Do you understand the impact?
Uwe Klatt of Disruptive Technologies looks at the role of Remote Monitoring in the future of Sustainable Buildings Management
Like every other sector, buildings management has scope to make a significant contribution to the reduction of the UK’s carbon footprint. The built environment currently contributes around 40% of the UK’s total emissions. Within that figure, operational emissions accounts for approximately 28%. Although some of this can be countered with sustainable construction practices and the integration of efficient facilities, smart materials and features, 80% of the UK’s buildings that will be occupied in 2050 have already been built today. That leaves us with a vast building stock to strategically manage. While some impact will be made by the decarbonisation of energy, and other government-led initiatives, it remains the responsibility of the individual facilities manager to maximise the efficiency of the properties in their care.
But while we all share an ethical duty to reduce the environmental impact of our businesses, integrating sustainable practises within daily processes also has the potential to make other appreciable gains for your business.
Why sustainability matters in modern buildings services
Beyond the obvious environmental responsibilities that we all carry; recent research has enhanced the general understanding of the impact that the quality of the indoor environment has on employees. A recently published PLOS ONE report concluded ‘healthy’ buildings employing more sustainable practices ‘show a significant improvement in the perceived indoor environmental conditions and health of the relocated workers,’ increasing the level of employee satisfaction while observing ‘significant improvements in the health status of individuals.’
With sickness-related absenteeism costing the UK economy £77.5 billion a year, and presenteeism costing UK employers between £26bn and £29bn[v] annually through lost productivity, enhancing the health of buildings through the application of sustainable practices can deliver direct gains to employers. The ongoing evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) holds the potential to fundamentally transform the way that we manage and use both new builds, and older building stock, through the application of remote monitoring.
Remote monitoring and sustainability in buildings and facilities management
Powered by IoT, remote monitoring has the potential to provide buildings managers with vital, real time data on a variety of integral topics, from building health and asset lifetime, to energy efficiency and waste. Enabling informed decision making, automating accountability, and building sustainability into a business’ very operating model.
How does remote monitoring work?
With the development of tiny wireless IoT sensors with long battery-lifetime, you can control almost any aspect of any room of any building, from anywhere. Wireless sensors are not just for new builds, they can be retrofitted to older buildings, reducing waste and enabling any building to become a smart building.
An example of this technology is the Disruptive Technologies sensors, which monitor six key features of a building, including temperature, proximity, water and humidity. Each sensor monitors a particular attribute of your assets. Wirelessly linked to a cloud connector, the data is then securely transferred to an API platform for customer analysis. Automatic alerts or triggers are sent out when urgent action needs to be taken – if a particular section of pipework has not been flushed in line with legionella compliance, for instance. Managers have access to all the data they need to make informed decisions about other aspects of buildings management.
With simple installation which avoids the removal or disruption of legacy systems, and straightforward data system integration, remote monitoring has the potential to be infinitely scalable, while remaining unobtrusive to the workforce. In addition, advanced security protocols ensure that data is never accessed by unauthorised parties. The prospective application of these systems is ever evolving, as IoT and its capabilities grow.
Where can remote monitoring benefit sustainability in buildings management?
Remote monitoring has potential to be leveraged across buildings management, helping as much with the tracking of sustainability goals, as with the application of sustainable procedures and smart decision making. If used well, it can help in the following areas.
Reducing the need for field operatives
The Covid-19 pandemic necessitated the introduction of new business practices. A reduction of field operative deployment has been a key characteristic of 2020/21, but in many cases, this has only been possible thanks to remote monitoring. The data provided by smart sensors allowed managers – both of facilities and other assets – to make informed decisions about personnel utilisation. With field workers only attending sites where they were really needed, businesses not only saved time and money, but avoided unnecessary disruption, and unnecessary energy consumption.
Maintenance is an integral part of facilities management but it’s not always possible to know that the right decisions are being made, or that the intended results will be achieved. Predictive maintenance is one of the key benefits of remote monitoring. With real-time data available on a full range of topics, facilities managers can see where problems are forming, and make informed decisions upon where and how to take action. This proactive approach reduces unnecessary waste and the environmental impact of unscheduled maintenance, while avoiding projects that need not be undertaken. All the while, having solid data to support decisions should accountability ever come into question.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) constitutes one of the largest sustainability drains, while environment and comfort play an enormous part in employee performance. If a building is too cold or too hot, has poor lighting or limited ventilation, it won’t just impact employee motivation, but their health. With smart sensor applications, managers can actively monitor and control HVAC according to building use. Redeploying assets and redesigning the working environment to ensure that spaces are being employed to maximum effect will have a considerable impact on the comfort of the occupants, and the energy bills
Of the compliance issues faced by facilities managers, legionella is a significant priority but current compliance tactics create a lot of waste. Remote monitoring can show managers where action needs to be taken – has the requisite amount of water flowed through this tap? Has the water temperature reached the required figure? – ensuring compliance without the waste of a full system flush. Again, providing managers with an audit trail necessary to support all decisions made.
This can apply to a full range of compliance and environmental, social and governance goals, from cleaning to sustainability.
Remote monitoring has developed enormously in just the last year. It can do so much more for so much less, making scalable, cost-effective sustainability an achievable goal for all forms of facilities managers.
In 1994, John Elkington wrote about the “triple bottom line”. His argument was that modern business should have three core areas of focus. He termed them ‘the three Ps’: profit, people and planet. The application of remote monitoring within buildings management answers all three responsibilities. Reducing long-term expenditure through predictive maintenance, smart resource allocation and informed compliance processes. Increasing profitability through reduced employee downtime and enhanced productivity. Caring for the planet throughout, with minimised waste, decreased energy use and lowered emissions. With the potential to change the way in which commercial – and residential – buildings are managed, in terms of maintenance, cleaning, asset management and tracking, and energy efficiency and sustainability, remote monitoring will be the future of better buildings management.