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The environmental cost of error and rework in construction

11 Environmental cost

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Rework accounts for up to 5% of construction’s emissions. It is not only a financial blight on our industry, but an environmental threat to the world.

The financial costs of error and rework in construction have been extensively explored. There may not be any hard consensus on exactly how much financial damage the issue causes (estimates range between 5-30% of all project costs) but there is no debate that it is more than the industry can afford.

What has received less attention though are the environmental costs of error. Environmental damage is much harder to quantify than money is to count, but that doesn’t make it any less significant.

With the UN Secretary General describing a recent IPCC report on climate change as “a code red for humanity,” it is clear that society at large has a critical duty to uphold the aims of the Paris Agreement and limit carbon emissions to curb global warming. For evidence of climate change in action, we need look no further than the extreme heatwaves experienced across Europe, North America, China and elsewhere in 2022; these are tangible warnings that are impossible to ignore.

Responsible for as much as 39% of all global emissions, construction has a lot of hard work ahead if it is to become a part of the climate solution. Eliminating unnecessary waste is one of the most impactful steps the industry can take.

Why is rework environmentally unsustainable?

Error and rework are virtually synonymous with waste. When construction activity deviates from the design, or when the design fails to fulfill an intended or necessary function, work must be undone. This means that materials, all of which carry embodied carbon, are used unnecessarily.

Moreover, the act of building something wrong, tearing it down and then rebuilding it correctly bears its own direct carbon footprint. In simple terms, errors mean that proper installation is achieved in a minimum of three stages when it can and should be done in one. Right-first-time installation minimizes emissions from things like tools or heavy machinery by streamlining the construction process.

When we start to think in less direct terms about the environmental impact of rework, the picture gets even worse. Packaging, manufacturing, transport and many other activities produce emissions throughout the supply chain which must also be taken into account.

Of course, the act of rework depends on error errors being successfully identified before works are completed. Rework is a bane to the industry but it is preferable to mistakes slipping through the cracks and undermining the efficacy of our built environment. If buildings are error-strewn, then they won’t operate as they should and will fail to offer energy efficiency throughout their entire lifespan.

Government statistics show that UK construction produced 137 million tonnes of waste in 2018 alone. According to ZERO, an industry collective working towards net zero construction, as much as 5% of the sector’s emissions can be attributed to rework. In the context of numbers such as these, it is clear that eliminating error presents a major opportunity for a more sustainable approach.

Professor Tim Bell, Dean of Engineering and Design at the University of Bath, says, “a more ecologically intuitive approach to design and construction” should encompass the whole building lifecycle. He adds, “this includes looking at where technology can be incorporated to reduce waste […] through delivering greater precision.”

Increasing precision, reducing rework and minimizing waste

Here at XYZ Reality, we are helping the industry to manage and virtually eliminate rework through the groundbreaking application of Engineering Grade Augmented Reality (AR). Our purpose-built AR headset, the Atom™, provides contractors in the field with holographic representations of the 3D model displayed in millimeter accuracy.

This means that throughout advanced coordination and the build phase, teams can literally see where components belong and install them accordingly, verifying for accuracy as they go in real-time. It is the first time AR has been successfully deployed in construction with adequate levels of precision to allow for right-first-time installation. The Atom is already helping firms bring rework costs down from 30% of project costs to a mere 1%.

Jonathan Munkley, Co-Founder at ZERO, had this to say: “XYZ’s transformative device, the Atom, […] is an outstanding example of an innovative new technology that reduces construction emissions. With rework accounting for up to 5% of all CO2 emissions, this is a solution that ZERO absolutely loves.”

To find out more about the causes and costs of rework, as well as how the issue can be solved, download our whitepaper, Rethinking Rework, now.