Sustainable and resilient built environment

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis has played a role in accelerating the transformation of the construction sector. However, as with every change, there will always be winners as well as losers. In a webinar hosted by The Big 5, a panel of industry experts examined the new normal in construction and what it means for the built environment.

  • Dr Marzia Bolpagni, Senior BIM Advisor, Mace
  • Christophe Sykes, Director General, Construction Products Europe
  • Eugenio Quintieri, Secretary-General, European Builders Confederation
  • Lars Fredenlund, CEO, Cobuilder AS
  • Paul Surin, Global Lead BIM & Built Environment, IBM UK
  • Arian Zwegers, Programme Manager - Unit for Technologies and Systems for Digitising Industry, EU commission
Key takeaways:
  • Improving the construction industry through digital transformation requires a collaborative effort from all actors in the value chain
  • The adoption of BIM requires regulations that offer an existing framework and standards that provide the technical language
  • Having a people-centric approach in constructing the built environment has become increasingly important in the new normal

The state of digitalisation in the built environment

The latest data from the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Sociality Index (DESI) shows that only 11% of the construction sector companies in the EU are highly digitised. So although we are just at the start of the journey to the adoption of Building Information Modeling (BIM) in the built environment, its adoption and use is increasingly becoming ‘business as usual’ for many companies involved in the industry.

And while there is often talk about the lack of digitalisation in the construction sector, there is not enough talk about the high levels of investment in digital construction all over the world. So while construction appears to be the new “El Dorado” for IT companies, there are still a number of missed opportunities and challenges to overcome in the industry.

The importance of standardisation and regulation in BIM

It is imperative to have a common definition of BIM. Standardisation is a key element in BIM, allowing industry stakeholders to work together, in all markets and to continue to innovate. Standardisation allows the industry to have a common ground on which to start a conversation and to do business.

Regulation means that there is one piece of legislation that is the same across all parties and, behind the controls; there is an enormous number of standards. Market surveillance is there to ensure that the product is safe and has fulfilled all the requirements outlined in the standards.

Regulations offer an existing framework and standards provide the technical language, via data templates, to compare products and specify requirements for buildings and infrastructure. In terms of digitalisation, standards are required to provide guidance on how to have a common language for different software platforms. There needs to be a framework for digitising this language with a focus on machine readability.

Today, the digitalisation of the construction sector is hugely fragmented, with a considerable number of actors. When you apply this consideration to the SMEs operating in the industry, this becomes even more apparent. When you are a relatively small actor in the value chain, it is difficult to invest in the tools and technologies required for digitalisation, as well as on upskilling the staff.

Digitalisation often only makes sense when it is an added value and an enabler to achieve other objectives. SMEs and entrepreneurs are more inclined to embrace change when they have seen efficiency and economic advantage to embracing digital transformation.

COVID-19 and the construction industry

The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing crisis that came as a complete surprise for all sectors. However, to date, there is also no clear indication of what the final impact will be on the construction and manufacturing sector in the long term.

The construction process is such that contractors are delivering to contracts that have already been signed. However, contractors are reporting that they are now running out of contracts. So, while there is a hope for a return to normal in terms of production, if the clients and investments are gone, we are facing a big problem in the future.

As with any crisis, as well as with any journey of transformation, there are always winners and losers in every scenario. For some companies, being forced to think in new ways and perhaps in terms of how technology can streamline processes can be seen as having a positive impact. However, within this journey, it is vital to ensure that SMEs - often seen at the backbone of the sector - are not forgotten and left to disappear as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Having a people-centric approach in constructing the built environment becomes increasingly important in the new normal. This involves taking into consideration how the end-users would like their space to be designed, with a view of a new way of interacting with each other. Whether this is a permanent or a temporary reality, it is important to keep this dialogue with the demand-side strong in order to provide more efficient solutions to reduce the associated risks.

The journey towards net-zero carbon

In the quest to ultimately achieve zero-net carbon, it is imperative to have standardisation in digitalisation in order to accomplish bigger goals. Digitalisation is an enabler to solve these types of complex and urgent topics we are facing today.

Importantly, to be able to talk about zero-carbon, this needs to be expressed through data. By making this data digital, we are ultimately able to connect the framework with the delivery of results; without measurable data, we will end up with data silos. Having a standard language would steer the industry away from the situation it is in today into a more structured way of thinking with machine languages.

SMEs also play a big part in what will be the green transformation of the construction sector. Digitalisation can bring an added value; however, it is not the only topic when it comes to the circular economy in construction. We need green procurement, green projects and green manufacturing, and to achieve these, we need to have the funds to upskill the workers involved in the circularisation of the industry.


The construction industry was one of the hardest-hit sectors by the COVID-19 crisis. However, we are now at the stage of the crisis lifecycle where the industry is focusing less on the health-related issues and more on what can be done to aid the recovery of the economy. Maintaining a strong focus on what you want to achieve, with a clear business case, is important for everyone involved in the construction industry;  it is equally important to work out how to get things done in a faster, greener, more efficient and more digital way.

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