Smart buildings are WELL and good but how sustainable are they?

Against the backdrop of our current energy ‘crisis’, facilities managers (FMs) nationwide are looking at ways to improve the ever-increasing standards in energy efficiency across the built environment commercial sector. While energy monitoring and new approaches to energy efficiency are providing FMs with the ability to reduce energy costs, is this enough to ensure WELL guidelines can continue to be met and sustained?

Significant inroads are being made by some of the key influencers contributing to industry changes in the commercial built environment sector such as Mirvac and Norman Disney & Young (NDY), but industry experts say progress is still “middle of the road”. Tony Arnel, NDY’s global director of sustainability says while the new WELL Building Standard* from the International WELL Building Institute is “a move in the right direction”, there are challenges.

This is due to both the expense and complex nature of the current WELL rating certification, which often renders it potentially cost prohibitive. When it comes to sustainability, Arnel says while minimum standards have helped to mainstream energy, water and waste saving initiatives, Australia still has further to go in terms of its sustainability achievements.

Integrated technology is the ‘new green’

While more work is required to foster sustainable energy systems, progress is being made, says Ashak Nathwani, Honorary Associate in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney. And he says a new standard is being set by the building industry. An expert on high performance buildings, Nathwani defines ‘smart’ in terms of combining optimum levels of indoor environment quality (IEQ), high levels of water and energy efficiency and waste reduction and strong investment returns. Further, he reminds us that the central task of energy management is to reduce costs for the provision of energy in buildings and facilities without compromising work processes. He also says technology is making it much easier to manage the entire lifecycle of a building.

Speaking at the facilities management industry’s national forum, the 2017 Total Facilities exhibition Nathwani says it’s not just improvements to operational costs and performance that increasing energy efficiency can yield.

“The adaptation of integrated technology in the commercial construction marketplace has gone a long way to helping building owners have their properties green rated. Maintaining these smart buildings means FMs are facing increasing operational cost pressures and, as a result, are looking to energy efficiency improvements as a method to tackle this,” he explains.

He says simple energy-monitoring solutions are no longer sufficient in achieving significant cuts in consumption. In today’s environment, integrated and cloud-based solutions are providing the next step in improving operations and delivering real value for businesses.

It’s all about automation

Built environment experts are turning more and more to building information modelling (BIM), which generates digital representations of the physical and functional characteristics of a place. BIM utilises 5-D models (time and cost being the fourth and fifth dimensions), which detail every system in a building, from lifts and lighting to air conditioning, right down to who made a light fitting. It can even indicate when a particular piece of equipment needs servicing.

Nathwani says BIM makes it possible to see how a building performs five to 15 years down the track.

“It’s very valuable to the facilities manager. It means better information for them to work with providing lifecycle costings and analysis over longer periods; increased coordination of construction documents; links to vendor information for specific materials and increased speed of delivery,” he says.

Some of these latest integrated solutions are reflected in Mirvac’s landmark 200 George Street in the Sydney CBD. Sporting the latest in smart technologies, it is touted as one of Australia’s most environmentally advanced and sustainable buildings, and includes BIM and a range of new sensor technologies. The 200 George facility managers are reaping the rewards of improved energy and waste efficiencies, reporting that not only is it making monitoring building performance easier but it can also anticipate and prevent a range of operational issues happening in the first place.

The supply chain has the smarts too

Service providers and product suppliers are rising to the challenge of taking full life-cycle responsibility for their products and equipment. One such provider is Logical Building Automation, which specialises in automation systems for high end applications including universities, data centres, 6 Star Green Star Buildings, and energy monitoring. One of the largest exhibitors at the 2017 Total Facilities exhibition, Logical Building Automaton, prides itself on minimising life cycle costs while maximising NABERS (National Australian Built Environment Rating System) ratings and improving indoor air quality.

“For us it’s all about providing high quality, energy-efficient systems and then optimising  maintenance for while reducing overall operating costs. It’s a priority for us to demonstrate we are one of the movers and shakers of the FM world, which is why we continue to value our engagement with the industry via the annual Total Facilities expo,” says Logical Building Automaton Executive Chairman Jim Henry.

While some industry experts are calling for more energy saving solutions, others say current and emerging systems are revolutionising how FMs are maintaining smart buildings. Whatever the case may prove to be, it is undeniable that today’s FM landscape is driven by integrated technology models aiming to deliver longer building lifecycles and happier, more productive occupants. Now that’s pretty smart business.

*WELL Building Standard, a US rating system offering a comprehensive set of criteria that measures indoor environment quality, covering everything from ventilation and lighting through to nourishment and materiality, to improve the wellbeing of workers.

Photography by Brett Boardman