Martin Huber, CEO and co-founder of 3D modelling and spatial data company Amrax, discusses how 3D visualisation can help companies achieve their sustainability goals.

As demonstrated by the latest tirade of weather extremes, there remains a marked gap between net zero promises and on-the-ground action. With this, 2024 has widely been touted as the year to go beyond ambition and take the meaningful action needed to keep 1.5 degrees alive. With construction accounting for 39 per cent of the world’s annual carbon emissions1, it is clear that the sector must bear a large share of the responsibility.

At the same time though, infrastructure demand is vast as growing populations and rapid urbanisation continue to compel an urgent need for more homes and buildings. Thus the task lies in achieving a lot more with a lot less.

While certainly no easy feat, the good news is that there are solutions that can help. Take, for example, the role that virtualisation can play in supporting more sustainable construction, planning and design. Of course, most professionals involved in the built environment will already be well acquainted with the 3D visualisation concept. After all, Building Information Modelling (BIM) - the process of designing and managing a building throughout its lifecycle using a 3D equivalent of the building – has been in play now for a number of years, enabling all involved parties to collaborate in real-time, detect clashes and costly avoid errors.

Notably, however, the BIM approach has been largely confined to the early planning and construction stages. Yet some of 3D virtualisation’s biggest benefits really come to light when in use post-build, particularly when it comes to supporting sustainability efforts.

Take, for example, refurbishment projects. When BIM technologies are partnered with the latest generation of 3D modelling and spatial data capture, the ability to scan rooms and generate quick true-to-scale 3D models to optimise resource utilisation and improve energy efficiency can be transformative for building operators.

Foremost, using this platform can enable operators to really drill down into how buildings and individual rooms are used in practice - everything from the areas of highest frequency through to which windows lose the most heat and the efficiency of insulation or the scope for natural lighting. This information, coupled with simulation of building performance under different environmental conditions, can enable operators to make subtle tweaks to the design of their office and facilities for energy efficiency, daylighting and thermal comfort, leading to reduced energy consumption and carbon impact.

This knowledge can also prove invaluable in terms of validating the business case for sustainable options. In a traditional setup, for example, the inclination might be to use a standard product as the most cost competitive option; chances being that it will, most likely, have a shorter operating life and increased carbon impact than an eco-design alternative. By enabling a holistic view into not only the visual performance but overall ROI of each option via data and analytics however, the argument for investing in more sustainable options - many which offer an extended lifespan - becomes more obvious and ‘sellable’.

But the benefits do not quite end there. Virtualisation also enables real-time monitoring and analysis of the environmental impact and performance of products and processes throughout the entire life cycle of a building. Even when a refurbishment is over, this level of granular information and insight means operators are able to proactively manage assets, improve operational reliability, and extend their life cycle by scheduling repairs and replacements ahead of time.

By analysing factors such as embodied energy, carbon emissions, and resource depletion, it also makes it easier to view the ongoing impact of green technologies or processes over the entire life of a building and make informed choices that minimise environmental impact.

And that’s just the start. Eventually, the majority of buildings will be embedded with smart devices and beacons that will monitor energy consumption and a range of other factors in real-time. When combined with AI automation and visualisation platforms, we’ll have an incredibly powerful set of tools to create ultra-efficient and highly responsive ‘living buildings' that will use considerably less energy and resources to maintain. With AI, spatial data and 3D visualisation advancing hand-in-hand, the speed and precision of room and building design and ongoing maintenance are only going to accelerate. Machine learning algorithms will become even more powerful in helping to create design proposals with optimal efficiency.

As the building sector comes under new pressure to go greener, virtualisation offers an important tool in helping to achieve greater sustainability, efficiency and, in turn, pave the way for the net zero trajectory.