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BIM and Sustainability: An Emphasis on Integrated Approach

Updated: Jan 23, 2019

The pursuit of sustainability has become one of the principal design objectives in the construction industry and in response to this concern the integration of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and sustainable practices are far-reaching. The built environment cannot escape its responsibility for contributing towards environmental deterioration and destruction of arable land, however with the application of BIM and understanding its inherent power will greatly impact the role it plays in optimizing the performance of a building. It is rooted in innovation, cost-efficiency through more information and collaboration, construction and commissioning of buildings with lower environmental impacts.

An integrated design approach requires an in-depth understanding of how buildings and environment interact and affect each other (see Figure 1), which is briefly discussed in the following.

Figure 1: Interactions between buildings and the environment.

Site selection and transport

Site selection, planning, and design are integral components of sustainable building practice. The chosen site neither hinders the ecological balance nor generates possible adverse effects against the environment rather aims at protecting watersheds, sensitive habitats, wetlands, and groundwater. Choosing a location that eases transportation is not only cost efficient and preserves resources but also protects air quality and energy consumption. Existing infrastructure can be reused and rehabilitated, thus eliminating the need to encroach and reclaim yet another land.

Building Orientation and Massing

Energy conservation is one of the key aspects of sustainable design. Building orientation involves the positioning of a building on site relative to the path of sunlight. Harnessing natural daylight, natural ventilation has a big effect on the energy efficiency of the building and the comfort of its occupants. The amount of sunlight that enters, heat gain and understanding prevailing wind directions and conditions set the parameters for highly optimized building design; additionally, daylight analysis in BIM can aid in reaching sustainable goals.

Materials and the 3 R’s

Careful selection of material for the design of a building envelope can have a huge impact in reducing heat transmission and also uphold the values of ‘Reuse, Reduce and Recycle’. The thermal conductivity of a material is an important property to reduce energy cost on heating and air conditioning, while durability and maintenance factor keep down the running costs of a building. The incorporation of vegetation into buildings is a popular feature, and rightfully so, green walls and roofing have become another ingenious approach to reduce the energy demand of buildings and cut down heat island effect. Builders can divert materials from construction and demolition disposal by using recycled products, practicing source reduction, preserving existing structures, as well as salvaging and reusing existing materials.

Sustainable Procurement

In 2005, the UK Government developed a definition for sustainable procurement as “a process whereby organizations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the organization, but also to society and the economy, whilst minimizing damage to the environment”. Sustainable procurement aims to reduce the adverse environmental and economic impacts of purchased products and services, wherein the Integrated Project Delivery system takes the focal point.

Green logistics

Logistics is another environmental concern as it includes activities (such as the flow of products, information, and services between the points of inception to consumption) that can have serious implications on the ecological and economic balance. As a result, the concept of ‘Green Logistics’ emerged that outlines the attempts to measure and mitigate the environmental impact of logistics activities by characterizing its approach to the use of advanced technology and equipment; for instance, efficient packaging and inventory management, optimizations of route and loading, service networks and support.

Water conservation

Water is a precious commodity as statistics confirm only 0.3% at our grasp for consumption. In construction sites, key water-using processes include temporary accommodations, wet trades (brickwork, concreting and plastering), groundworks including grouting and drilling, dust suppression, hydro-demolition, cleaning of tools and equipment washing, commissioning and testing of building plant and services (Water Action Plan UK, 2011). Wastage from these processes constitutes a massive amount. Efficiency in water usage and minimizing losses in the industry is a major and crucial step towards sustainable water management.


BIM has the potential to extend beyond the mere confinements and expand to quantify more environmental aspects. Integration of BIM and environmental assessment certifications and analysis software are at nascent stage, nonetheless, the valuable data that BIM can generate will provide a possibility to integrate detailed modeling capabilities and most importantly, environmental performance data that BIM can easily pull to check, for instance, water requirements of operational buildings in case of water crisis due to climate change. As daunting as it could be, although the movement has picked up its pace in the current era, it has yet to be effectively exploited within the AECO industry and disconnections are highly evident (Dowsett and Harty, 2013). Global as well as nationwide efforts to spread the awareness of Building Information Modeling are commendable and need to be carried out at all possible levels until it penetrates every working cell of the industry.


Kam‐din Wong and Qing Fan (2013), "Building information modeling (BIM) for sustainable building design", Facilities, Vol. 31.

M. Urrestarazu and S. Burés (2012), ”Sustainable green walls in architecture”, Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment Vol.10 (1): 792-794.

S. Dawood et al. (2013), ”Designing low carbon buildings: A framework to reduce energy consumption and embed the use of renewables”, Sustainable Cities and Society.

Amarnath CB, Shang-Hsien Hsieh and Manoj R (2016), ”A preliminary study on BIM-LEED integration”, The Twenty-Ninth KKHTCNN Symposium on Civil Engineering, Hong Kong, China.

R.M. Dowsett and C.F. Harty (2013), ”Evaluating the benefits of BIM for sustainable design-a review”, Dowsett TBSE Conference paper 2013.

Carmen Waylen, Jane Thornback and Jonathan Garrett (2011), ”Water: An action plan for reducing water usage on construction sites”, Strategic Forum for Construction, United Kingdom.

Building Planning and Massing Guide (2010), The Centre for Sustainable Buildings and Construction, Building and Construction Authority, Singapore.


I express my heartfelt gratitude to Amarnath CB and Soumo Bose for their immense help and support and for being highly motivating and instrumental for this endeavor.

About the Author


Ms. Rikrey R Marak is currently working as an Assistant Environmental Engineer at MSPCB, India and a Postgraduate Student (2017 Enrollment) at Imperial College London, Environmental Engineering Department.


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