Launching on Earth Day one of the goals is to enable clients to make informed sustainability choices around their projects
This week underlines how the climate crisis has become a central concern for governments and businesses alike, with Boris Johnson setting out more ambitious carbon cutting targets for the UK while president Joe Biden hosts a climate summit that coincides with today’s Earth Day, an environmental event that is attracting more attention than previous years.
Construction has arguably been slow to find joined up approaches to tackling carbon emissions, something Erland Rendall is keen to address. He is the founder of the new digital platform called GluIQ that he thinks can help clients find sustainable solutions for their building projects.
A QS by background Rendall spent 16 years at Davis Langdon before setting up his own consultancy Atorus in 2012 - the company behind GluIQ. The original idea for the cloud-based construction data management platform, that includes sustainability guidance for clients, first came to Rendall 20 years ago, but only really started to come together in 2017.
When the pandemic took hold he pushed last spring’s product launch back, but the delay meant the venture took an fortuitous turn as he joined forces with Jennifer Dixon and Sarah Williams, who founded RIBA client advisers Design Thinking. This collaboration led to the platform incorporating detailed sustainability guidance for clients.
To mark today’s launch of their joint effort Rendall spoke to Building about the concept, the gap he saw in the market and how he hopes to make a difference.
What’s the big idea?
GluIQ is a platform designed to capture and share ideas and knowledge for each participant in the development and construction process. Rendall says this differs from current systems that deal with individual entities, putting participants in silos, whereas this platform allows someone in a previous stage of the project to share information with the next team member.
It consists of eight modules, all of which advise on different parts of the project process. The first two modules, which include the employer’s sustainability requirements content, is currently available for free.
It is designed to enable construction critical data to be collated, securely stored and shared using the SaaS (Software as a Service) technology, so it is easy to record and reference previous project problems, solutions and best practice.
It also uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to enable informed project decisions and take lessons from completed projects and apply them to the next ones.
Building: So this idea is essentially about collating project data?
ER: It is about creating it as well. So, aggregating what is already produced, bringing that together. The first element is really client-focused, before a team is engaged. It’s helping a client capture what their wants and needs are, then helps the architect or the development manager, or whoever it happens to be, to then translate that and then for the next entity or the next stage in the process.
Building: Where did the idea come from?
ER: I had the idea for GluIQ about 20 years ago, when I was a partner at Davis Langdon working with Paul Morrell [who later became the government’s construction adviser]. In terms of most recently working with Jennifer and Sarah two aspects led me to that. I’ve worked with them both in the Middle East and in London, and I had explored with Sarah this whole area eight or nine years ago.
Building: Did you see a specific gap in the market?
ER: The environmental elements as part of briefing to a project has really become an integral component. What we are seeing with COP26, with net zero 2030 and the government targets, the sustainability drive is really ramping up. So how can we enhance that component, and assist clients with that now as opposed to waiting? Sarah and Jennifer are RIBA client advisers. They sit with clients, and have created this workbook to sort of sit and take a client through that process. The gap was, how can we do that now, in an environment where remote working is the norm. How do you do that when you can’t sit beside someone? And the answer seemed to me to be to have a digitally enabled tool. If you then embed that as part of a broader project knowledge platform, then you can start to make informed, educated, smart decisions. That’s what we sought to do.
There’s a number of products in the market that share project information, but it’s the element of educating someone in what they do, to then help others not having to relearn things. One of the things that we hear from clients quite a lot is surely this team has done this before. So it’s helping clients in that regard as they can see: “Yes. There are a number of people that have done this before. And we’re going to share that with you to help you.” And that’s what the platform is for because that then helps everyone.
Building: What are the sustainability benefits for clients?
ER: Its focus is very much on the client and establishing the employer’s sustainability requirements. So that’s everything from net zero, right the way through to health and wellbeing. It looks at eight components. Some clients will appreciate that they have a corporate social responsibility component in terms of a corporate need, but how that translates into a capital project they may not be aware. So part of this component is to explain those elements, so that they can then factor that into what’s important to them specifically. That then creates a brief around sustainability that can then form part of the overall project brief for all of the consultants that can then be tracked in terms of its delivery.
Its focus is very much on the client and establishing the employer’s sustainability requirements. So that’s everything from net zero, right the way through to health and wellbeing
A client might understand net zero in general terms, but what does that actually mean for a project? Before you know it you could be talking to an M&E consultant and they’re highlighting watts per hour while another consultant is talking about something else. There’s a number of these metrics that then start to come into play. That’s part of the education process - trying to make a client aware of the broader subject area so that when they are asked a question are familiar with the process and understand the point of the question.
It’s not just about tonnes of carbon dioxide, it might be the heat consumption, the power consumption, the travel distance of staff, and their use of public transport. It’s very much focused on the client’s business, their operation. It allows them to set up the goals and requirements of the project in an informed manner.
Building: How has the pandemic changed what you were trying to do?
ER: Last January, we were at the point of working to create the platform live without the sustainability component. And then by March prior to when lockdown hit, we were looking to launch in April. Then lockdown came and it was very difficult to engage with people. But instead of sitting there and putting it on the shelf, we said ‘what can we know do to enhance the user interface, the benefits, the features, within the system to make life even easier for a user’. And then, by the summertime, I was starting to explore best practice and it was growing in terms of carbon sustainability. That’s where the engagement with Design Thinking with Jennifer and Sarah came about, when I got wind of their analogue workbook for clients. I said ‘There’s an opportunity to work together here’. So that took it to the next level.
Building: How did the partnership with Design Thinking come about and what has it added?
ER: Jennifer has come from a senior position within Aecom. We actually worked together in the Middle East on a project about 10 years ago and we’ve kept in touch. Likewise with Sarah when she was with Aedas, we were looking at data. At the time I was working along with Steve Watts, who’s now at Alinea. We were looking at data and using the IBM system to analyse data.
Sarah and Jennifer had created this workbook, which was essentially a Word document that they would sit with clients and develop their awareness around sustainability. When I heard about that in a conversation with them, I said ‘We’re developing this tool which would make it accessible to clients and make it efficient, they could sit and work through that themselves prior to engaging with you, you’d have a better quality of conversation, the output, therefore, would be a better quality project for everyone.’
We share a collective vision. They’ve helped as a component within the overall platform, they’ve helped interrogate what we’re doing. Working with the RIBA, their plan of work and everything else associated is an architect’s perspective, as opposed to a project manager or a QS perspective.
From a gender diversity perspective they’ve also added a female perspective. All of these elements were hugely useful and continue to be useful to make this as open and as inclusive as possible.
Building: Finally, is there one thing in particular that you would want everyone to know about the platform?
It helps answer the biggest question that we’re all facing at the moment, which is climate change. The employer sustainability requirements component, helps the clients really drill into what that means, and it’s not just in terms of environment, and global warming and carbon emissions, that is just one component. It addresses the wider issues of stress, anxiety, depression, health and wellbeing. And for me, that’s game changing.
The construction industry suffers too much from suicide rate and mental health, combined with the fact that it’s 40% contribution to climate, carbon emissions. And for me, the human impact, whether that’s an environment or as individuals, is huge. If GluIQ can save one life whether that’s an animal, a plant, or a human being, then I’ll be hugely excited and satisfied.