Attend the roundtable on 23rd January at 9.30am, in London, book your spot by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), the built environment contributes to around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. As environmental scientists warn we are fast approaching the point where the effects of climate change become irreversible, the UKPA is to host the second in its series of Tech For Good roundtable debates to ask, how can PropTech aid decarbonisation and improve the efficiency of buildings?
We spend an awful lot of time discussing the property industry from the fortunate vantage point of business people, entrepreneurs, knowledgeable experts, and influencers.
We discuss how more money can be made and less wasted; how more property can be built in shorter periods of time; how we can help the UK economy match the progress and success of other global powers; we argue about which startups will find success and which will fold within 12 months; we predict success and failure in business models, we join WhatsApp groups to offer and receive opinion at any time, even at home on the sofa during what is supposed to be family time.
One thing we don’t talk about nearly enough, however, is energy efficiency. And on those occasions that we do, it is almost exclusively in the context of increased profits, reduced wastage, and cheaper utility bills. The really important conversation is actually the one about how the built environment, that thing we all love talking about so much, is one of the most prolific contributors to the soon to be irreversible climate change that our world is enduring. It can only endure for so long.
Why are buildings so bad for the environment?
One reason for property causing so much environmental damage is because the construction methods which have been stuck to for generations were invented before we know that the materials, most notably concrete, emit dangerous, ozone eroding gasses. This, however, is something now easily solved for new-build property.
Property built from this moment onwards will be far more environmentally friendly, often made from recycled, materials and facilitated to run on alternative, renewable fuels.
However, by the year 2050, 80% of the UK’s buildings will be those which are already standing today. This means the real challenge we face in property is not how to build more efficient, less poisonous property, but rather, how do we remove the poison of property which already stands?
A Legacy to be proud of
Property is perhaps the most perfect example of legacy we have, eclipsed only by the national identity, dynasty, and family. Property is supposed to exist forever, and many buildings go on to become points of pride for us, imposing reminders of great success, deep regret, sonic achievement and great disaster. They are symbolic records of the ways in which the human race has traversed the earth’s surface and wrestled with the human condition.
However, the dangers of climate change are profound and real, and our legacy of property, regardless of how proud of it we are, is set to play a significant role in the downfall of our species if we do not act right now. If you think I’m exaggerating, you need to go to the UKPA roundtable more than anyone.
So, whilst there is, as I say, an important conversation still to be had about construction methods and new-build property, the far more interesting and vital question, and the one that I believe UKPA are hoping to most focus on during January’s roundtable, is, how do we improve the efficiency and therefore sustainability of existing commercial and residential property? The rest of this article is going to ask questions and provide very few answers; I hope it works as some lose point of reference for everyone that attends the roundtable, after which, I will write another piece packed full of insight and, hopefully, answers.
Much of the harm caused by property comes as a result of how occupants interact with the building from day-to-day. Perhaps more accurately, how the building itself handles the day-to-day activity of its occupants.
The foundation of this is operational energy efficiency; all Improvements in this area will go a long way to reducing the harm that property causes.
How much air, for example, does the property allow to escape its confines? The answer, ideally, would be close to none, but this is rarely the case. Heating or cooling the air within a building requires energy (and let’s not forget, money) to be spent. If some of this air is escaping, even more energy (and money) has to be spent to heat or cool the air which replaces it.
Can PropTech help develop new ways of detecting air leaks and then fixing them? Maybe there are exciting new innovations happening in insulation? In order to persuade landlords to address these issues, the solutions need to be unobtrusive and affordable. Can PropTech help is here, too?
Off the top of my head, I am drawn to mention one prominent PropTech startup that is doing great work in this area. Disruptive Technologies has created remarkable smart sensors, no bigger than a postage stamp, to monitor a theoretically infinite array of goings on within a building. From how much toilet paper is left in the loos, to identifying potential leaks in heating pipes before they’ve even happened, just by sticking a sensor strategically in place. The potential to improvise with these smart sensors, place them anywhere you want to perform whichever task you need, holds real excitement for the future. Imagine; you’ll be wondering through the aisle at Tesco and, along with your cereal bars and Earl Grey tea bags, you’ll pick up a set of five smart sensors, take them home and pop them in various spots around your home to monitor, protect, track, and alert – all of which will dramatically increase the efficiency of the home. The same can, of course, apply to commercial space.
To namecheck just a couple more PropTech efficiency pioneers, at least some of whom I hope will be attending the roundtable: Demand Logic work to save 10% – 30% of energy costs and also reduce carbon emissions by monitoring and HVAC systems, utility meters, temperature, CO2 levels, air-quality, humidity, occupancy, and more before offering smart, tech-driven solutions.
Asset Mapping are also working to optimise “the health” of a building to work towards a world where smart buildings are cheaper to operate, kinder to the environment, and healthier to work in.
Retrofitting property to reduce carbon emissions and wastage is a big part of the challenge we face, but we should also be thinking about making buildings run on alternative, renewable energy sources. Again, what role can PropTech play here? Can retrofitting be used to replace gas dependance? If so, should we be pressuring the government to tighten efficiency regulations for landlords and owners of all types of property?
We also have to consider the fact that, In order to fix issues, we first have to identify and locate them. Might IoT and smart technology be the secret weapon, here? Are smart sensors, alarms, and detectors able to recognise when and where efficiency is failing, and then quickly warn the occupants and landlord that something needs to be done?
You see? All I have is questions at the moment, and I am someone who has to read an awful lot of stuff about PropTech innovation – I honestly can’t remember carbon emissions being the subject of any energetic conversation – certainly not like those we’re always reading about the good and bad of online agents. This is one reason why addressing these issues is currently such a challenge, but there are plenty more on top of it…
Why is this proving such a challenge?
First and foremost, this is all far of a challenge than it needed to be because we have left it far too long to start addressing, in earnest, property’s role in climate change. This isn’t anybody’s fault in particular, more a united oversight of nations around the world. Experts and scienists have been yelping and shouting for decades but, to paraphrase the now infamous words of Michael Gove, who cares what the experts say?
Joking aside, sustainability simply hasn’t been addressed properly by those with the brains and clout to make a real difference. And because we’ve left it so long, the whole process is now a race against time – not only do improvements need to be made, but they need to be made very, very quickly. If we act slowly, our great-great grandchildren could well be the last to live on earth, at least without the aid of cumbersome breathing apparatus
Little wonder then how frustrating it is that government policies aimed at improving the efficiency of existing buildings have been dramatically scaled back – no prizes for guessing why. Does PropTech shoulder any of the responsibility for persuading the government to double down on efforts?
With that in mind, how much responsibility should PropTech shoulder for ensuring the environmental health of the world in general?
It’s not only government interest which has waned, but owners and landlords appear to be losing focus, too, as illustrated by insulation installation rates having stalled rather than increased in recent years.
There also appears to be a lack of incentive to improve the efficiency of buildings: energy costs only account for 1-3% of an average company’s total outgoings and therefore addressing the issue is not a financial priority. In business, financial priorities often eclipse all others, even the premature end of the world.
With this is mind, it might be worth discussing whether PropTech should be innovating towards the goal of reduced emissions, but selling and marketing on the story of increased profits (in the case of homes, lower utility bills) as to achieve the necessary eco-improvements without having to overcome the disinterest of the target market?
To conclude, for now
When stood next to carbon emissions and climate change, every other PropTech conversation and area of interest appears self-serving and irrelevant. If we don’t address the problem now, we will soon be far too busy trying to work out how to clean the air of dust to be at all bothered about online agents, or profit margins, or startup success rates, or streamlined property management.
That’s why, when we gather on 23rd January, 2019, at the headquarters of Coyote, in Monument, the stakes could not be higher, we should all see this as day one of our new and improved attitude towards property efficiency. It’s also why, once the roundtable has concluded, words must be followed by action.
As well as everything above, I know the UKPA is particularly interested in discussing a number of other topics. These include:
- Improving the fabric and infrastructure of buildings using technology such as IoT, smart technology, and connectivity solutions, all to help to manage operations and communications. – Could this then improve the energy efficiency and performance of a building, lowering the impact on the environment and costs?
- Improving building services, using technology to increase productivity and wellbeing of employees
- Using technology-enabled insights to inform the design and layout of buildings in order to improve efficiency and optimise function, as well as helping to improve productivity and wellbeing.
Written by Will Darbyshire, The Digital Marketing Bureau (TDMB)