A Background to AEC Greenwashing

A sobering look at why it’s time up for greenwashing AEC companies still using power hungry workstations to design sustainable buildings, whilst hiding behind carbon offsetting

Many industries are still to put their house in order when it comes to environmental issues. Architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) is front and centre. A renewed focus on the race to net zero means carbon offsetting is increasingly frowned upon when bidding for green projects. The message is clear: what’s needed is fundamental behavioural change, starting with how people use and consume technology in the workplace.

This blog based off our white paper examines how AEC companies can ‘walk the walk’ through smarter choices that positively impact environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials.

“carbon offsetting is increasingly frowned upon when bidding for green projects.”

Mandatory ESG Reporting is Here

In April 2022, the UK Government passed two ESG disclosure laws. For AEC practices the move serves as a warning shot for what’s to come. With buildings responsible for nearly 40% of global energy consumption and 33% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions AEC companies are right in the firing line. And that doesn’t even take account of emissions associated with cement and concrete production, which have doubled over the last 20 years and currently make up 8% of total CO₂ globally.

Another massive generator of CO₂ is legacy IT solutions and processes that have plagued the industry for years. Enterprise technology accounts for about 1% of total GHG emissions globally. This might not sound like a lot. Yet it equals about half of all emissions from aviation or shipping and is the equivalent of the total carbon emitted within the UK.

Hiding Behind ESG Marketing Claims Won’t Cut It

Fundamental behavioral change, starting with how people use and consume technology in the workplace is needed.

CRN latest research found that over 60% of organisations admit they are under increasing pressure from customers to maintain ESG credentials, with 42% further feeling the weight from investors.

Unfortunately, many AEC companies don’t practice what they preach and seem content to hide behind a marketing smokescreen. Often because their business messaging is totally disconnected from daily IT operations.

For example, it’s not uncommon that AEC professionals continue to work on bids for smart, ecofriendly projects using powerhungry workstations. Once the project kicks off that non-green IT behaviour is multiplied many times over as cross-functional teams, specialists, partners, and extra resources are drafted in. And it’s likely that only a little of that collaborative effort is being powered from renewable energy sources.

Whilst designing sustainable buildings with obvious nongreen work practices is like driving around all week in a super-charged V8 and then planting a few trees to claim carbon neutrality.

So, it’s easy to see why procurement teams are starting to see through marketing speak and call time on AEC firms hiding behind carbon offsetting claims.

Tender Exclusion Will be Next

The idea that reforestation somehow exonerates bad practice misses the point and is wearing thin. To the extent that some AEC firms could soon be excluded from tenders unless they can provide sustainability evidence against an industry-set scale.

Research and technologies exist to start decarbonising, but what’s been lacking is collective will. The UK Architects’ Declaration currently under publication seeks, together with clients and partners, to commission and design buildings, cities, and infrastructures as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system.

Crucially, the declaration shifts accountability to CIOs and IT directors. The central thrust is that greener IT is not just about reassessing infrastructure to drive carbon reduction – it’s about working practices, operations, and solution efficiency.

“…AEC firms could soon be excluded from tenders…”

AEC IT Teams can be the Biggest Enabler and Barrier

There are a number of practical green initiatives that IT teams can take, such as deploying virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), launching cloud migration projects or converting to energy-efficient data centres.

So, what’s stopping them? Lack of experience and technical skills, complex integration and testing, prohibitive costs, and busy day jobs are all valid reasons. Another big elephant in the room can be fear of change and moving outside comfort zones. Or the belief that they may lose control and become redundant.

Whereas in fact the opposite is true. When done correctly, engaging a managed service provider (MSP) helps upskill and transfer valuable knowledge, and releases internal IT staff for more fulfilling work.