Skip to main content

Beyond energy efficiency: BIM in sustainable construction

Buildings with plants in their facade

When you hear the word “sustainable,” at this point, you might start rolling your eyes. That’s not surprising — it’s become a buzzword applied to everything from milk to marketing. But, when you strip away the overuse and look at the core meaning of sustainability, its value becomes clear. When it’s applied to BIM in construction, it takes on special meaning for professionals like yourself.


What is sustainable construction?

An article published by the LaFarge Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction defined their key mission this way:

“Sustainable construction aims to meet present-day needs for housing, working environments, and infrastructure without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs in times to come. It incorporates elements of economic efficiency, environmental performance, and social responsibility, and contributes to the greatest extent when architectural quality, technical innovation and transferability are included.”

So the concept of sustainable construction goes far beyond installing energy-efficient mechanical systems or making sure the client chooses LCD lighting for their new building. It’s a philosophy that impacts every aspect of the design and construction phases as well as the ongoing maintenance and operation of the building going forward. And, with over 2.2 million square feet of space becoming LEED certified every day, it’s become a popular philosophy.  

The LaFarge article breaks down the initial phases of sustainable construction this way: “it involves issues such as the design and management of buildings; materials performance; construction technology and processes; energy and resource efficiency in building.”

Considering how much energy the commercial facilities use and how rapidly the worldwide urban population is growing the long-term importance of sustainable construction is undeniable. How a building is designed and built lays the foundation for how energy efficient it will be throughout its lifetime.


What role does BIM play in sustainable construction?

Building Information Modeling (BIM) has long been at the cutting edge of design/build technology, so it makes sense that it can play an important role in achieving the goals of sustainable construction. But, how do the two relate? Why would adoption of BIM and its related technologies and processes result in more sustainable construction?

There are three main connections between BIM and sustainable construction

  1. Greater transparency during the design phase
  2. Greater efficiency during the design and construction phases
  3. Greater control during the operations phase


How BIM offers greater transparency during the design phase

When design begins on a project using BIM, it allows for a highly transparent process from day one: as design data is added to a shared model each stakeholder in a project can quickly and easily access a full, real-time summary of what products and materials are being proposed, how they will be fabricated and installed, and what can be expected as to their performance post-construction.

This transparency allows for contractors, energy engineers, suppliers, and more to provide their knowledge and experience to the overall construction and operation of the building early on, making the project more sustainable in the design phase before any money is spent on materials or supplies. This not only ensures the most environmentally-responsible materials and methods are used during construction, but also saves time and money by avoiding rework and schedule delays during construction through better planning up front.


How BIM offers greater efficiency during the design and construction phases

The use of BIM results in 3D virtual prototypes that can be easily shared and used for real-time collaboration and simulation to test both the logic and sequence of construction. From estimating and takeoff to layout and ongoing project management, every step in the design and construction workflow is reviewed and enhanced to the extent that BIM technology is integrated.

These improvements can be seen in:

  • The speed of job completion
  • The efficiency and cost savings that come from prefabrication
  • A reduction in errors and ad hoc troubleshooting
  • A reduction in crew redundancy
  • An improvement in asset management
  • And many other areas…

But, perhaps the most important improvement we see with the full adoption of BIM is the positive impact it has on sustainability throughout the entire construction workflow:

Every step of the process where BIM saves time, improves efficiency, enhances design, and reduces errors, provides a quantifiable opportunity for the building’s lifelong environmental impact to be reduced. In this respect, BIM thoroughly supports the entire philosophy behind sustainable construction.


How BIM offers greater control during the operations phase

In the past, once a construction project was finished, there wasn’t a lot the builders could do to help improve the ongoing operations of the building. That was left to the owner or facility manager until repairs or retrofitting work became necessary.

However, thanks to the high level of detail and ease of shareability inherent to the 3D models created using BIM, a wealth of operational data and insight can be passed along to the building owner and manager, improving their ability to run the building at its maximum potential.

Once again, this benefit of BIM dovetails perfectly with the sustainable construction philosophy, which extends beyond design and construction, and into the long-term maintenance and use of the completed structure.

Proactive construction professionals are taking advantage of this benefit of the BIM process by including long-term, environmentally-conscious operational recommendations and maintenance schedules in their completed project parameters. This is a value-add for new building owners, improves the overall sustainability of the facility, and deepens the firm’s relationship with each client.

There are likely many other ways you can think of where adopting BIM technologies and methods can improve the sustainability of construction projects under your unique circumstances. Why not share some of them in the comments? We’d love to hear from you.


Discover the BIM software solutions that support sustainable construction


This article was initially created by David Burczyk for