Ability to access real-time data key to fulfilling ESG goals

by Nicholas Lambrou
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Australia’s cities and regional centres were close to resembling lifeless concrete jungles, however, green spaces and facades are now emerging amid bricks and steel, as industry and government pursue a sustainable future. 

One Central Park in the Sydney suburb of Chippendale is a mixed-use dual high-rise building featuring green facades and open spaces, and Brisbane’s 41-storey Santos Place boasts an impressive six star green rating. 

These builds are aiming to remedy years of neglect that has left Australia in a less than desirable position when it comes to environmental impact. Our population is among the highest greenhouse gas emitters per capita, and the construction sector is responsible for 18.1 percent of the nation’s carbon footprint.

However, in its latest report, the National Australian Built Environmental Rating System (NABERS) flagged a 21 percent growth in Sustainable Portfolios Index ratings, a 26 percent increase in offices with NABERS Indoor Environment Ratings, and a 200 percent rise in offices with NABERS Waste ratings of five or more stars. 

The statistics demonstrate that a pursuit towards sustainability can also be harnessed in the maintenance and operation of commercial and residential properties.

As environment, social and corporate governance (ESG) is now commonplace at many Australian companies, it’s crucial that we interrogate just how ‘environmentally friendly’ our built environment can be – it’s not just about what’s being constructed, but how it’s being managed. 

Policy and top-down initiatives are encouraging a shift in mentality and practice. The Federal government’s Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings is pushing for a reduction in both carbon emissions and waste and utilities, alongside improving conditions for occupants.

The challenge is ensuring measures that are implemented during the construction process are effective in five, ten, or twenty years time. We need to constantly monitor if heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are operating as intended and not consuming too much power at the wrong time. Are water and energy conservation measures working, or is water and electricity being wasted? And how can we be sure leaks are addressed immediately? The devil is in the data. 

Internet of things technology (IoT) – a network of Internet-connected devices – has created the opportunity for businesses and building operators to access information about facilities that was previously untouched. Continued advances in this increasingly affordable technology has allowed commercial and residential properties to draw on data so that they can be more energy efficient and achieve ESG reporting obligations.

Case in point: Technopolis. The shared workspace operator, which runs 16 campuses that host 48,000 workers, addressed its operational sustainability ambitions by introducing ioT technology to monitor heating, cooling and ventilation. The company achieved ‘significant savings’ – such as improved working conditions – within months. The outcomes resulted from the ability to access real-time data. 

Access to such data via IoT will enable facility managers and occupiers to gauge energy and water consumption – essential at a time when the Australian Energy Regulator (AER)  predicted electricity prices to increase by up to 23.9 percent for households and 28.9 percent for small businesses. Water prices are also expected to spike, with certain regions set to face significant cost increases over the next five years.

Having usage data available allows for controlled and reduced consumption and helps reduce utilities use. This can drive significant efficiency benefits at a time when HVAC alone accounts for 70 percent of base building energy consumption.

Further, the IoT that provides the data enables consistent and accurate updates on conditions and abnormalities. A leak or fault can be identified and subsequently rectified immediately, eliminating the delays of waiting for expert personnel to visit a site and conduct an assessment. It also reduces the cost of metre reading, maintenance and waste – savings that can be passed onto bill payers.

As the built environment becomes greener in the fight against climate change, data will fundamentally dictate the ongoing impact that buildings and their long-term operations have on the planet. Government and industry face an opportunity to accelerate sustainability targets by not only building greener, but creating transparency into how sustainably our cities operate in the long term through allowing access to data and driving decisions from it.

Nicholas Lambrou is CEO at the Australian technology company, Thinxtra.

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