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Buildings & Infrastructure

Cutting Carbon at the Conceptual Stage

Trimble technology helps shape low-carbon emission buildings

In construction, calculating building materials, site development and labor are standard costs considered for every project. But in the last few years, a new cost layer has been included with more frequency: embodied carbon emissions and impacts. 

In Europe and parts of North America corporate and public sector building owners are seeking to manage embodied carbon––the carbon footprint of a building or infrastructure project before it becomes operational––to meet net-zero carbon targets. And they’ve begun using new automated and life cycle assessment tools from Trimble and One Click LCA to help shape and inform their structural design and development. 

Integrating Trimble’s Tekla tools with One Click LCA’s database of construction materials’ carbon levels gives structural engineers an automated embodied carbon and life cycle assessment solution for all stages of a project. Together, designers can combine carbon data with structural design to instantly understand the embodied carbon impacts of their structural and materials choices for new and existing structures.

"I’ve been waiting for a solution like this for as long as I've been in the industry," said Kari Nöjd, Sustainability Technology Manager at engineering firm Sweco Rakennetekniikka Oy, Europe’s leading architecture and engineering consultancy based in Stockholm. “Instead of focusing only on cost and schedule, more building owners are asking which alternative has the lowest embodied carbon, and that is something structural designers need to be able to answer.”

Historically, Sweco’s process for calculating environmental impacts was manually calculating carbon quantity estimations of building elements from drawings or building information models (BIMs), and then transferring the data into the One Click software. It was not only a time consuming exercise, it was vulnerable to calculation errors when design changes were made.

An ambitious project to build a new $30-million carbon neutral sports center in Imatra, Finland, however, presented an opportunity to pilot a new connected, concept and design workflow using Tekla and One Click LCA. 

With Tekla Structural Designer designers can examine various concepts and materials such as concrete, wood or a hybrid of materials and automatically analyze these choices with One Click LCA’s carbon calculator, eliminating the need to manually calculate carbon footprints for every design concept. The live carbon calculations and the added insight offered into the performance of the building help inform better and greener decisions. 

“Integrating the design software with the database is about 10 times faster, which allows people to do carbon analysis more often, earlier and on more projects," said Panu Pasanen, CEO of One Click LCA, based in Helsinki.

By integrating the two tools, designers can also easily compare life cycle carbon footprints of different designs and can also specify comparison parameters such as only load-bearing structures, providing a more dynamic, detailed and accurate design environment to create constructible BIM models.

“Thanks to the integration of Tekla and One Click, we can now easily create diagrams with numerical values to compare the lifecycle carbon footprints of different design options,” said Ossi Kujala, a structural designer with Sweco. “We can also add building elements manually to One Click after we have imported the Tekla model.”

In addition, teams can use the live link between One Click and Tekla Structures, Trimble’s constructible BIM software, enabling users to view and generate highly accurate carbon reports based on the detailed model.  

With its design nearing completion, the Imatra sports hall will be among Finland's first structures aiming to reach carbon neutrality. And as Finnish legislation due by 2025 will require owners of new buildings and most major renovations to demonstrate compliance with mandated carbon footprint limits, embedding sustainable design into the earliest conceptual phases will help engineers determine the best built environment for a building’s entire lifecycle.