Sustaining sustainability: Buildings on autopilot might be the answer

prabhu facilioStatistics indicate that buildings account for nearly 40 per cent of the world?s energy use, 70 per cent of electrical consumption, about 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Closer home in the UAE, the numbers are equally significant. While piecemeal efforts matter, a software-driven approach could leapfrog the built environment to an era of sustainable sustainability

Sustainability, the pressing need to preserve our natural resources to maintain the ecological balance, has gained significant momentum over the past decade, featuring prominently on the national agenda of several countries globally. A recent UN Urbanization Report suggests more than half of the world?s population, nearly 54 per cent, is now living in cities, set to grow to a staggering 66 per cent by 2050. This means already strained natural resources are further getting depleted as cities clamber to fulfil the growing needs of explosive urbanisation ? more housing, work and infrastructure.

In response, the buildings market has been rising exponentially to accommodate these urbanisation demands. Buildings account for nearly 40 per cent of the world?s energy use, and are responsible for over 70 per cent of electrical consumption, and that is in the USA alone. About 40 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions that have been affecting climate change is a direct result of our ever-expanding concrete landscape.

In the UAE, the numbers are equally significant. A new report, released late last year by the Emirates Green Building Council (EGBC), states that up to 80 per cent of UAE?s electricity is consumed by buildings. All of this has led to a critical focus on sustainability in the built environment, and how optimising efficiencies might hold the key to sustained sustainability.

A market impacting billions of people needs a collaborative approach

The steady growth of the massive buildings market touches billions of people and directly impacts the sustainability of our planet. Research proves that humans spend nearly 90 per cent of their time inside buildings. This means we are constantly consuming and using electricity and energy, actively or passively. Therefore, when we talk of sustainability in the built environment, we need to expand the discussion to actively engage all stakeholders. Only then can successful outcomes become a reality. Sustainable solutions cannot be employed piecemeal ? sustainability needs to become an everyday habit, embedded in day-to-day building operations, across building operators, facilities management?s (FM) and end-users, for it to be truly holistic and deliver consistent and ongoing results.

Present day buildings are a powerhouse of data

We are, by far, the most technologically advanced generation. Technology has become central to almost our very existence, adding comfort, connectivity, convenience to our lives. And a built environment is no exception. Buildings stand to gain a lot from technology, and in fact modern day buildings are a great marvel of automation at work. Complex physical, equipment and system assets work together to create functional buildings. However, conventional building management technology, while innovative and progressive in hardware, has offered limited meaningful advancements in software. While we have seen interesting automation improvements in areas like lighting, HVAC systems and renewable energy sources, we haven?t see sharing of data between a fire-fighting system and security system, we haven?t seen the ?health and performance? of buildings being benchmarked, we haven?t seen building systems talk to each other.

The ability to capture, analyse and use the massive amounts of data already existing within those building systems presents a fantastic opportunity ? to optimise operations, drive significant efficiencies and accelerate sustainability outcomes, at minimal costs. 

And a technology solution might hold the key to such a future

Opening the door to energy efficiency: The future is now

Buildings require interoperability across their various automation components, and a deeper analysis of available data to reach the next level of intelligence; in aspects including efficiency, cost, environment, security along with human comfort and wellbeing. And this is for one building. Now imagine the same mechanics at work for a larger portfolio of buildings. Therefore, it holds to reason that for sustainability to have better outcomes, with economies of scale, it needs to be executed centrally across a portfolio. Different teams, different systems break the flow and lead to failures. By using technology as an enabler and linking sustainability close to day-to-day building management, sustainability initiatives can benefit from multi-fold results.

To get an idea of the power and impact of benchmarking buildings based on intelligence, consider this ? FM spends 30 per cent more on energy costs on a building that is not benchmarked and 15 per cent more per sq. ft. every year on maintenance expenses as a direct result of inefficiencies. Existing technology and automation works in silos and doesn?t address ?operations of buildings? as a whole. By combining real-time energy management and condition/health monitoring of building systems, building operators can analyse and monitor consumption in real-time while also being able to detect and act on anomalies instantly ? saving cost, man-hours and equipment shelf life.

Technology can be a key enabler of scalable and sustained sustainability

In the UAE, sustainability now features at the core of every national plan or policy. A target of the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030 (DIES) is to reduce energy consumption by 30 per cent by 2030. In the built environment, this has been taken up on a war footing with initiatives like ?Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (nZEBs)? becoming an important cog of the sustainability wheel. While low-hanging fruits like retrofits and water saving mechanisms can curtail wastage and consumption to a certain degree, truly scalable and impactful sustainability can only flow from embedding technology solutions and intelligence in the day-to-day operations of managing buildings.

Rather than working with the traditional reactionary models of building management, what is needed is a preventive and proactive approach to maintenance, energy and risk management. Integrating existing systems from a large number of buildings and optimizing that unused and available data in real-time with technologies like IoT and machine learning (ML) can create a dramatic impact on efficiencies in real-time ? saving energy, time, and costs. 

End-user experience and engagement: A holistic sustainability

Managing buildings and facilities impact the quality of life of millions of people who use buildings worldwide. And as end-users get more knowledgeable and demanding, their building facilities experience needs to become increasingly personalised, from environment and temperature to airflow, ventilation and lighting. So it stands to reason that we need to employ smart technology not only for integrated maintenance or asset, space and sustainability management, but also to allow buildings to become more responsive to the needs of end-users. 

But this responsive personalisation also opens up opportunities for a dialogue to involve end-users, one of the crucial contributors to energy consumption, in the sustainability drive. By making messaging and interaction with sustainability initiatives more engaging for consumers, impactful sustainability can be truly realized. And once again, technology solutions can enable this sharing of data and experiences to allow end-users to actively become responsible for their part in sustainability.

Using the world?s resources in a smarter way

The sustainability conundrum actually has a simple solution. As healthy citizens equal a healthy nation, similarly, healthy buildings equate to a healthy sustainability quotient.

Sustainability in the built environment needs to extend beyond the piecemeal activities or short-term fixes. Sustainability can no longer be a tick mark on your checklist. True sustainability is a habit. It is born of carefully cultivated behaviour.

? By Prabhu Ramachandran, CEO at Facilio Inc.

Prabhu Ramachandran is the founder and CEO of Facilio Inc. Facilio builds a unified suite of facilities and energy management software that harnesses IoT and machine learning to manage buildings efficiently and sustainably. Ramachandran?s career spans over 18 years of product, business and customer experience focussing on enterprise-scale software for IoT-based connected services, sustainable building solutions, and telecom network management. He believes that technology can be leveraged to drive environmentally responsible facilities that create a positive impact in the world. 


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