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Will dreams of sustainable buildings ever come true?

Dreams are challenging. They require ambition, patience, motivation… and sometimes, even acceptance of defeat. Thankfully, this isn’t an article about that! Instead, when it comes to sustainable buildings, we’re in the former stage of being patient with ever-growing motivation. We have a vision of what they are and how they work but proving it with actual buildings is more difficult.

While we’ve been working on making sustainable buildings a reality for years, new setbacks constantly arise. At some point, we must ask ourselves, “Are we dreaming an impossible dream?”

If I may be so bold, the answer is no. Sustainable buildings and communities are not a quixotic dream. They are possible, but we need to reset our timeline and expectations.

How do we get there?

To make this dream happen, we first have to understand the built environment in far greater detail and precision. Modern buildings, utilities, and infrastructure have been around for more than a century; but it’s only been in the past decade that we’ve developed the sensors and connected devices that let us collect the data we need. And it’s only been in the past few years that we’ve developed software tools that analyze these billions of new data points. By collecting measurable data from all systems and possible inputs, we can build a 360* picture of how well a building is actually operating.

Tech solutions confront the challenges of quantifying performance and integrating different dashboards so property owners and operators can concisely see what is going on in their buildings to make informed decisions. These sensors can measure what systems are underperforming, operating unusually, or determine occupant patterns that impact building energy levels.

This data creates a feedback loop: the design of a building can impact how it’s used by occupants, which impacts how systems must proactively and predictively perform. Understanding how a property is used and thus, how it must work, will impact energy efficiency much more than a new project like adding solar panels.

Putting the data to use

Soon, there will be an enormous data set from years of facilities operations that includes properties from commercial real estate to public spaces to hotels and homes. The data will include energy use, system performance, occupant habits and even reveal patterns we don’t yet know exist. This data will impact the design of future building construction and design as well as occupant behavior, such as how people really work in an open office environment. Building systems do not operate in silos; understanding these interconnected relationships is a major leap towards knowing how healthy and sustainable a building is and can be.

Despite reported fears, sustainable buildings will never operate by themselves. There will always be a need for people at the helm to understand the data that automated systems collect. From examining dashboards, making last minute changes for planned events, physically changing light bulbs and dreaming up new solutions for increased property efficiency, humans will always be a part of the building operations equation.

So, what’s next?

We need today’s building developers, investors, owners and occupiers to care and be aware. This awareness is a result of data from IoT sensors, building automation systems and user input like maintenance records and other observations. Energy efficient buildings are a significant goal for property managers but sustainable buildings are the real, and very attainable, dream of the not-so-distant future.



Craig Wood is the Director of Business Development and Technology at Site 1001, a high performance building performance and operations software platform that uses core building information, building systems and sensor data in combination with artificial intelligence to put the “smart” in “smart buildings.

Craig will be joining Measurabl for a webinar September 18th about Debunking IoT Myths. Save your spot!


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