“Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” So states the eleventh of the sustainable development goals set out by the United Nations General Assembly. Building industry stakeholders increasingly are asked to put that philosophy at the core of their business as it requires significant investment at the start. The return on those investments, meanwhile, might not visible for quite a few years. But the case for sustainable management becomes much clearer, we argue, when industry participants focus on three basic questions related to monetization, smart buildings, and use of green software engineering.

How can a sustainable built environment speed up monetization and reduce operational costs?

Creating a living environment is no longer just a question of building homes to live in. It now touches on three strategic areas: climate action, health and well-being, and resource utilization and circularity. In planning the living spaces of tomorrow, all of these issues have moved to the centre.

According to a report by the World Green Building Council, the benefits of investing in a sustainable built environment, both from a financial and social perspective, are irrefutable. Among these advantages are lower supply costs; reduced costs for construction and operations; future-proofing a new build against legislative changes or corporate expectations and reputational risk; higher asset values; investment opportunities through a rapidly transitioning finance sector; supporting share prices; and greater ability to meet new ESG (environmental, social, and governance) reporting requirements.

“From zero carbon offices in London and climate-ready schools in Lagos, to well-ventilated homes in Vancouver and healthy hospitals in Victoria — the case for green, healthy buildings is clear across the world,” David Symons, UK Director of Sustainability at WSP, who contributed to the WGBC report, was quoted as saying. “The future scenario modelling we undertook shows the impact climate change and health will have on real estate assets and why a sustainable built environment makes financial and ethical sense.”

Why set sustainable goals through smart buildings?

Companies have many good reasons to respond to the demands of sustainability, in the following respects:

  • Complying with international standards and state regulations
  • Creating transparent non-financial reports
  • Meeting partners’ requirements
  • Maintain a high quality of products and services
  • Ensuring positive customer and employee experiences
  • Withstanding fierce market competition
  • Safeguarding future generations

To be sure, however, any initiatives to make business sustainable bring global shifts — and significant challenges for companies to overcome. To mention just one of those challenges, there can be multiple, legacy software products installed. Transitioning to new software platforms requires substantial investments, often without the benefit of a clear roadmap from the start. But the results may well be worth it if that transformation leads towards sustainability. Let’s consider several significant arguments in favor of sustainability:

1) Acceleration of a development cycle (getting the most of a tight schedule)

Fast-tracking the development cycle allows companies to enter production more quickly through well-coordinated teamwork and use of modern technologies.

For real estate developers, this means launching new products for facilities faster, an opportunity to provide a quick response to market changes, and certainly, significant resource savings. There’s opportunity for smarter distribution in terms of materials, investment, staff hours, and the software base. New-build sustainable software application makes it possible to lower operating costs by reducing operating expenses. This is achieved by:

  • Zero-waste resource management
  • Reduction of taxes and penalties by minimizing environmental pollution
  • Central management of construction equipment, technology inside the facilities, utilities, etc.
  • Accurate data processing and analysis to prevent downtime and breakdowns

2) Ensuring development of international business and foreign investment engagement

Any company looking to sell shares on international exchanges, obtain investments from abroad, or partner with a large company is expected to provide non-financial reporting. Without adherence to sustainability principles, attracting potential partners becomes very challenging.

3) Workplace safety

With sustainable software, a real estate developer can keep people safe on multiple fronts. It primarily applies to construction workers. In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded that 79,660 of them were injured. 5,333 persons died during the building process that year. Developing and using sustainable software means preventing any malfunctioning of construction equipment and ensuring employee safety.

The same goes for digital products for smart facilities. A company can adopt sustainable approaches to control utilities, security systems, smoke detectors, etc. With sustainable products, an enterprise can be both a reliable developer and employer.

4) Environmental protection

The real estate business contributes to significant ground and air pollution. For example, following Transparency Market Research, the volume of construction waste is expected to increase up to 2.2 billion tons every year by 2025.

A sustainable approach allows construction companies to cut energy consumption and reduce their carbon footprint. On this front, Industry 4.0 technologies are poised to come to the rescue. With IoT and AI, enterprises have an opportunity to ensure advanced device management, control of building sites and smart facilities operation, adapting them to user behavior. But the costs of developing enterprise-specific IoT/AI solutions can be very significant for a company struggling to see the benefit or uncertain about the implementation piece.

Why Real Estate Companies Should Use Sustainable Software Engineering

In virtually every field of endeavor today, sustainable practices are expected to play a primary role — and digital products are no exception. But is there a useful sustainability ‘litmus test’ for digital products?

The short answer is that digital products can become “green” to the extent that the development team builds core sustainability principles into the process. But this speaks to an entire software engineering approach that understandably raises a lot of questions from the business side. One of those questions is: “Why should a company transform a sustainability concept into a development process?” A related question would be: “What’s the right way to go about this to support ‘eco-cities’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ homes?” Let’s try to propose some answers to these questions.

Keep in mind straightforward definitions of sustainability and green engineering

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a sustainable solution “causes little or no damage to the environment and therefore can continue for a long time.” To be sustainable, any item should positively affect the environment, economy, society, and human life throughout its entire lifecycle. These values should be inextricably tied to the more traditional business goal of long-term, efficient product usage.

Green engineering is a solution to the sustainability issue in the IT space. It encompasses two related directions: sustainability within a development cycle, and software sustainability.

The first concept refers to the use of sustainability principles throughout the development process. The second concept refers to the software products themselves; features that make it possible for customers to achieve their enterprise sustainability goals.

As an example, a builder might need a green IoT platform to manage smart houses. To apply the concept to a development process, they should consider sustainable goals from the outset, during the design and testing stages. Sustainable engineering also requires the use of modern technologies and rapid application development instruments able to mitigate environmental impacts.

The designed IoT system will be flexible, accessible, “well-integrated,” open to Industry 4.0 technologies (IoT, AI, 5G, AR / VR, etc.), microservice-based, and user-friendly. Just as important, that system will also have a long lifecycle, reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions and ensure the safety of occupants. In other words, with the right approach to the development process, people, society, the environment, and the economy all stand to benefit from the software.

The bottom line

With the above points, we hope to bolster both the current and future business case for a sustainable built environment to improve and grow. We can’t deny the importance of creating a sustainable environment, for the next generation as much as for ours. The only question is where to start. The time for “thinking aloud” about the improvements smart buildings can provide to society is no longer productive. It is time now to build a better environment — a better future for us all.

Victor Kmita is CEO of XME.digital.

XME.digital is an open-source low-code platform to develop customer-centered digital services & products based on connected devices and sensors. Predictive maintenance, device life-cycle management from installation sites to firmware update; tailored integrations & digital services could be done in weeks not months with an open-source IoT low code platform.