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The future is bright green

Building systems are getting friendly with each other. Andrew Cooper explains how open data protocols can promote building sustainability 

24 November 2011

Green issues have been closely associated with building sustainability in recent years. Yet the irony was that a building could be considered ‘green’ or environmentally friendly without, in fact, being sustainable.

A so-called green building would normally aim at some or all of the following:

- Reduce green house gas emissions
- Improve indoor air quality
- Improve energy efficiency
- Convert waste to energy
- Reduce waste and/or reuse or recycle it
- Reduce water consumption

However, to be actually sustainable, a building needs to be efficient over its entire life – both in terms of operation and cost.
It must also be fit for purpose and adaptable, able to meet a rapidly changing society. After all, the primary function of a building is to house people, be it a dwelling or for a business. If the built environment does not encourage productivity and well-being, it is not fulfilling its intended purpose.

‘Intelligent’ buildings have sought to increase the usability of a building and the health and well-being – and therefore the productivity – of those people working inside them.
An intelligent building is not necessarily complicated. By using good design, even with low technology, a building can be considered intelligent. It may use passive design features such as ventilation and free cooling, and control of internal temperature may be aided through thermal mass and structure.

But at FM level an intelligent building is likely to combine intelligent design with a degree of technological intelligence (or “active” intelligence) such as converged networks, integrated controls, digital IT and operational infrastructure, open protocol networks, sophisticated monitoring, targeting and buildings controls. This level of intelligence can be complex, and simplifying complexity for the user is also a key objective of an intelligent building.
A 'green' building aims to be a sustainable building. An ‘intelligent’ building aims to be adaptable, fit for purpose, to increase well-being and be as simple as possible to use and manage.

Bright green buildings

However, in recent years attention at the leading edge of property development has turned to combining these two elements to create ‘bright, green’ buildings.

The definition of a sustainable building, at this level, is now starting to change so that a building cannot be considered sustainable without also being intelligent.

After the 2005 United Nations World Summit, the three pillars of sustainability were agreed to be social, environmental, and economic considerations. Buildings or developments that are able to reflect all three pillars are regarded as being sustainable.

Thus a building must be usable and fit for purpose by those living or working inside them; it must be as little a drain on the natural environment as possible and it must also be efficient in its running costs over the whole life of the building.

The question mark in this equation has always been “value”.  Much has been written in the property press about whether sustainable buildings achieve a “green premium” on the open market.

The consensus of opinion seems to be that in the UK, there is not (yet) a green premium. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a ‘brown tariff’ developing for prime buildings that do not demonstrate any sustainable or green features, something increasingly demanded by corporate occupiers. Buildings that do not show sustainable features run the risk of becoming obsolete.

Retrofitting with sustainability in mind will increasingly become part and parcel of protecting an asset’s value. The RICS Valuation Information Paper 13 Sustainability and Commercial Property Valuation advises surveyors that more sustainable buildings may retain value over a longer term.

Interestingly, it is also the fear of obsolescence that is driving the great strides in technology being applied to intelligent buildings.

At a recent CIBSE Intelligent Buildings Group (CIBSE IBG) forum, Neil Pennell, head of engineering and sustainability at Land Securities, stated that the use of integrated systems in their shopping centres was essential to maintain value.

For example, in the past, larger and more complex buildings would have had separate systems for HVAC control, lighting controls, security, elevator monitoring, utility company interfaces, energy management and so forth.

However, these separate systems are now able to be integrated through the use of open data protocol systems, such as internet protocol (IP) networks and protocols such as BACnet and LonWorks.
Such protocols comprise an agreed upon set of rules that apply to a computer’s hardware and software. They can interface with a wide range of system types from BMS to hotel bookings and are therefore highly adaptable.

New systems can be added on, or old systems replaced, as requirements or technology changes. 
This can all be done with minimum disruption to provide greater control over life-cycle expenditure.

Pennell points out that, five years ago, such technology in shopping centres was regarded as innovative. Today it is expected.

“Measures that allow us to operate more efficiently ultimately mean us using fewer resources. Shopping centres that do not have such systems are being retrofitted to retain competitiveness.”

Thus, because these centres benefit from efficiencies perhaps not achievable through proprietary systems, they enjoy some degree of future proofing as a result. It was suggested that, as such, these intelligent systems were now considered sustainable features.
The retail environment has been a catalyst for this type of technology, since finding clever ways of operating is the difference between success and mediocrity. Many retailers’ rents are based on turnover and need to find ways of attracting and keeping customers for longer periods of time.

It could be argued, therefore, that only buildings that are both intelligent and green can be considered truly sustainable.

CIBSE IBG describes an intelligent building as “one that provides a productive and cost effective environment based on three basic elements: people, products and processes, and the interrelationships between them. Intelligent Buildings help building owners, property managers and occupants realise their goals in the areas of costs, lifetime energy management, well-being of the people within them, convenience, safety, long term flexibility and marketability to achieve buildings that have high social, environmental and economic values”.

The industry is certainly moving in this direction, and if the understanding of the definition of sustainability is being extended to this level, this will need to be considered by valuers.
There are some leading thinkers in property, such as Philip Parnell, a partner at Driver Jonas Deloitte and commentator on sustainability and value, that prefer to shy away from the term sustainable buildings altogether. They simply see such developments as a natural extension of good estate and asset management and ultimately a concept that sits within mainstream market considerations.

Enter: the facilities manager

Bright, green buildings enjoy innovate design and/or technological features that mean they are sustainable in the most specific sense of the word. As a result, they help maximise asset performance and increase 
or maintain the value of a building.

These innovations are not restricted to shopping centres. Developers are already looking at how they can implement what they have learned in the retail sector to other types of buildings. (See box, right.)

The office sector is a prime example of how better integration of people, systems, and processes will become crucial. The office worker of the future will require far more flexibility and the reliance on digital networks and open protocols will increase. The complexity of these systems will also increase and how this is dealt with remains an enormous challenge for engineers, FM’s and construction professionals.
The role of the FM is at the heart of these developments. Professor Derek Clements-Croome of Reading University, who is an expert on intelligent buildings advises that “FM’s are important because they deal not just with the occupants of buildings. The relationship between the person and the building will increase, and an understanding of these requirements at ground level is key to efficiency”

Facilities managers are need to understand open protocol networks and the integration of systems, people, and processes, and retain a broad understanding of how their role helps maximise value. Ultimately all this integration must be understood, interpreted, and presented in as simple a way as possible.

Andrew Cooper is a commercial property energy consultant

Further reading

RICS Valuation Information 
Paper 13
Sustainable Intelligent Buildings for People – Derek J. Clements-Croome

The EDSL TAS Calibrated Energy Model
An example of systems and processes being integrated to improve building performance is the EDSL TAS Calibrated Energy Model. Building energy and environmental simulation is extending its range of application from design and compliance calculations into commissioning and facilities management.

Building simulation models, with comprehensive plant and controls modelling, may be transformed into Calibrated Energy Models (CEM). This process involves replacing the assumed design occupation and usage of the building, and plant and controls operation, with actual occupation schedules and actual plant and control set points and 
run times.
This procedure results in a simulation model that closely matches the performance of the actual building. By example, Bovis Lend Lease and the Manchester Hospital Trust commissioned a calibrated energy model to be created for the new Manchester Joint Hospital complex.

Following a year of calibration, 
the model and the hospital will, if 
the process has been successful, have energy use running within a few per cent of each other.
Changes in mode of operation may be test-driven on the model to assess the benefits. Changes in the way the trust uses parts of the hospital may be entered into the model to generate new energy targets.

A CEM provides insight into the optimum operation of a building and its plant and controls. There are developments under way to more closely link a CEM to building energy management systems.

integrated systems now extend beyond building management, and digital networks can connect with the internet and portable devices, such as PDAs.

Once systems and process reach a certain level of integration, problems can arise with multiple systems and processes, which are not necessarily designed to work together.
Current approaches to software engineering do not necessarily scale to the complexity we see in software-intensive systems, and can’t always take into account their emergent properties and, in particular, user behaviours.

Some of these challenges can be overcome through an emerging science known as complex systems engineering (CSE), allowing operators to monitor systems interaction and to realise further efficiencies.

CSE, sometimes called ‘systems of systems’ engineering, seeks to replicate the environment within which the multiple systems operate. To this end, 
it uses what is known as a self-adapting simulation model. The model is used to identify deviations in maximum efficiency, often at the convergence of different systems and processes, and to alert the user of potential savings.
CSE helps to eliminate waste through improving efficiency and reducing complexity at the interface with the user.

It could be used to alert a controller of a change in occupancy in real time so that HVAC controls or lighting could be properly set to reflect this. The savings in this case would be the energy consumed through HVAC and lighting, with the added benefit of improved productivity from the worker or increased comfort of a shopper meaning that they main in the premises for longer.


A nanotechnology is the engineering of a functioning system at the molecular scale. Such systems are set to revolutionise the construction industry, particularly in terms of buildings facades, leading to leaps forward in the passive design features of an intelligent building.

Titanium Dioxide is an example of this. It is able to break down dirt or pollution and then allow it to be washed off by rain water on everything from concrete to glass, the result is self cleaning concrete and glass. Further developments include concrete that will be able to self-repair by producing a gel that seals cracks. Developments such as these can increase a building’s longevity, which in turn help to increase its sustainability.

Smart glass is another example. Recent developments have helped scientists develop a new type of smart window system that switches from summer to winter mode triggered by temperature change.

When it becomes warmer, the glass darkens, and at its extreme, is able to completely block any sun light, and when it becomes cooler it conveys high transmittance allowing the building to benefit from the free heat from the sun. As such there is reduction in both heating and cooling loads..