Sustainability is firmly on the business agenda around the world, and the efficiency of buildings has natural come under the spotlight. They account for nearly 40% of the world’s energy use, 70% of electrical consumption and 40% of the world’s greenhouse emissions. Clearly, a sustainable future for buildings everywhere will make for a better environment, and that brings a whole new set of challenges for anyone in Facilities Management (FM).

By integrating smart technology into retail premises, offices and plants, it’s possible to constantly measure thousands of important and ever-changing events. In gathering data and benchmarking what should be happening, buildings can self-regulate to fix any fluctuations automatically, and alert FM when human intervention is necessary. This human intervention, in turn, can also be streamlined by technology, to make sure that anything that’s not operating efficiently can be quickly fixed or replaced.

Smart meters can provide real-time data across a number of buildings, an individual building or even a single room. This collects the Big Data needed for FM to effectively benchmark, providing a real-time snapshot of performance and energy usage at any point in the day.

This constant monitoring has proven to have a positive effect on the bottom line. A recent study showed that FM spends 30% more on an non-benchmarked building, and 15% more per square foot on maintenance, as a direct result of inefficiencies that have been allowed to develop.

But a more sustainable building doesn’t just mean lower energy bills - it can boost staff morale and performance, as well. WorldGBC’s recent report showed that there was a reduction in employees taking sick days in ‘green’ buildings, as well as an increase in productivity. Of particular note was a saving of £200,000 for engineering consultancy, Cundall. Their new-build office focused on improved indoor air quality, through continuous monitoring of carbon dioxide (CO2 ) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and resulted in a 58% reduction in absenteeism, as well as a 27% reduction in staff turnover.

And while most people’s vision of a smart building probably involves an abundance of glass and chrome, designed in the most modern of styles, smart buildings don’t have to be designed from scratch. In fact, one of the most iconic historical buildings in the world, the Empire State Building, has become somewhat of a poster child for smart sustainability. Sensors have been installed throughout the building, measuring CO2, motion, and room temperature, so that air quality, lighting and air conditioning can be monitored and controlled remotely. Skanska USA, who occupy an entire floor, have reportedly reduced their electricity spending by 57%, compared to their previous office.

The Smart Office future for… Maintenance

An inefficient air cooling system uses a lot of power to very little effect, whether it’s as a result of irregular maintenance or a broken part. An AC filter needs changing once a month if it’s running every day, and an old filter adds 5-15% to energy usage, as well as shortens the lifespan of the unit. By simply adding a barcode to each unit, anyone doing maintenance can quickly scan it, to have the filter change noted in the system. This will then automatically alert the team after 30 days when it needs changing again.

For more on how technology is set to revolutionise the maintenance of buildings, check out our trip to Hotel d’Data.

The Smart Office for… Office workers

Measuring desk occupancy in real-time can create a workable ‘hot-desking’ environment, allowing employees to check on arrival at a centralised screen or on a phone app to see which desks are free, who is occupying those around them, and even displaying the level of noise in that area.

With flexible working on the increase, efficient space utilisation can become a challenge. Long-term, this room and desk occupancy data can be used by FM to make informed decisions about the size and type of office space needed.

The Smart Office for… Security

By issuing every member of staff and visitor with a smart tag, it’s possible to know exactly where each person is in the building at any time. This is important for health and safety (and so will lower insurance premiums), as well as R&D, where certain areas are off-limits for all but the necessary personnel. It’s a lot more efficient than manually signing in guests, issuing them with a paper pass, and asking a member of staff to come to reception to greet them.

This smart-tag data also feeds into the same system that monitors lighting and air cooling, so that the rooms in the building are automatically made comfortable when occupied.

The Smart Office future for… Architects

The effect that technology will have on the way architects design buildings is almost limitless - everything from the placement and size of the carparks to the material used for the windows will be influenced.

This is already being seen in many new buildings. The new headquarters of Deloitte in Amsterdam, for instance, has been designed to integrate 28,000 sensors micromanaging humidity, light and temperature to precisely replicated the feeling of being outside on a warm day.

In the future, a truly smart building will employ technology selectively, to best suit the needs of its users. Betsey Dougherty, co-founder of Dougherty + Dougherty Architects in California, says “A smart building should allow you to get better faster if it's a hospital, learn more if it's a school, be more creative if it's an office.”