Sustainability in construction - Storck-Baugesellschaft
Christoph Mueller is Managing Director at Storck-Baugesellschaft, which specialises in refurbishment and upgrading. He holds a degree in engineering from RWTH Aachen University and an MBA. He started as a construction manager at Storck and then became managing director via branch manager and commercial manager. The Storck construction company specialises in technically demanding construction projects with tight deadlines and often has to deal with the modernisation or extension of already existing building projects. Mr Mueller reports on the urgency of more sustainability in the construction industry - ecologically and socially.
Sustainability in construction today
When it comes to the digitalisation of the construction industry, a big driver is the increase in efficiency that comes from streamlining processes and the associated reduction in costs. Since one of the biggest problems of our time is climate change, the aspect of sustainability should also be considered when it comes to future solutions. Christoph Mueller from Storck-Baugesellschaft talks to us about the opportunities and challenges of the construction industry with regard to ecological and social sustainability.
It has already become clear in our e-book that the construction industry has a major impact on the climate crisis. Around 50 % of the annual volume of raw materials is needed for construction, and almost 60 % of the annual volume of waste is generated by the demolition of buildings. In addition, existing properties, especially older, poorly insulated buildings, produce a lot of CO₂. This gives building in the existing fabric an important role: renovating buildings in a way that conserves resources as much as possible so that they become more sustainable.
Initiated by politics, more and more data is being collected on the sustainability of existing and emerging buildings. In Christoph Mueller's eyes, however, there is still a lot of need:
"The ESG initiatives that are set by the government, which first make something like this measurable, are good beginnings. In my opinion, they don't go far enough - the topic of building in existing contexts, for example, is still completely left out.
Currently, the focus is first on making values about the sustainability of building measurable in order to create a basis for comparison. This starting point can then be used to implement the various policy requirements. The ESG factors were adopted by the EU in order to get closer to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. ESG stands for Ecological (ecological), Social (social) and Governance (corporate management) and defines concrete requirements that are intended to steer private investments increasingly towards sustainable activities. This is also accompanied by the Taxonomy Regulation, which aims to increase investors' awareness of the environmental impact of, for example, real estate funds.
In order to comply with such specifications, corresponding data must be collected, evaluated and compared. A process that can be greatly simplified through digitalisation.
Incentives through visibility
The certifications that go hand in hand with the political requirements are causing an increasing interest in investing in these properties. However, this is more likely to be the case for the larger, more high-profile projects, says Christoph Mueller:
"It's more the high-end buildings where this happens. They can be marketed very well, and there is already a huge demand for sustainable project developments worldwide. But the smaller project developers and the family-owned companies that only hold a few properties are not yet so concerned with it. After all, it's also about getting a return."
The pressure for more sustainability is higher in larger cities because there is more attention. Such buildings go into so-called sustainability funds, which makes them easier to market and attracts more attention. Large investors already see this as a good long-term investment. In addition, it is relatively foreseeable that the taxonomy will become even stricter in the next few years, which will make the issue even more important.
Resource conservation through revitalisation
To save raw materials and reduce waste, existing buildings can be revitalised instead of building new ones. The fact that old buildings should not always be demolished straight away has to do with resource conservation and culture, says Christoph Mueller:
"One should consider what makes sense to build new? If you take the KaDeWe in Berlin or the Dreischeibenhaus in Düsseldorf as examples, these are fantastic buildings. You have to imagine what would be lost in terms of culture if something like that were demolished, that would be dramatic."
After all, building in existing structures can also make buildings more sustainable without having to intervene too much in the building structure. By installing insulating façades and modern air-conditioning technology, energy consumption can be kept low during operation. In addition, a digital twin can be created so that information can be accessed more easily in the future. At the same time, demolition of the building is not necessarily less costly if sorted materials have to be separated and pollutants filtered out. One advantage, of course, is the increased flexibility when creating a new object from scratch.
Increased attractiveness on the labour market through technology
The climate crisis is not the only challenge facing the construction industry. Social sustainability is also becoming increasingly important, and the shortage of skilled workers is putting additional pressure on companies. Digitalisation can save resources by simplifying processes. In addition, the industry is becoming more interesting for future generations, as technology plays a major role in the lives of younger people in particular. Employees today are increasingly demanding that their work is also fun. Working in a team with shared responsibility for a project creates incentives to do a good job. Christoph Mueller on this:
"If you use a platform together with subcontractors, it simplifies the processes enormously. That's also very important for employees; you don't want to work in such a backward industry. You want to see that there is a development and then it is much more fun for the people.
Of course, in the construction industry it is not always possible to offer all employees the same flexibility as in other industries. Especially because of the pandemic, many have come to appreciate the home office. Something like this cannot be set up in the same way for all jobs in construction projects. Therefore, construction companies should increase the attractiveness of jobs in other ways. Collaborative work on projects, which can be facilitated by platforms, among other things, also increases the fun factor. In addition, work on the construction sites themselves can be made more contemporary through the use of robots, virtual reality and other tools.
Standardisation at Storck
Our last article was about the standardisation of processes and how this facilitates digitisation. With frequently repeating project processes, it quickly becomes apparent what can be standardised.
Storck, on the other hand, is often about unique, complicated building projects. The KaDeWe has already been mentioned as an example project for building in the existing fabric. Other Storck projects included the Dreischeibenhaus in Düsseldorf, which was renovated with consideration for the partially listed façade in the middle of the city centre, or the installation of a round escalator eye in a department store in Berlin during ongoing business operations. These diverse projects do not create too much routine in the construction process. This brings challenges, but also variety, says Christoph Mueller:
"Change is a daily routine for us, our employees know that from the construction site. You have to be very flexible, the planning can change at short notice - something like that becomes part of your DNA and our employees all find this tension very good.
Obtaining data on the buildings before such projects is also a challenge every now and then. Nowadays, when buildings are constructed, a digital twin is created in most cases. This is not the case in most renovation projects, because many people are still afraid of the effort involved in such digitisation. At the same time, the additional effort of good planning can ultimately generate corresponding cost and schedule security. Christoph Mueller also knows that this is a sensible investment in the long run:
"Those who invest more in planning are much further ahead in the project. Professional planning saves you from one or two surprises.
At Storck, experience has shown that planning is facilitated from the outset in construction projects with a digital twin. This means that unpleasant surprises, for example incorrect or missing breakthroughs, as could happen a few years ago, can be avoided and collision planning can be carried out before construction begins. Most construction projects are under time pressure, especially from investors, so every opportunity to save time should be welcome. Christoph Mueller describes it as a vicious circle:
"You actually need a quick decision, but you don't have a basis yet. For a project to start, the financing has to be in place and for that you need reliable offers as an investor. But you can only get them if you have a reasonable plan.
Most of the time, these decisions are made too quickly, without the basis of mature planning. If there are then delays, buildings stand empty for longer and remain unused, depriving investors of income.
The added value of digitalisation is actually obvious, isn't it?
"Yes, of course, it helps everyone. In the end, it would also be a way to make oneself more transparent on the investor side. You can keep track of how costs are developing. When you hear about construction projects like the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, where there have been enormous cost increases, you ask yourself, why wasn't this predicted beforehand using models? With digital models, a more accurate forecast could be made, so you just have to be more honest with yourself.
Larger companies in the industry have already recognised the added value of digital solutions. An awakening can be felt, confirms Christoph Mueller. But most construction companies and subcontractors are small businesses for which the changeover is a major difficulty. Not only because they may lack the know-how, but also because the order situation is still so good that they do not have the capacity for it.
That's why it's important, especially as a general contractor, to involve your subcontractors. But Christoph Mueller knows that this requires a lot of sensitivity:
"You don't know who among the subcontractors is open to this? You don't want to force anything on the companies that they may not be ready for. But I think even the small companies realise that in the long run you can't avoid the topic of digitalisation.
However, in order for digitisation to be implemented holistically and sustainably in the industry, everyone has to join in. Christoph Mueller is convinced that this is good in the long run.
Expectations of digital solutions
There are already a number of start-ups and other initiatives whose products are intended to simplify building in the future. With the help of virtual reality, digital objects can be created that facilitate and illustrate planning. At the moment, data still has to be digitally recorded afterwards, but if new buildings have a digital twin right from the start, this will become easier in the future. Digital solutions can already provide support there, when video recordings transform existing buildings into digital objects. In addition, the preparation of such projects can be shortened if digital solutions can be used to measure more quickly, says Christoph Mueller:
"That is, of course, the issue for investors and owners. That it's easier to measure a building and transfer the stock before we come into contact with it. A lot of time goes by there, but it's getting easier and easier and you can already see that something is happening."
But Christoph Mueller sees other major advantages of digitalisation. As already discussed, social sustainability and the attractiveness of jobs in the construction industry also play a major role. Digital platforms create new project spaces in which people can work together across teams. Christoph Mueller is convinced that the networking of the various project participants can create a completely different dynamic.
"You should use digital platforms to bring teams together better, to do team building and so also to make it more fun. Because those are the expectations of younger people, that work is fun."
Meeting the expectations of future generations is very important in view of the shortage of skilled workers. Collaboration is an aspect that is often mentioned in the context of the expected change in the construction industry. A healthy balance should be found between digital and analogue, which shows that something is happening in the industry. Platforms on which people can work together as a team direct the focus on the success of the project as a joint project. This creates a shared sense of responsibility and, when projects are completed, a shared sense of achievement. When trust takes hold, there is a more pleasant way of working, as work is not only done through pressure from investors or project management. Instead, the completion of projects is seen as a team effort.
Learn more about the digitalisation of the construction industry in our e-book
Will the next generation of contractors make the industry more digital?