IFM Innovators

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What sustainable smart technology trends are on the rise

Environmental care is not “nice to have” (extras) but “must have” (a necessity). Sustainability is a demand from customers, governments, and the planet’s internal clock. According to the Climate Clock, we have about 7 years to prevent the temperature from rising 1.5ºC.

If that doesn’t sound so serious (what’s the point of maintaining your air conditioning, anyway?), NASA warns that it’s enough to endanger the habitat of 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of all vertebrates. Still, it’s one of the more encouraging scenarios.

Should the temperature rise even further — at this rate, it could rise by up to 4°C by 2100 — 24 Portuguese towns will disappear, as will much of Lisbon. The entire Portuguese territory would be at risk of extreme drought. But for now, enough with the apocalyptic scenarios. What can we do during these 7 years?

Let’s establish our starting point:

So, it doesn’t take much effort to realise that the villains are… the buildings? Well, since buildings don’t build or operate themselves, the problem is actually us. So, it’s up to Facility Management to rectify building problems and avoid wasting energy with smart technology.

“Sustainability is as important, if not more important, than having workspaces that are suitable for their users. Clients have ambitious goals already set and expect suppliers to keep up and help them achieve them. Facility Management’s contribution is again very important here, by implementing best practices in client spaces.”

– Rui Gomes, ISS Facilities Portugal

How to avoid wasting energy in buildings?

A big part of the problem is that many buildings have old construction with a poor thermal envelope. This makes them vulnerable to the outside temperature. In winter it’s hard to keep spaces warm, and in summer it’s hard to keep them cool. On average, the HVAC system accounts for 40% of the energy used.

Therefore, in old buildings, saving energy inevitably involves rehabilitation, together with the application of new technologies. Singapore, for example, has already renovated 49% of its buildings to make them “greener” and wants to reach 80% by 2030. In Europe, the “renovation wave” should have the same timescale.


1. Smart HVAC systems

With a smart HVAC system, you can optimise the heating/cooling of the building depending on room occupancy (measured with sensors) and temperature (measured with smart thermostats).

A system developed at Boston University, for example, uses sensors in doors and ceilings, as well as fisheye cameras to calculate occupancy and regulate the HVAC system automatically.   

Adaptive systems, which adjust over time, can result in even more energy and money savings. A study by the University of Aveiro concludes that a 27% cost reduction can be achieved with these solutions and provide more comfort for occupants.

2. Occupancy Sensors & Space Optimisation

Now that most people will adopt a hybrid working system, many companies want to reduce their physical spaces. But that forces us to optimise space and minimise occupant frustration.

That’s why occupancy sensors are an asset for post-COVID Facility Management work. Understanding occupancy patterns allows us to optimise schedules and room layout, for example.

In addition, as we have already mentioned, they can be useful to optimise HVAC system settings, lighting, and even cleaning frequency. Occupancy sensors are estimated to reduce energy waste by 68% and result in savings of up to 60%.

3. Intelligent and Motorised Windows

According to the US Department of Energy, 75% of blinds stay in the same position all day. But on west-facing windows, window coverings and treatments can prevent 77% of heat gain.

So, temperature sensors and timers on motorised windows are also valuable smart technologies for saving energy in HVAC. You can, for example, close your blinds at the hottest times during the summer.

But the potential of smart windows is still to be explored. The system developed by ECOSTEEL and the Centre for Nanotechnology and Technical, Functional, and Intelligent Materials, for example, automatically heats up to prevent water freezing in drainage channels, as well as improving indoor air quality. 

4. Telemetry and Wastewater Treatment

Besides wasting energy, it is also important to avoid wasting water. A simple telemetry system in each section of the building and comparing the values in the morning and evening makes it possible to detect leaks.

Using humidity sensors to programme the irrigation of gardens and green areas is another interesting option for hotels, golf courses, football pitches, for example.

Although it is a less “intelligent” option, there are more and more “greywater recycler” equipment available on the market so that, through chemical and biological processes, you can reuse the wastewater in a secondary water network. It is worth remembering that in new or refurbished buildings you can also install a wastewater network.

5. Smart Lighting and Motion Sensors

Finally, although no longer a new technology, lamps that turn on and off via motion sensors are still a great way to save electricity in industrial or office buildings.

Brightness sensors to adjust lamp brightness (e.g., reduce while there is natural light or increase when it is foggy) are also another very promising smart technology for street lighting.

Gartner study suggests that smart LED light systems can reduce energy costs by up to 90% in office buildings. The city of Barcelona has managed to reduce 30% of its street lighting costs with smart LED lights. 


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