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How are facilities managers preparing buildings for a net zero future?

There may be 30 years to go to the UK’s ambitious 2050 net zero target, but growing numbers of landlords and companies are aiming to cut their carbon footprint sooner rather than later.

Facilities management is at the heart of making it happen. Commercial real estate contributes around 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions – and reducing this in the coming years is essential both for companies to hit their own sustainability goals and, of course, for minimising environment damage.

Indeed, it’s one of the biggest challenges facing facilities managers today; how can you cut energy use while still keeping buildings running smoothly and ensuring high levels of service?        

“These are two overriding areas that go hand-in-hand with the drive to cut energy consumption,” says David Whiteley, head of sales and solutions at Integral. “From large global corporates right through to smaller firms, we’ve seen more awareness and demand among clients remains steadfast.

“We’re getting more questions from clients about their existing energy systems and how they can proceed, ranging from new charging points for electric vehicles to better maintenance.”

Taking stock of energy use

While some facilities managers are working in modern buildings, many others are tasked with improving energy performance in old, and in some cases, listed commercial real estate.

Even a heating system from this century may no longer be fit for today’s needs, says Alan Epps, operations director for Integral. “Heating systems are, of course, a huge source of energy loss and maintenance in all its virtual and physical forms can help deliver change.”

Research by the Carbon Trust estimates that around 75 percent of a building’s energy is lost to its surroundings – with a negative effect on both a company’s balance sheet and the environment.

It’s why more clients are paying closer attention to their energy consumption, says Epps. Take, for example, a major UK landlord with historic buildings within its central London portfolio that has been seeking new ways to optimise energy use and cut the building’s carbon footprint.

“You could argue that introducing, for example, LED sensor lighting to reduce electricity use is not the best place to start in a 250-year-old, poorly insulated, single-glazed building,” he says. “But there are many energy-saving tools in the box, such as deep cleaning of systems, for all types of buildings, regardless of vintage.”

Technology supports facilities management

More companies are turning to new technology, with older, outdated systems needing upgrades. It’s not just offices, but data centres too, where cooling systems can be upgraded to respond to actual demand, rather than simply being turned on and off.

Technology, specifically computer-aided facilities management system software, can help analyse data from sensors and more pro-actively manage energy use, with graphics and stats that can demonstrate how many kilowatt hours can be saved.

“Being able to track live energy consumption means being able to pick up anomalies much quicker,” says Epps. “That goes back to the question of cost as well as the sustainability benefits that a more predictive-based approach can offer.

“If a building needs to be a certain temperature for employees at, say 8am, then such systems can already detect at 6am if that target is going to achieved – and if not, it can be fixed more quickly by facilities managers.”

Switching to a more data-driven approach can, however, be a big challenge for some clients both in terms of implementing the right technology and operating it effectively, Whiteley says. Facilities managers, for example, need ongoing training in ever-more sophisticated systems to give them the skills they need as buildings get smarter.

And as demand for greener buildings grows, facilities management will have to get more creative whether through taking the lead in enacting energy efficient strategies, adapting buildings to accommodate more bike storage or electric vehicle charging points or supporting health and productivity goals in the workplace.

“There’s still a need to educate both landlords and occupiers on what can be done to deliver better places to work and at a lower long-term cost to the planet, business and employees,” Whiteley says. “But if anything, this year’s upheaval has underlined the importance of the move towards greener buildings.”

To achieve net zero carbon, buildings must be net zero throughout their lifecycle, including development, refurbishment, and operation. We have a full suite of solutions to help you at every stage. Find out more here.

Read time: 3:54 min.

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