Get smart, stay cool

BCIA President Graeme Rees explains why this summer’s unprecedented high temperatures help underline the importance of smart technology in making our buildings more comfortable to work in.

Apparently, we in the UK have something of a reputation for talking about the weather – (yes, really!). During the seasons which most often produce our most ‘extreme’ weather – summer and winter – the same discussions surface about whether we should travel to work, how our transport systems will fare in the hot/cold temperatures and advice on how to stay safe.

We grumble for 10 months about the lack of regular sunshine and then react with alarm at the first sign of a heatwave. Of course the warm weather is a lot easier to enjoy when you’re not at work and, if you are lucky enough to be by the sea or have a swimming pool nearby or have an air-conditioned home to cool off in, then even better. However, with the UK’s hottest temperatures ever recorded occurring this summer, do we need to place an even greater focus on the suitability of our commercial buildings in extreme conditions?

When thermometers hit 40°C in parts of the country in mid-July commuters were advised not to travel as rail networks operated reduced services, warnings were issued about the state of road surfaces affecting drivers and businesses asked some employees to work from home where possible to make conditions more bearable in their workspaces. However, none of these measures seemed as drastic as they once might have done, as lockdown proved that employers and employees could carry on functioning effectively while working from home. But, whether a space is sparsely or densely occupied, we have buildings throughout the country, old and new, that could be managed better, and the long-term benefits of investing in smart buildings is becoming clearer every day.

Corporate ESG

The BCIA has previously highlighted how the lockdown periods in the last couple of years have cast a spotlight on the issue of building performance and efficiency. With many commercial buildings suddenly left unoccupied we were provided with a real insight into how unprepared many businesses were in terms of managing their premises efficiently. It was also a wake-up call for many organisations realising just how far behind they were in their environmental credentials and commitments to sustainability.

This year’s Smart Buildings Show, at which the BCIA will once again be in attendance, will focus on corporate ESG (environmental, social governance). ESG criteria are a set of standards for a company’s behaviour used by socially conscious investors to screen potential investments. Environmental criteria consider how a company safeguards the environment, including corporate policies addressing climate change, for example. Social criteria examine how it manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates, and governance standards ensure a company uses accurate and transparent accounting methods, pursues integrity and diversity in selecting its leadership, and is accountable to shareholders.

From an environmental perspective, in a true smart building, if the technology is correctly designed, installed, commissioned and maintained it can help reduce energy consumption and spend and in doing so reduces carbon emissions. Companies can also provide the measurement and report the data to be able to illustrate their case to corporate shareholders.

From the social angle, in the 21st century it is perfectly reasonable that we expect better conditions in the buildings we occupy. We have the technology available to us, and while your average modern family saloon car is given all the mod-cons to increase our comfort when driving, we arguably spend more time at work, so should we not be comfortable there, too?

As technology continues to evolve, there is an increasing focus on the wellness of individuals in the workplace, as well as the drive for smarter buildings which help boost productivity. This summer will surely serve as another catalyst for making our buildings more energy efficient and comfortable to work in.