Achieving net zero is everyone’s responsibility. For too long, the emphasis has been on individuals making small-scale lifestyle changes, or corporate responsibility placating consumers with sustainability soundbites. 

Joseph Daniels

Joseph Daniels

While the built environment sector is increasingly ESG conscious, the UK’s building stock still emits 138 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per day in operational energy use.

The government proposes to upgrade all homes to EPC band C by 2035, costing between £250bn and £500bn. Yet, with the average fabric-first retrofit priced between £30,000 and £40,000 per property, this may prove unattainable and dismisses the 14% contribution to direct building carbon dioxide emissions from hotels, offices and build-to-rent developments. Therefore, it is up to the private sector to deliver meaningful solutions.

The UK’s retrofit bill makes the job one of the biggest in real estate. Fabric-first retrofitting places an unsustainable emphasis on contractors solving energy inefficiency. The future of retrofitting must entertain data-driven sensor technology as a sustainable solution.

Reaching net zero homes and buildings requires occupier engagement, with one of the biggest barriers to more sustainable living being consumer behaviour. The last decade has seen the birth of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), integrating tech into our daily lives, but these technologies rarely align our lifestyles with our sustainability goals.

Simply calculating EPC ratings is outdated - smart tech must aid lifestyle change

Furthermore, these products seldom span both residential and commercial spheres, limiting adoption. Making informed decisions about our energy consumption requires lifestyle technologies to align with energy-saving objectives. The market is in desperate need of large-scale alternatives that gear smart tech devices towards energy efficiency.

Simply calculating EPC ratings is outdated – smart tech must aid lifestyle change. Solutions that record and act upon real-time data offer an avenue forward for occupiers to visualise energy usage across the built environment.

Some industry leaders in real estate have already begun to synthesise the built environment, ESG criteria and IoT technology, but automated retrofit solutions are the future.

Smart tech net zero

Source: Shutterstock / Blue Planet Studio

Embracing net zero requires innovation. Simple, user-friendly technology, controlled by one central device, is necessary to achieve maximum uptake – complexity jeopardises large-scale adoption. IoT must also offer bespoke automated functions to make sustainable living more convenient.

Intelligent decisions

Built interiors need a centralised system with a suite of products connecting the world of smart tech, measuring temperature, humidity, light and notably air quality – something we all now prioritise in the wake of Covid-19. The technology must make intelligent decisions, enhancing home and workspace conditions while also saving energy.

Integrated products could produce autonomous shading to maximise heat retention or avoid solar gain. Such technology responds to weather conditions, as well as to bespoke schedules and circadian rhythms, to enhance lifestyle and sustainability criteria. Previously, these IoT systems were manual and onerous to use, but a renewed focus on automated interconnectedness has put IoT at the forefront of technology in the built environment.

Naturally, powering these energy-saving technologies will consume energy, so integrating renewability into the systems is essential. This offers the potential for an interrelated system of self-powering wireless devices, working towards a net zero environment.

A centralised hub controlling energy supplies can control speakers, lighting, handheld electronics, security systems and white goods using energy-saving wireless smart sensors.

However, mass global uptake requires co-operation and partnerships across the real estate and tech industries to deliver net zero. These partnerships widen the reach of energy-efficient interior technologies and offer a better understanding of consumers.

While the take-up of smart tech has rapidly expanded globally, as has sustainability-based decision-making, the two worlds must merge if IoT is to posit a net zero solution for the built environment before it’s too late.

Net zero is everyone’s responsibility, but it cannot be reached alone. Energy-saving smart technologies are the future of the built interior environment, and cross-sectoral collaboration is key to global delivery.

Joseph Daniels is chief executive of Etopia