Digital twins bring real transparency to sustainability reporting

PostedWillow Team

Sustainability is no longer a buzzword but a business case, and one that organizations are prioritizing. The recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP 27) saw 193 parties from around the world asked to strengthen and implement their climate plans faster. They were urged to widen the scope of economic sectors required to cut and remove emissions in the hope of staying on track to reach 2030 targets.

Two of these sectors are the construction industry and the built environment. Globally, construction is known to be directly or indirectly responsible for almost 40 percent of global CO₂ emissions from fuel combustion and 25 percent of GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions overall. Similarly, the built environment generates 30% of total GHG emissions. While new buildings can be created smart, there is also opportunity for existing buildings to leverage technology that helps reduce energy consumption and take strides toward sustainability.

We recognize that sustainability isn’t only about reducing energy consumption. It is also necessary to address water usage, waste reduction, carbon offsets, e-mobility, grid interactivity, embedded carbon, and more. But real-time, accurate data is the basis for much of this activity.

In this article, we look at the sustainability landscape within the construction and real estate industry, the difficulties asset owners face today, and how a digital twin can overcome those challenges and help make sustainability efforts more precise and impactful.

Sustainability: no longer a tradeoff for profit, but a creator of value

As temperatures rise and cases of extreme weather become more frequent, the pressures on corporations to achieve carbon neutrality and to significantly reduce their environmental footprint come from all sides.

COVID-19 also put a sharper focus on sustainability risk. 53% of senior construction executives expected sustainability to accelerate due to the COVID-19 crisis, and 10% said they had already increased investments in sustainability measures since the start of the crisis.

It’s not just about doing the right thing, either. It is becoming more widely accepted that the companies that hold themselves accountable to their stakeholders by increasing transparency will be more viable—and valuable—in the long term.

63% of leading investors strongly agree that green strategies can drive higher occupancy, higher rents, higher tenant retention, and overall higher value.

– Global sustainable investment now tops US$35 trillion, a rise of 15% in two years.
51.8% of 208,000 employees surveyed in a recent BCG report said they would not accept a job with an employer whose climate and diversity policies didn’t match their personal beliefs.
80% of consumers say they are more likely to buy from a company that stands up for the environment.

While sustainability is a driver for organizations, employees, and consumers, measuring and reporting sustainability can be confusing and complex.

Globally varied, but changes are on the horizon for most

While sustainability reporting isn’t mandatory across the board yet in Australia or the US, it is undoubtedly coming. The Australian Securities Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) already recommend or require organizations to consider several sustainability-related risks for reporting. 

Similarly, in the US, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) is taking it a step further and has proposed Scope 3 reporting become a rule within the next couple of years. If that happens, organizations that do business with US companies will need to comply—increasing the urgency, even for those outside the US, to be able to track and measure sustainability. ​​

On top of this, the EU is implementing the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). Non-European companies with a presence in Europe will eventually be required to report their ESG impacts, namely on environmental, social, and governance impacts, as defined in the directive.

The problem with standards

Currently, there are many different standards around the reporting of energy consumption. Most countries have their own, which also vary between national and local levels. Asset owners struggle to find clear instructions on what they have to do vs. what they can do to achieve a green standard or certification.

But the landscape is shifting towards global disclosure standards. The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) was established in November 2021 to develop a comprehensive global baseline of high-quality sustainability disclosure standards and information. It is expected that over time more and more organizations will adopt these standards.

Tracking and managing the health of built assets

Sustainability for built assets today is comparable to having an annual doctor’s check-up. If the measures of physical health are weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure, for a building, they are energy consumption, waste, and water usage. For some, these figures are collected monthly via the utility bill, but for others, this may be only quarterly.

If your doctor says you aren’t in the best shape, you will need to monitor and track things like diet and take your measurements regularly to ensure you stay on track. If you can only do this every three months, you’re unlikely to reach your health goals. In recent years, health-conscious consumers have overcome this problem by using smart devices or health-tracking apps. Being able to track and measure everything from intake and output, heart rate, exercise, and more on an hourly basis enables impactful changes to be made at the micro level. Your built asset is no different.

Building operations contribute 27% of global CO2 emissions, and your annual ESG report shows your building isn’t in great health. You need to take action and shift those numbers. But how can you do that when you’re only getting the data you need once a month? The reality is you can’t. It’s very difficult to make meaningful changes with time-lagged data.

This is where the power of a digital twin delivers significant value. Because it is connected directly to your utility meters, you can track energy usage more accurately. These near-real-time insights power action and allow you to optimize and tweak your operations based on that data. The data is visualized in an easy-to-digest design, making analysis faster and simpler. The heavy lifting is done for you by the twin.

Make optimal choices and reduce complexity

There are other ways a digital twin can support sustainability. In a recent report from Deloitte – ESG Trends in Construction, they predict that as construction firms embed ESG principles into their planning and operations, they will increase their use of digital twins and scenario modeling at scale—using them to determine the effect of the different decarbonization solutions on ESG results and to choose optimal green solutions.

From our experience, bringing sustainability programs to a newly constructed building or portfolio of existing buildings begins with data quality. A product like WillowTwin™ gathers, categorizes, and normalizes data, taking away the complexity of tracking and measuring that can quickly overwhelm even the best-intentioned sustainability programs.

We have partnered with Microsoft to offer a pre-built Willow Cloud for Sustainability (CFS) connector. It directly integrates the necessary data from your built asset via WillowTwin™ to calculate emissions—enabling them to become part of your overall emissions footprint so you can report in a more streamlined and connected way.

The time for prioritizing sustainability for built assets is here. It is no longer just a demand from the environment but from shareholders, governments, regulators, employees, and society.

There is little time to waste as 2030 and 2050 targets draw closer and mandatory regulations and standardized reporting loom. Asset owners can make the shift a lot easier by adopting a digital twin.


If you’d like to find out more about how digital twins can support your sustainability goals, contact us today to get started.

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