How the AEC sector can improve ESG performance

The impact of the built environment on climate change is widely acknowledged, driving industry-wide adoption of sustainable design and build practices. But the role of enterprise technology is often overlooked. This article explains how smarter IT choices can help AEC firms improve ESG performance.


What is ESG?

A framework of practices, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) metrics are increasingly used by investors and stakeholders to measure a company’s performance around sustainability and ethical impact.


The Environmental element gauges how a company manages factors like carbon footprint, energy efficiency, natural resource conservation and waste management. The Social component examines diversity and inclusion, relationships with employees, customers, suppliers and communities. Lastly, the Governance aspect focuses on areas such as effective management, compliance and risk management.


Why is ESG important for AEC firms?

Regulatory pressure is growing on AEC firms to provide indisputable evidence of the benefits of their ESG policies. Two ESG disclosure laws became mandatory in the UK in 2022 with reporting set to become further formalised through new Sustainability Disclosure Requirements. Many other countries are following suit. Carbon offsetting is now frowned upon as a prime example of the tendency towards greenwashing, an empty promise that will not contribute to achieving net zero targets.


ESG requirements in public tenders are growing more stringent. Further stipulations are expected with the potential to directly hit the bottom lines of non-compliant firms – or even exclude them from bidding if they cannot substantiate sustainability claims.


Sustainable IT services: Three steps IT leaders can take

Technology is an often overlooked key to help firms boost their ESG credentials. Legacy IT solutions have plagued the AEC industry for years, hindering efficiency. What is not always taken into consideration is that outdated IT infrastructure is also a massive generator of CO₂.


But implementing greener IT is not simply about reviewing infrastructure to drive carbon reduction; it’s also about instigating new attitudes and behaviours to transform working practices, operations and solution efficiency. Many AEC professionals still work on smart, eco-friendly projects using power-hungry CAD workstations that don’t maximise the use of renewable energy sources.


What’s needed is fundamental behavioural change, starting with how people use and consume technology in the workplace.



Fortunately, there are a number of practical steps that AEC IT teams can take to positively impact ther ESG scorecards.


  1. Choose green data centres

Although the cost of designing and implementing their own green data centre is unviable for most AEC firms, IT leaders can still make smart environmental choices about where to host their data and services. With public cloud hyperscalers increasingly castigated for under-used resources and poor environmental controls, smaller cloud providers may be a consideration.


Creative’s private cloud solutions are hosted from Equinix-powered data centres, which operate on 100% clean, renewable energy. Our data centres are optimised to achieve an industry leading power usage effectiveness ratio (total energy used versus energy delivered to IT equipment).


  1. Adopt Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

Adopting VDI and employing a Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) solution is another IT route that helps AEC firms meet ESG targets. VDIPOD, for example, is a purpose-built VDI platform hosted from data centres operating on 100% renewable energy.


Companies adopting this solution use 81.7% less energy with an 89% renewable power model (one VDI server supporting 60 laptops/thin clients) at source and CO2 reduction of up to 43%[1] compared to traditional CAD workstations. Other benefits include clear metrics and an audit trail to simplify ESG reporting.


  1. Transition to Infrastructure-as-a-Service

IT leaders can also reduce their organisation’s environmental impact by migrating to an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) model. With fully-managed IaaS, infrastructure responsibility, power consumption and carbon footprint move to the service provider.


Unshackled from maintaining on-premise technology, IT teams can reduce energy consumption, cooling costs and waste from decommissioned equipment. Private cloud providers can also help AEC firms further improve ESG scores by utilising virtual machines and containers to reduce data centre servers.


AEC benefits from green IT and ESG practices

AEC firms that perform well on ESG are frequently seen as more sustainable, responsible and resilient for long-term success.


Global engineering company AtkinsRéalis is working with Creative ITC to transition from 16 global data centres to three. “One of the biggest benefits we’ve already seen in our carbon footprint is we’ve reduced storage by 69%, electricity by 53% and floorspace by 45%,” said Steve Capper, Group CIO, AtkinsRéalis.


In addition, one international architecture studio has achieved a 90% reduction in kilowatt hours per person and a three-fold increase in renewable power use since deploying VDIPOD to over 400 employees.


Although adopting more sustainable business practices has in the past been viewed as a ‘nice-to-have’ investment or a public relations exercise, there is clear evidence now that corporate ESG initiatives create business value, profits and opportunities.


As well as meeting their own ESG targets and contributing to global environmental goals, AEC firms adopting best practices will also see operational and financial gains. With increasingly stringent ESG requirements, they’ll facilitate legally required reporting and face fewer regulatory interventions.


Sustainable companies outperform their peers on EBITDA and profitability, and benefit from increased productivity, top-line growth and reduced costs. Publicly owned top performers are also more likely to see reduced downside risk, greater equity returns and higher credit ratings.


With environmental concerns becoming increasingly urgent, AEC business and IT leaders should keep these benefits front of mind when transforming their operations – for the good of their firms and the planet as a whole.

[1] Calculations based on standard Dell high graphic workstations, Supermicro VDI servers and Dell XPS laptops. All calculations were accurate as of vendor technical specs 2023.