Sustainability is key

Smart is the new paradigm we come across in everything today. Phones are already there and cities are becoming smart too. But while defining the latter, there’s an overemphasis on information and communication technology (ICT) to achieve liveability, workability and sustainability.

The built environment must give importance to sustainable development as an indispensable and decisive pillar to become truly smart. It is critical to our generation and for those to come.

Instead of viewing the smart and sustainable built environment solely as an ICT-driven paradigm, let us look at an alternative characterisation. Smart could then be an acronym for Sustainability, Monitored, maintained and managed, Assessed and accounted, Ranked, and Targeted. A built environment that adopts these tenets, doctrines, standards and determinants will truly be smart and sustainable.

Invest in green

Sustainability not only covers elements of environmental impact but also addresses the economic and social ramifications of the built environment.

To begin with, every building needs to be profitable and financially attractive in order for it to be smart. Without the necessary cash flow, there will be no opportunity to implement smart objectives.

Experience demonstrates that although energy and water conservation and sustain- able waste management lead to cost savings, building owners have shown reluctance to invest in new technologies for green certification unless the return on investment is attractive.

Thus, factoring in green building certification and energy and water efficiency upgrades into the financial model is a mandatory first step for real estate to be truly smart.

Avoid overdesign

Buildings these days are often overdesigned, featuring, for instance, lavish lighting and free-flowing air conditioning, resulting in excessive equipment. This leads to heavy operational and maintenance expenses throughout their life cycle, thus negatively impacting financial sustainability and the environment in the form of greenhouse gas emissions.

Overdesign also leads to poor indoor environmental quality where the focus is only on freezing the environment while overlooking the need for fresh air.

In addition, paints, adhesives, sealants, furniture, carpets, etc., emit volatile organic compounds that lead to repugnant odours and cause breathing and other respiratory problems in occupants. An educated selection of easily available and cost-effective materials can improve the quality of the indoor environment, which, in turn, has a substantial overall positive impact.

Effective management

A smart sustainable built environment also needs to be monitored, maintained and managed — not necessarily in real time or 24x7, but throughout the life cycle of the building, relentlessly and in a steady manner. Emergency and essential services such as fire alarms, elevators, security cameras, domestic water services and back-up power must also be maintained for uninterrupted performance.

When a building is regularly monitored, the energy and water consumption is lower compared to similar assets. Everything works efficiently, thereby reducing maintenance costs.

Air-conditioning equipment such as chillers, chilled water pumps, chiller plant managers, fresh air handling units, and fan coil units do not break down without any warning.

In essence, a smart sustainable building achieves significantly reduced operational and maintenance costs, prevents surprise breakdowns, guarantees business continuity and ensures that the built environment is transparent to its operators and owners.

Assessment is key

A built environment functions as an asset for its stakeholders, primarily the occupants, who either make a living from this space or reside in it. Therefore it needs to be assessed for its performance and held accountable to its occupants.

A smart building should be assessed on the basis of several parameters, including but not limited to electricity and water consumption, carbon footprint, fresh air, lighting power density, installed air-conditioning capacity versus operating tonnage, occupant complaints related to electromechanical and plumbing issues and equipment breakdown.

To make the building accountable, all this information must be displayed on a screen in the lobby for occupants to review and understand. It is also critical to ensure that the information showcased is not only about the current time period but also includes comparative data representing past and present performance, as well as potential performance vis-à-vis other similar buildings.

These key performance indicators (KPIs) need to be universal. The data is captured via sensors and meters and converted into meaningful KPIs via simple software. Assessment and account- ability are important as they make the smart and sustainable measurable.

Right ratings

Smart buildings must be ranked on their triple bottom line performance via different rating frameworks, particularly applicable to existing buildings. These include Estidama, the Arab world’s first green building rating system, Leed, and Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology — the world’s longest established method of certifying sustainability in buildings — as well as Energy Star or Green Globe for hotels.

Ratings are a result of building performance that is audited and then certified by competent bodies. While it is not about competition, ranking does help in the long-term sustainability of any built environment.

The Dubai Chamber building was the first in the Arab world to be Leed certified in the first instance. That initial certification was just the beginning and today the same building has been upgraded to Leed Platinum. Ranking drives ambitions and sustainability is an ongoing journey towards excellence that does not have a finish line.

Stay on track

This brings us to the final leg — tracking the progress and maturity of a built environment, either from unsustainable to smart sustainable, or in terms of evolving on a smart sustainability scale over a specified period.

There are close to 100 Leed-certified buildings in the UAE and maintaining the same level of sustainability throughout their life cycles may not be a universal programme. Therefore in the same manner as that of the Dubai Chamber building, all smart sustainable built environments must have goals to ensure sustainability is an ongoing philosophy — that they are monitored, maintained and managed, periodically assessed and held accountable to stakeholders, and regularly ranked for sustainability. Once short-, medium-and long-term targets are set, all aspects of smart sustainable buildings will be in place.

Source: Sougata Nandi
He developed and implemented the region’s first sustainable development policy for Tecom Investments. Over a span of 17 years, he has helped reduce carbon emissions in excess of 100,000 tonnes to date. He set up the Emirates Energy Star programme in 2011 as well as established other energy and water conservation projects across the UAE.

Al Nisr Publishing accepts no liability for the views or opinions expressed in this column, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided.


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