Using Occupancy Sensors to Improve Sustainability in Real Estate

We all know the need for environmental sustainability. And we often hear how we can improve things - through recycling, cutting our air miles, planting more trees, or cycling instead of taking the car

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Almost 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions come from real estate. While some of that comes from the construction and materials, building operations are still responsible for more than a quarter (27%).

If you are an architect, real estate owner or facilities manager, you can play a part in reducing the carbon impact of the buildings you design, own or operate through the use of PropTech solutions.

A win-win approach to sustainability

In real estate, better sustainability is achieved through energy efficiency. This can be achieved, as many in building management do, by making use of green energy sources. But by cutting the amount of energy used in buildings, carbon emissions can be further reduced, resulting in a lesser impact on climate change.

Globally, many countries have introduced building regulations and there is a strong drive from the EU to set standards and legislation. And buildings are becoming more sustainable all the time. Thermostats, insulation and automation of heating, cooling, and lighting go a long way towards reducing wasted energy. But even more can be done.

Around 75% of existing buildings in the EU are energy inefficient.

The real estate sector has a great opportunity to contribute to a sustainable future by preventing the depletion of our planet's natural resources.

How occupancy sensors contribute to sustainability

Better sustainability can be achieved with smart PropTech solutions like occupancy sensors. Architects can incorporate them into new designs and real estate owners and managers can retrofit them easily into existing buildings.

Occupancy sensors provide you with insight into how much space is being used by floor, areas, or individual offices or meeting rooms. They can even check at individual seat level. Plus, the sensors can also measure footfall, to track and count how many people are inside your building.

Using the data output, you can take action to minimize your carbon emissions and improve sustainability in a number of ways.

Optimize your use of space

Occupancy sensors show you which parts of your building are being used and when. After seeing the data, property managers are often surprised that their utilization rates are so low, and they nearly always overestimate their time occupancy too.

So, it’s highly likely that you can optimize the use of your space. By maximizing how you use your existing space, or even avoiding taking on unneeded extra space, you will have less real estate and use less energy to run it.

Occupancy analytics will show usage patterns across your offices, meeting rooms, open and communal spaces, and even for shared desks. Using heat maps, footfall counts, and usage rates, you can identify trends and use the information to plan and re-work your space for optimal use.

If, for example, you discover that a nine-person meeting room is only being occupied on average by three people – then you are heating or cooling two-thirds of it unnecessarily. Even though the meeting room is in use, you are using energy on a lot of empty space. The analytics give you the information to reconfigure the layout, making the meeting room smaller, creating two meeting rooms, or even freeing up space for reallocation as offices.

Reduce your energy usage

Having less space obviously uses less energy. But you can also improve your sustainability by adjusting your resources in relation to need and usage.

Automated lights are already commonplace in buildings. But adjusting other energy-intensive services can have a greater impact. Zoning your heating and air-conditioning according to usage and occupancy levels can significantly cut your energy expenditure and costs.

Aggregating your occupancy data over time can help you make static energy savings. You might be able to turn heating or ventilation on later in the day, for example, when a certain occupancy is reached - and then turn it off earlier in the day if you identify that people leave early.

You can also automate instant changes using real-time information. Where your system might usually turn ventilation to full when someone enters a room, if only two people use a room designed for 20, then you can set it to adjust accordingly, making energy savings. With real-time data provided by occupancy sensors, your automated system can also change temperature settings or even turn your HVAC off completely.

Measuring live occupancy data throughout the day will show patterns of variation across the week. In turn, you can fine-tune other aspects, such as food production. This can reduce food wastage and food miles, as well as cutting electricity or gas used to cook and heat the food.

The same goes for cleaning. If you identify unused or lesser used areas, you can alter your cleaning schedules, and moderate how much electricity and water is used.

Footfall counts can be used to adjust your building usage and reduce your energy consumption. Consider, for instance, a situation where occupancy sensors identify that people enter a large coworking space gradually throughout the day. Those arriving before a certain time could be directed to a particular floor or suite of offices, where the services in that area are switched on. Then as the day progresses, further floors or areas can gradually be opened, along with the associated services.

By using energy on people, not empty spaces – both proactively and in real-time - you can conserve up to 25% of your energy.

Facilitate hybrid working

Since the pandemic, companies and real estate owners are finding it difficult to attract workers back to the office. Occupancy sensor analytics can facilitate the trend towards hybrid working, helping you create more flexible workplaces that can adapt to the needs of employees and other users.

Hybrid working means employees cut down their commuting, making fewer fuel-intensive journeys. And with lower average occupancy – with each worker perhaps only spending two or three days a week in the office – then the energy to service buildings can be reconfigured to match that, or owners can divest some of their costly real estate.

Hybrid working decreases business travel, reducing energy expenditure and emissions, meaning offices become more sustainable.

Better compliance with ESG standards

The environmental social and governance impact of a business is critical, with some two-thirds of investors taking these factors into account. Demonstrating improved sustainability is just one part of a good ESG strategy that can create long-term value and encourage investors to back you.

Conserving energy through occupancy sensors makes your buildings more attractive to prospective buyers or tenants. Your real estate is transformed from just a passive investment for later sale into a business generating healthy revenue from interested partners.

As real estate owners and managers face growing demands from stakeholders about how they conform to certain ESG aspects, PropTech provides important evidence-based sustainability data and insights.

Reduce global energy needs for a sustainable future

  • By reducing energy consumption in your buildings, you are part of a larger, cumulative effect. This decreases the general need for energy from the grid and reduces our carbon footprint as a planet.

  • By managing energy supply and demand more effectively, cumulative energy savings can be made that will limit the carbon intensity of our global energy industries.

  • By ensuring you only use the space you truly need and that your buildings are optimized for energy usage, you will not only save money, but also contribute to reduced global carbon emissions and a more sustainable future.

Note from the Ubiqisense Team

There is nothing more rewarding than having a purpose. Or maybe there are few things that can be more rewarding than having a purpose. We are quite motivated by ours, which is to help use energy on people and not empty spaces, we do that in our way with the tools we have and we work together with other solutions that want to achieve the same goal.

We built a sensor that will help reduce energy usage and costs but also actual human energy. The kind you use on figuring out if you have enough space for people, if spaces are being used properly or if you can make small changes that will make a big difference. We wanted to reduce all that energy used on crunching the numbers, asking yourself if you should move into a bigger more expensive space, is it actually necessary?

All this takes a lot of energy and time, so get in touch if you want to have a conversation about how we can help you optimize your spaces and make them more sustainable.

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