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Intelligent solutions to digitally decarbonise construction

With a climate emergency officially declared by over 300 councils around the UK, the public sector building programme is looking for answers to its carbon problem

Construction has a problem: carbon. According to the World Green Building Council, the built environment is responsible for 39% of all carbon emissions. To put that in perspective, the global aviation industry accounts for little more than 2% of anthropogenic CO2.

Climate action is now the new normal

Of course, climate change is not a new problem for business, in general; or construction, in particular. Morgan Sindall Construction, for example, has been operating at the forefront of action to decarbonise the built environment now for more than a decade.

The firm is part of the construction and regeneration business Morgan Sindall Group, which has set itself an ambitious target to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030. In recognition of its efforts, the group was awarded an ‘A’ score for leadership in 2020 from CDP, the not-for-profit charity that runs the global carbon disclosure system, and for the second year in a row, were recognised in the Financial Times Statista Climate Change Leader list, which looks at firms who’ve achieved the largest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions intensity. 

In today’s market, addressing corporate responsibilities to both the planet and society are fast becoming the new normal for success in the built environment and the business case is clear, says Pat Boyle, managing director at Morgan Sindall Construction: “Enhanced by a strong focus on social value, our ambition is to be the most sought-after and sustainable business in our industry. Central to this vision is our strategy for decarbonising communities, which underpins and aligns with our own net zero targets.”

In effect, sustainability is a team game. As good as any team might be, however, it needs the tools to do the job

Bringing it all together under the banner of Intelligent Solutions, the overarching approach is for Morgan Sindall to combine digital and platform design capabilities, along with modern methods of construction (MMC) and innovative carbon reduction tools, to create unique, sustainable, and inspiring places for its customers.

How do these principles actually manifest in practice, at a project level?

Lessons in fast-track school building

In 2021, Morgan Sindall had no fewer than 30 digital construction projects live on site, plus another 36 in pre-construction stage, with a total value of £1.55bn.

In Aylesbury, the new 1,080-place Kingsbrook Secondary School, complete with sixth form and additional special educational needs unit, is on schedule to open in time for the new academic year in September 2022. 

Valued at £35m, this low-CO2 project is being built in accordance with Buckinghamshire County Council’s commitment to achieving zero carbon by 2050. It features renewable energy generation from solar panels that will produce around 28,600 kWh per year.

As its Intelligent Solution, Morgan Sindall opted for MMC, using structured insulated panels (SIPs) for all areas of external wall buildup. Made from a recycled material, SIPs are both quick to install and offer long-term energy efficiency. They enhance the building’s thermal performance over time and improve air tightness. This will make the school easier and cheaper to heat and maintain, cutting CO2 emissions and running costs. 

Innovative modular technology has also been deployed to create much-needed pupil places across a trio of new primary schools in Derby. Hackwood Primary Academy, Highfields Spencer Academy and most recently Ravensdale Infant School, all needed to be designed, procured and delivered on a tight timeline, and off-site manufactured modules offered the perfect Intelligent Solution.

On education sector projects where speed is of the essence, Morgan Sindall can use its MySchool solution to fast-track the design stage. This was especially important on the 600-place £17m Eden Girl’s Leadership Academy in Small Heath, Birmingham.

An intelligent digital design tool, the MySchool platform is the result of 12 years of expert development and investment in delivering automated and standardised solutions. It provides project teams with the freedom to choose between traditional or modern methods of construction (MMC) such as volumetric and panel structures, all while offering time savings and added cost-efficiency.

For Birmingham City Council, this proved invaluable, as the existing city centre academy was failing to meet standards and deemed unfit for use. With temporary accommodation already hurried into use, achieving project completion five weeks early was a major boost.

Teamwork and tools to target tonnes

Fundamental to such achievement on-site is a collaborative approach to project delivery. This way of working seeks to incorporate the skills and innovation of strategic supply chain partners at every turn, as well as the critical input of the industry’s best consultants.

In effect, sustainability is a team game. As good as any team might be, however, it needs the tools to do the job. This is why, as part of its Intelligent Solutions approach, Morgan Sindall has developed its digital carbon modelling tool CarboniCa.

Externally validated by leading global consultants Arup, CarboniCa measures whole-life carbon emissions at the project design and construction stages, also entire building lifecycle. Since its launch last year, it has enabled Morgan Sindall to save hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere.

To render such volumes achievable, this tool pinpoints exactly where carbon savings can be made, putting customers in a position to make environmentally friendly and climate-forward decisions based on meaningful and robust data.

This is what makes solutions intelligent: they ensure responses to the climate emergency are informed by science and engineering, not just good intentions and guesswork.

Why twinning is winning on carbon

Pushing the envelope still further on sustainability, Morgan Sindall has worked with leading businesses from across the built environment on a groundbreaking digital twin project.

Known as Circular Twin, the initiative has involved digitally revisiting the building process on an already-completed school, reworking the scheme to lower carbon, start to finish.

The study was able to explore radical experimentation with new working methods, notably showing how the ultra-early alliance of designers, clients, contractors, and the supply chain leads to significant cuts in whole-life carbon for modest capital cost uplift.

In comparison to the original school, built as recently as 2017, Circular Twin achieved a significant reduction in whole-life carbon, upfront embodied carbon, annual energy consumption and forest consumption, as well as delivering capital expenditure within standard budgetary parameters over an asset’s lifetime.

The project effectively broke the procurement conventions that typically shackle carbon-reduction innovation, to reap huge potential benefits. Tim Clement, head of carbon and environment, at Morgan Sindall Construction, says: “Circular Twin represents a true industry-first for innovation and a credible template for a revolutionary new approach to project delivery in the built environment. It is possible to cut carbon and save energy, at accessible cost – and we now have the hard data to prove it.”

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