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Emissions: The Dark side of Buildings

Jurisdiction: Australia

How might we address the built environment which accounts for 40% of the world’s GHG emissions through data sets and smart technologies? How will the phenomenon of a hybrid “return to the workplace” impact how we use existing spaces and plans for developing new spaces? How do we create the right mix of brownfield and greenfield projects to optimise results of efforts?

There are numerous ways to measure sustainability, a veritable alphabet soup of standards (ESG, GRI, GRESB, CDP, and UN SDGs). Depending on the context and counterparty, some standards matter more than others. If it’s Black Rock as financial manager, corporate purpose is critical. If working with real assets, Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) matters. If concerned with emissions, Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) will be important. While each has individual merit, they also need to relate to each other in an overarching framework.

Beyond reducing confusion for companies to adopt, a unified framework also enables multiple companies to partner as an ecosystem for greater impact.

Governments and companies are motivated to improve ESG scores, at least as a means to comply with sustainability requirements. Ideally, measurement should be quantitative in areas such as decarbonisation, but the full scope of ESG, particularly social impact, is often qualitative and companies need to apply additional measures like proxies for talent hiring, development, and retention.

Buildings must do more

Taken together, the events of the past decade have accelerated the need for buildings to do more – they need to again become symbols of the era, of progress. While the stream of innovations has included plumbing, electricity, telephones and the internet, now buildings need to reflect and enhance human experience.

The concept of a building has changed – instead of concrete, commanding, and efficient, buildings are green, inviting, and sustainable. This is both the physical building concept and the mental concept perceived by the market and society. The pandemic illustrated that the notion of spaces is changing – spaces have become digital and remote as well as physical and in person; the workspace may be remote, at home, in a coffee shop, even in transit. The world is in perpetual motion, and people want their space to keep up.

In spite of, or perhaps due to the pandemic and factors such as climate change, spaces are expected to do more than ever, and to answer questions never asked before, like “Do you need an office building?” and “What is the new purpose of the spaces we inhabit?” Covid-19 accelerated an existing trend — work is now an experience, not just a location, and for many the location is a conscious choice as well. For buildings to fulfill their promise and guarantee their future, their managers must step up to the expectations of modern society.

Emerging technologies can make the so-called “built world” better through merging infrastructure initiatives with the call to action on sustainability — how do we convert buildings, which produce roughly 40% of all carbon emissions, into sustainable ecosystems?

It's all about the data

Connected buildings churn out millions of data points through their many sensors, measuring temperature, humidity, energy, light, air quality, and video. These data points traditionally resided in siloed systems, but IoT technologies, cloud adoption and edge processing have integrated these data points like never before.

Organisations struggle to develop meaningful use cases and data analytics to improve manager decision making. Data reporting and analytics are critical for building certification audits and compliance with sustainability goals and other statutory requirements. Building data has the potential to improve decisions on peak load management, equipment downtime, and equipment failure predictions.

Smart cities - The evolving role

City governments vary but have similar leadership and responsibilities. They have a public face (mayor), operations leader (city manager), front line (city worker), partner (private service provider), and ultimately citizen.

Even in the best of times, there is a constant struggle for cities to provide sufficient public services with seemingly insufficient budgets. This requires creativity from city leaders, from sharing resources like public safety to squeezing the most value from their technology investments.

Technology investment by local government has traditionally been viewed as an expensive luxury, but this attitude is changing as technology prices fall and more digital native citizens demand more tech solutions from government. For example, web-based self-service chatbots provide the public answers to many questions, and other tech automates requests and approval workflows – which also improves citizen experience.

There is no fully smart city yet, although some are smarter than others. London regularly graces smart city lists for its Office of Technology that coordinates multiple smart city projects. Singapore also ranks high on smart city lists for its extensive use of IoT with its Smart Nation program, where one use case is to detect people smoking in non-smoking areas. There are many smart city pilots, and lessons have already emerged.

According to World Economic Forum (WEF), the path to Net Zero Carbon Cities has four components: ultra-efficient, connected buildings; smart energy infrastructure; clean electrification; and high urban density. The role of the private sector is changing from “selling widgets and gadgets to cities” to “promoting an outcome-driven model.”

The promise of smart cities is to apply technology to improve urban citizen quality of life, and to improve overarching environmental, social and governance targets, reducing per capita energy and resource consumption. The potential of integrating with a command center, they can deliver insights through predictive capabilities and optimise across many buildings and other infrastructure assets.

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Image credit: Infosys.

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