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How IoT is Making Workplaces Sustainable

27 Aug 2020

With the target to bring all greenhouse emissions to net-zero by 2050 fast approaching, all sectors of the economy need to take a serious stance on tackling the global climate change crisis. The built environment has a big role to play in the coming years, with IoT taking a huge share of the cake in helping make buildings efficient and reduce their carbon emissions. Specifically, we’ll look into how IoT is making workplaces sustainable.


Table of Contents:
The Impact of Buildings on the Environment
How ESG is levelling the field
How to Reach Net Zero Carbon Emissions in Buildings
The New Green Technologies that Help Achieve a Net Zero Carbon Building


The Impact of Buildings on the Environment

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), buildings account for 36% of global final energy use and 39% of energy and process-related CO2 emissions. In the 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, both the IEA and the World Green Building Council identified electricity as the main culprit of the increase in emissions, with its use having risen of more than 19% since 2010 because of the surge in population and floor area expansion.

energy use - co2 emissions - of buildingsSource: IEA (2019), World Energy Statistics and Balances and Energy Technology Perspectives.
Space heating and cooling are the two major contributors to global warming, accounting for almost 40% of overall energy consumption in buildings and for 42% CO2 of emissions (IAE). It is air conditioning, however, the main driver of energy intensity, having grown to more than 2.7% from 2017 to 2018. This is also set to increase further the more our planet’s temperatures warm in the oncoming years.

sustainability: space heating and cooling main causes of CO2 - what affects workplaces sustainability efforts
In this scenario, it is clear that how we make buildings energy efficient needs to be a main focus of governments’ policies and a driver for improvement for developers and property owners.

How ESG is levelling the field

The climate change movement has brought to the attention of society at large, the heavy impact our actions have on the planet. As businesses start to pay attention, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) plans have come to the fore, providing a unified way for stakeholders to evaluate a company stance on sustainability matters. Adoption of ESG best practices demonstrate a business commitment to sustainability, whilst exposing it to external analysis and making it accountable in front of all stakeholders.

Companies which adopt ESG principles operate as steward of nature, build inclusive relationships with employees, suppliers, customers and the communities in which they operate and report on their leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls, and shareholder rights.

In the uncertainty brought by COVID-19, which led to investors dramatically reducing their risk exposures, ESG companies saw investors turning to them, as they are able to provide a level of downside protection (Visual Capitalist).

How to Reach Net Zero Carbon Emissions in Buildings

To be effective, the journey to net-zero carbon emissions has to start from construction and continue through to the building in operation. There are a number of viable approaches to decrease the overall energy consumption in buildings and their CO2 emissions, including:

  • switching to renewable energy and passive and low-energy design
  • introducing low-impact materials and technologies that drive efficiencies
  • adopting solutions that support carbon reductions on both the construction and operational level during the whole lifecycle of the building

However, as the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) explains, the biggest share of the work towards decarbonisation has to come from existing buildings, which will represent 80% of all buildings in use in 2050. As new buildings already tend to be planned with their full lifecycle in mind, it’s through retrofitting that the big share of energy saving can be found.

sources to achieve net zero carbon for operational energy efficiency - UKGBCSource: UKGBC
Based on the UKGBC framework, there are two definitions to achieve net-zero carbon buildings:

  • 1 Net zero carbon – construction (for new buildings and major renovations)
  • 2 Net zero carbon – operational energy (for all buildings in operation)

The net-zero carbon – construction calls for a whole life carbon assessment, for which the aim is the reduction in the impact of embodied carbon coming from the stages of construction and the materials used throughout the building lifecycle.

The net-zero carbon – operational energy looks at the performance and consumption of the energy used in the built environment (i.e. heating, lighting and appliances), including its reduction by the adoption of on-site renewable technology and additional renewable energy sources off-site, to balance out the building energy consumption.

The New Green Technologies that Help Achieve a Net Zero Carbon Building

sustainability in real estate: cause and effect
  • 1 Green Energy Sources
    The most cost-effective way to minimise the carbon footprint of buildings is through the investment and adoption of technologies that improve efficiency and reduce their energy demand. The installation of solar panels on the rooftop or the adoption of the latest smart windows blinds are just some of the possible innovations to start a building on this journey.
  • 2 Automate and predict to improve energy performance
    The integration of smart technology can boost the energy performance of a built environment exponentially thanks to the automation, optimisation and monitoring of processes. Clear advantages can also be encountered by introducing predictive analytics, which brings improved performance to operational and engineering maintenance.
  • 3 Sensors to manage the building efficiently
    The installation of smart sensors, interfaced with an integrated IoT platform, can let a facility manager and the occupiers of a building control and automate in real-time the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), lighting, lifts and many other building systems. Space utilisation sensors can understand when and where occupiers and their employees are in the building and switch off and on the systems accordingly. (Discover more on how IoT Drives Efficiencies in Facility Management)
  • 4 One platform to monitor and reach your goals
    The use of an integrated platform also means that all systems converge in one-single solution to track and monitor energy consumption from all the networks, providing a 360° visualisation over the ways the energy is spent and identifying the sources of possible “leaks”, for improved waste management. As solar panels and other renewable energy systems can be interfaced as well, the IoT platform becomes an invaluable tool to increase the energy efficiency of building.

IoT technology is the vehicle that helps boost the analysis of a building overall energy capacity, providing the insights needed to make informed decisions on potential energy savings and boosting companies and property owners’ ESG plans.

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