhance sustainability across all sectors and highlight that action is already underway - more apparent in the Nordics where the majority surveyed (91%) have a dedicated sustainability team, falling to 81% in Benelux and 78% in the UK and Ireland.

The distinction may be caused by stronger regulation and strategic direction from leadership in the Nordics, with nearly three-quarters of companies in the region (73%) believing it to be driving their sustainability agenda. With more regulations on their way and increasing macro pressures on markets, further adoption of sustainable best practices across the regions is likely.

Adopting sustainable practices has two clear winners, a better use of resources and less waste for the AEC sector (70%), followed by reduced energy consumption (64%). (73% and 74% were the comparable figures for manufacturing). Half of AEC respondents also believe sustainable practices improved project quality. The findings also indicate that the use of renewable energy, better material choices and circularity approaches could lower environmental impacts further.

Why embrace sustainability? 86% of respondents said customer retention played an important role, followed by customer expectations at 84%. Sustainability is also viewed as a competitive advantage (76%). The Nordics maturity in sustainability best practices; regulation and market forces were also highest (73%) compared with the UK (48%) and Benelux (29%).

Though customers were an important influencer, employees were the second driver for firms (63%) followed by the supply chain and partners (61%) and company leadership (61%). Investors came lowest overall (45%) but were more important for the UK and Ireland (57%).

Today, 85% of companies are investing in improved workflows (reducing waste and energy consumption) to become more sustainable, with 62% citing this will increase in the next two years. Another area of investment is in technology and software, with almost three quarters (74%) currently investing, and 53% expecting this to increase. The role of data to better inform decisions and break down siloes in organisations is clearly evident.

Despite the encouraging benefits highlighted above, the report then addresses some of the issues raised earlier on in this issue of our magazine. The benefits of sustainability might be clear, but firms are still facing challenges in implementing strategies across both industries. Access to skills and training (33%) and a lack of financial resources are the most common challenge (39%). It is also unclear whether firms can track cost benefits for sustainability against an initial investment, with only 22% able to claim a cost reduction, compared to 31% claiming the impact on costs was neutral and 46% stating there was an increase in costs.

Mike Pettinella, EMEA Director, Autodesk says: "The findings show we understand the need to enhance sustainability across the AEC and manufacturing sectors, and that companies are on the right path. In the UK, empowering people to design, collaborate, build, and fabricate in ways that improve productivity - to reduce waste, and stay competitive - will play a huge role in achieving the Government's objectives set out in the National Infrastructure Strategy and the National Adaptation Programme."

Regarding the wider European field, Fredrick Royan, VP, Sustainability and Circular Economy, Frost & Sullivan, and lead author of the report, added: "The built environment in Europe has a crucial role in achieving the objectives of the Green Deal, accounting for about 40% of energy consumption and about one-third of CO2 emissions. A third of the building stock is older than 50 years and 75% energy inefficient. The disjointed nature of the AEC industry in Europe is, however, witnessing a B2B partnership driven by common interest towards carbon reduction and net zero.

"From dynamic BIM processes to digital twins, designers, manufacturers and builders can now make informed decisions based on real-world conditions using sensor data and intelligent models, helping businesses achieve better outcomes for people throughout the lifecycles of products, buildings, and infrastructure."