The Great Convergence: Real Estate, IT, Energy and Sustainability

In his recent book, The Attacker's Advantage, management guru Ram Charan says,

The single greatest instrument of change…is the advancement of mathematical tools called algorithms and their related sophisticated software. Never before has so much mental power been computerized and made available to so many.… In combination with other technological factors, algorithms are dramatically changing both the structure of the global economy and the lifestyles of individual people.

Reinventing Green Building is a “must read” for people in the green building industry. It is well written, with good references and a clear message, certainly one of the most useful green building texts available. You hit the nail on the head!
— Eric T. Truelove, PE, GGA, LEED AP BD&C, Madison, Wisconsin

Given technology’s constant and rapid change, along with the development of algorithms for doing things that we never expected, such as driving a car, what’s happening with the built environment and building operations? How has it responded to digitization and real-time and universal connectivity? Neglecting for a moment the digital revolutions in architectural design and building construction, it’s easy to see how this revolution is reordering building operations, through the convergence of IT, Real Estate, Energy and Sustainability on building dashboards and cloud platforms.


The Convergence of Real Estate, IT, Energy and Sustainability in Building Operations  

The Convergence of Real Estate, IT, Energy and Sustainability in Building Operations


Essentially, information technology and real estate have been converging for many years. For example, in large swaths of commercial real estate, most rents are billed and collected online. What’s new since about 2011 is that the convergence has added energy and sustainability as key components.

New digital “dashboards” allow near-real-time assessment of a building’s electricity use, typically in 15-minute intervals, compared against (an engineer would say “normalized to”) any parameters you want: climate zone, local weather, occupancy, building type/use and geographic location; and display that information in many visual formats, readily available on any Internet-connected device to anyone who has access rights. In a building, as shown in Figure C.13 (color plates), one could display for example, daily, weekly and monthly building energy use to tenants or occupants as a way to influence behavior or reward good efforts.

Dashboards and similar cloud-based software can also handle hundreds of buildings simultaneously, allowing portfolio managers and third parties to readily observe and act on information in real time, since electricity use is time-stamped daily and even hourly. Because electricity use (along with monthly gas, diesel, water, etc.) can be easily analyzed, visualized, communicated to anyone who needs to know via SMS (text) message and reported in various formats, it should be easy to assess a building’s key sustainability performance variables and to improve them using these new management tools.

Of course, that’s good for assessing operations for existing buildings, but what about new construction? Here again, the digital revolution is gaining speed, with Revit and similar BIM (Building Information Modeling) software used for design, from which it should be possible to perform a complete green building assessment with very little user or assessor interaction, knowing building location, design features and product selection.  

How hard would it be to write a piece of software that looked at the floor-by-floor layout of a building and determined whether 90% of the building occupants had a view of the outdoors or had adequate lighting levels, and then to connect that information to a green building rating system? Why should building team professional be tasked with documenting or assessing such a feature when an algorithm could do it so much easier and faster? Why are leading green building rating systems such as LEED, BREEAM and Green Globes not moving to create APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that third parties could use to create these features?

Simplifying sustainable product selection with an algorithmic approach, using the ecomedes system.

Simplifying sustainable product selection with an algorithmic approach, using the ecomedes system.

Paul Shahriari started the software company, ecomedes, to address a critical problem, one that many market leaders are ignoring, namely how to incorporate product data into building design in a cost-effective manner, simply not possible today with LEED:

Somebody has to create linkages between component product manufacturers’ data and the characteristics of those products as a whole, and then somebody at the automated design platform needs to specify—how many square feet do we need?  [But the problem is] with sustainability, since to get more detail out of our projects we are dramatically increasing the amount of work that has to be done by a project team.  That is not a good recipe for growing adoption and a market. To me, solving that is one of the first steps, and then all the other stuff can also be done digitally.