Bentley Systems’ director, ES(D)G, Rodrigo Fernandes, will be participating in a panel discussion on integrating sustainability and resilience into infrastructure development and project delivery, at Environment Analyst's upcoming Global Business Summit (27-28 June, Chicago). Here he shares his insights before the event.
BY RODRIGO FERNANDES
When you’re faced with the enormous task of decarbonizing infrastructure, where do you begin?
"You start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can."
This call to action, often attributed to tennis legend and social activist Arthur Ashe, has inspired many to pursue meaningful goals and create positive change in society.
With infrastructure responsible for 79% of total greenhouse gas emissions and 88% of all adaptation costs (according to the UNOPS ‘Infrastructure for climate action’ report), the world needs unprecedented transformation to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs) and future-proof infrastructure. That’s a big lift.
The good news is, we can start now, right where we are, using existing technology and data intelligence to decarbonize infrastructure and make it more resilient.
A "double transition," going digital and empowering sustainable development goals, is no longer just a vision. It is imperative for future-ready infrastructure, organizations and communities, and this double transition is already taking place. Going digital has a key role to play in sustainable development goals during this decisive Decade of Action on climate change.
With the help of digital twins, we can dramatically accelerate decarbonization now while reducing costs, even in hard-to-abate sectors like construction, water, electrical utilities, and transportation.
So, where do we start?
Prioritize sustainability principles and levers
To achieve quick wins in carbon reduction, we can start by prioritizing sustainability principles that are key to transformative change in infrastructure. These principles include circularity and recycling, efficiency, and diversification of renewable energy sources.
When specific principles are identified and prioritized on a project, we can accelerate sustainability goals with the support of proven technologies that will work as sustainability levers. Cloud computing, web services, machine learning, artificial intelligence, numerical models, and XR, when orchestrated by infrastructure digital twins, can help project teams visualize and analyze data. These technologies enable better-informed decisions for reducing waste and lowering carbon emissions in the construction and operation of infrastructure.
Here’s how some organizations are prioritizing sustainability principles:
1. Circularity and recycling
For the HS2 rail project in the UK, engineers were tasked with excavating approximately 25 million cubic meters for the 250-mile rail project. They worked with a third party to develop a material reuse assessment tool that integrates geological information and building information modeling (geoBIM) methods, incorporating 3D spatial analysis. The geoBIM tool helped to analyze subsurface data to support the classification of on-site material before excavation, enabling better-informed decisions on material reuse and storage, thereby reducing overall carbon footprints and environmental impact.
Unity Place is a consolidation of four existing buildings in Milton Keynes, UK. The project required implementing challenging sustainability goals, including aggressive green certifications, embodied carbon targets, rooftop solar panels, and bioclimatic architecture strategies. Engineers acted in the early stages of the project to reduce the environmental footprint, relying on concrete slab design and geotechnical engineering software to dramatically increase efficiency and simplify the design and construction phases. The specific use of structural analysis software to design the concrete slabs contributed significantly to the building’s low carbon emissions. Circularity techniques were also applied, replacing 50% of the cement in the concrete mix with a recycled alternative.
3. Diversification of renewable energy sources
Ormat Technologies operates geothermal power plants in six countries worldwide. The company uses data-driven 3D models to better inform optimum well design. By linking its predictive numerical models with 3D geothermal conceptual models, the company can make more meaningful predictions of geothermal resource behavior over a longer period, leading to better performance and more sustainable outcomes.
Leverage open ecosystem collaboration
Decarbonizing large infrastructure projects and their complex supply chains brings multiple challenges: long-lived assets, multiple lifecycle stages, and multiple stakeholders, disciplines, applications, formats, and siloed data. These challenges are best addressed with open, collaborative ecosystems.
The top three benefits of using open, ecosystem collaboration in infrastructure projects are:
- 1. Allows stakeholders to take their IP, applications, and data with them without being locked into a specific vendor. As a result, it accelerates engineering firms’ "digital integrator" initiatives to create and curate asset-specific digital twins, incorporating their proprietary machine learning, analytics, and asset performance algorithms.
- 2. Ensures data federation, reuse, interoperability, flexibility, transparency, a reduction of siloed information, and more efficient collaboration across the entire lifecycle and supply chain.
- 3. Facilitates and automates lifecycle assessments, and properly quantifies associated carbon emissions in all lifecycle stages, and in all scopes (1, 2, and 3).
The world will need unprecedented adaptation to achieve the SDGs and future-proof infrastructure. Because digital transition and sustainable development goals go hand in hand, we can employ digital twin solutions as an enabler and accelerator for real-world change. And, by adopting open ecosystem collaboration, we can fill the gaps and accelerate a successful transition when decarbonizing even the largest of infrastructure projects.
Now is the time to implement low-carbon, climate-resilient pathways to deliver results – in the short term and, in multiple cases, reduce costs. Many early movers are already driving down that path, future-proofing their infrastructure. Let’s follow their lead.
Rodrigo Fernandes, Director, ES(D)G, Bentley Systems
Rodrigo leads the corporate sustainability strategy for accelerating net positive environmental impacts empowered by the products and services provided by Bentley Systems, a leading global provider of software solutions and digital twin cloud services to advance infrastructure design, construction, and operations.
Previously, Rodrigo worked in software development and applied technologies in environmental engineering and modeling systems: developing and implementing disruptive technologies for a) flood resilience solutions in cities and critical infrastructure, b) transport and dispersion of air and water pollutants in rivers, estuaries, and coastal areas. He has also executed and coordinated various R&D and consultancy services related to water resources management, environmental safety and preparedness & response to incidents, and innovative risk assessment methodologies.
Hear more from Rodrigo at Environment Analyst’s Global Business Summit (27-28 June, Chicago), where he will be participating in a panel discussion, alongside the Federal Railroad Administration, US Dept. of Transportation, Jacobs, AECOM and Climate Resilience Consulting, on developing resilient and sustainable infrastructure.
Make sure to join sustainability consulting leaders, clients and stakeholders at the Summit this June, and get crucial intelligence on how sustainability and ESG drivers are impacting the North American market and how to respond to these.