Building Information Modeling as the Core of Sustainable Design

OAKLAND, CA — Building information modeling can be a valuable tool for architects, engineers and contractors that allows them to explore different design options, see what projects will look like and understand how a structure will perform long before it's built.

BIM, as it's known in the industry, also can help building owners and operators throughout a structure's lifecycle by providing visual context to performance-related data, retrofit plans and other projects intended increase energy efficiency.

In a webcast on Tuesday moderated by GreenBiz.com Executive Editor Joel Makower, representatives for design software giant Autodesk, DPR Construction and the consulting engineering firm Glumac talked about "How Building Information Modeling Solutions Transform Sustainable Design."

BIM is an integrated process for exploring a project's key physical and functional characteristics digitally, said Ani Deodhar, Autodesk's sustainability program manager. For his company, BIM lies at the core of sustainable design for new construction and retrofitting of existing buildings.

Increased costs of energy, ongoing challenges posed by the economy and concerns about sustainability, market demands, occupancy and eventual regulation of carbon output combine to make building owners, operators and managers increasingly aware of how their properties perform -- and compare with others.

Those issues and the availability of state and federal incentives are powerful drivers to improve portfolios. "Not surprisingly, large multinational companies are getting their buildings in order," Deodhar said.

Examples include Walmart, which will retrofit 500 buildings this year, Marriott, whose hotel chain includes 275 hotels that bear the Energy Star label, and Starbucks, which by the close of the year will begin to seek LEED certification for all new company-owned stores around the world.

Globally, buildings account for about 40 percent of energy consumption and more than 200 million buildings are candidates for efficiency improvements, Deodhar said. But optimizing a building's environmental performance requires incorporating interrelated factors, such as location, orientation, internal systems, how the building is used and other variables, into design.

Few companies have the time, bench strength, technical know-how or financial resources to get the job done the old-school way by collecting data first-hand and analyzing it, or by paying for an energy audit of their property portfolio.

"Even if 10,000 dedicated energy auditors worked full-time, 365 days a year throughout the U.S., it would take them over 13 years to do one-day audits of the entire U.S .commercial building portfolio," said Deodhar.