Emerging trends in property and innovations to support a sustainable built environment

Original article posted on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/emerging-trends-innovations-property-paul-toyne]

Which innovations driven by sustainability, and enabled by technology are going to impact on the facilities management profession?  This was the topic  for my recent lecture at the ThinkFM conference “Facilities management in a more connected world” for the British Institute of Facilities Management (http://www.thinkfm.com/session/will-innovations-for-a-sustainable-built-environment-change-fm/). It is a huge topic, here is my take on it…..

A poll, conducted as part of my live presentation, revealed overwhelmingly that in the last five or so years energy efficiency activities to reduce consumption of energy and bills have dominated facilities management. Energy management will continue to be important to improve performance, especially as new technology driven innovations will come to both the new build and retro-fit markets. But what else does the future hold?

Well, there is a hierarchy of megatrends whose impacts will drive change in the global property market and the role of facilities management: urbanisation, wellness and technology.


Urbanisation – the impact of urbanisation coupled with population growth has led to pollution – air quality, carbon emissions – as well as issues such as resource scarcity, social equity, housing affordability, and transport and infrastructure demands.

Wellness – the global phenomenon of health and well-being combined with technology that makes data more accessible will result in more powerful occupiers, this will force designers and fit out contractors to take a more human-centred approach to design (although I am sure they will say they always have!).

Technology – the impact of technology will range from range from functionality/behaviours such as connectedness, agility, transparency, to more physical issues such as smart buildings, driverless cars, 3D printing and virtual reality.

How is the property industry is responding to the megatrends?

In my lecture I explored a few emerging themes such as health and well-being, the empowered user and climate change adaptation, some of which are linked, and all are enabled by technology. What amazed me was the sheer amount of clever technology going through development. For example, projects funded by the Urban Transitions programme of Climate KIC (www.climare-kic.org/start-ups)  range from LED power converters (http://nordicpowerconverters.com), vertical plant displays for air purification in cities (https://greencitysolutions.de/en/), optical measurement systems to improve the solar panel cell output efficiency (http://www.delftspectech.com/), and a controller that dynamically adjusts the charging power of charge points for electric cars according to the available grid connection power (http://www.cohere.eu).

Improved performance – buildings as power stations

In the UK, Swansea University are leading a major research project to commercialise the opportunity to functionalise the outside surface of new and existing buildings so that they become our next power stations (http://www.specific.eu.com). Industrial partners include Pilkington for glass facades, Tata for steel and AkzoNobel and Dupont for other coverings. The scale-up technologies being looked at include 3D printing of functional coatings. For example, 3D printing of batteries for storage. Once developed these ground breaking coatings will be fitted to the roofs, walls and windows of new and existing buildings to generate, store and release safe, clean renewable energy. The potential is amazing, especially when you consider there are more than 4 billion square metres of UK roofing available. If just 10% was covered, this would be twice the UK’s electricity requirement. It was only just recently that on a sunny, windy day more than 50% of our grid energy came from renewable technology. It really does make you wonder if we need nuclear energy?

Adapting to climate change

AkzoNobel already have a product, Dulux’s Weathershield keep cool paint (https://www.akzonobel.com/about-us/what-we-do/keepcool-sunreflect), that features technology which reflect up to 85% more infrared radiation, cooling temperatures by 50 C. This is an adaptation for climate change in countries that would be otherwise be reliant on air conditioning.

Another area of climate change adaptation in cities is the adoption of nature-based solutions, particularly those that help manage water and support biodiversity, as the greening of cities helps reduce the thermal heat island effect. One new technology coming from Holland is Permavoid which Polypipe (http://www.polypipe.com/civils-and-infrastructure/water-management-solutions/permavoid-geocellular-system) is producing under licence here. It is a smart green-blue system that allows the movement of water through all levels of the building and its immediate outside environment.  Its smart because the water movement is managed remotely by short-term weather forecasts. So if the weather is going to be dry, water can be pumped up to the podium area of the roof terrace to irrigate the green roof and other vegetation. If heavy rain is forecast,  the water is automatically drained from the building into outside storage. In Holland the water is used for non-potable functions such as flushing toilets.

Health and well-being, and the empowered user

There are already technology platforms that can monitor and show through applications how buildings are performing in a variety of areas such as air quality, noise levels, humidity and thermal comfort. With building sensors connected to each other the monitor displays everything. This is a tremendous shift from the past when only the experts had access to this information. Now it is becoming accessible and tenants will be able to use the information to demand improved performance. Likewise, people centred design for office space is becoming popular to improve the wellness of the employees and boost productivity. Frequent circulation, locating bins and printers centrally so that occupiers are engaged in moving from their desks and having stairs connecting different floors to promote movement within the office are part of a number of measures.

Designing for health and well-being in schools is also happening. One pilot project is the new Kings School in Worcester. In this project, the architects and whole supply chain took a holistic approach – a multi-comfort approach – covering thermal, acoustic, visual and indoor-air comfort (http://multicomfort.co.uk). The school also features building products from Saint Gobain, and is a reference build programme with its “in use” performance being measured and monitored.

So what does all this mean for the facility manager?

Facilities managers need to embrace the new technology and realise that the pace of innovation is fast. Having the right skills and competencies will be key, as they will be required to ensure both the indoor and external environments are optimised,  meeting the expectations of a well-informed tenants.

To learn more about the author and the expert advice Paul provides on sustainability please visit https://paultoyne.com

Copyright: Dr Paul Toyne June 2017

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