Sustainable, Smart Buildings: Planet, People and Profits

The Future of Smart Buildings

According to recent reports, the Smart Building market is expected to grow from $43.6 billion in 2018 to $160 billion by 2026 [1]. Fueled by an increased focus on carbon emissions, market demand, potential savings and evolving laws and regulations, the commercial construction industry is now embracing the concept of sustainable Smart Buildings. As the commercial real estate market becomes increasingly competitive, building owners need to answer the call to make their buildings smarter and more sustainable in a way that considers impact on the planet, the people and the profit of the business itself or run the risk of lower occupancy rates and property values.

What traditionally constituted a building’s sustainability was focused primarily on energy consumption, conservation of natural resources and material reuse and recycling. As we spend more time in commercial and public buildings today than we did a century ago, with studies indicating that humans spend an average of 90% of their time indoors [2], sustainability has become a much broader concept that relates to a building’s overall ability to provide a comfortable, healthy and productive environment over the lifecycle of the building without negatively impacting the natural environment (Figure 1).



The recent COVID-19 pandemic increased the focus on health and wellbeing within buildings as a part of sustainability (Figure 2) [3]. Smart building technologies that improve safety and prevent sickness were once considered “nice to have” but are now being considered “need to have.” For example, smart solutions like UVC disinfection lighting have experienced growth in the market, as well as touchless technologies that allow users to operate doors, vending machines and elevators with their smartphones.


Effectively maximizing and assessing sustainability in a Smart Building demands actionable insights that can only come from data. This requires technologies and solutions that collect and analyze real-time data about the building performance and the environment in which buildings operate to continually make adjustments that improve sustainable operations throughout the building lifecycle. To effectively collect this data, building owners and operators need to consider emerging technologies and infrastructures that enable cost-effectively connecting a wide range of smart devices and systems.

While 5G cellular is ideal for remote smart devices that need high data throughput (for example, video, autonomous vehicles and so on), coverage is not yet widespread, and the fact remains that the majority of Smart Building solutions do not require high throughput. Cellular based communications also place significant battery strain on devices and are therefore only able to support most battery-powered devices for a limited number of hours. Many remote smart IoT devices only need low-speed (less than 1Mb/s) communications to transmit tiny amounts of sensor data, which is where low-power, wide-area wireless networks (LPWAN) come in. Open LPWAN protocols, like LoRaWAN, are ideal for connecting battery-operated remote smart devices that do not require high-speed data rates.

Battery operated sensors are connected via LoRaWAN gateways that wirelessly receive data and forward that data via IP over service provider or local area networks to systems that interpret the data. Unlike cellular, where devices consistently synchronize with the network and drain batteries, communication via LoRaWAN only happens when devices are ready to send data, in response to events, schedule, or other actions. Batteries on remote devices can therefore last much longer—in some cases up to ten years.

With low susceptibility to interference and the ability to penetrate dense building materials, LoRaWAN is ideal for supporting smart device communications throughout all areas of a building, including basements and underground locations like parking garages. Using multiple gateways, a LoRaWAN infrastructure can also cover entire communities, campuses, and cities, which is ideal for companies needing to collect data from multiple remote locations and across a variety of use cases.


In regions where real estate portfolios are boosted via sustainable Smart Buildings, or where Smart Building technologies are more mature, there may be a greater focus on value versus cost and ROI may be easier to obtain. Both Capex and Opex can impact ROI, and it’s important to consider cost and ease of implementation, recurring costs, and overall scalability. As a case in point, setting up a LoRaWAN network is fast and easy with roll-outs that can be completed in a matter of days or weeks. The small recurring charge of the LoRaWAN gateway is also far less than traditional cellular fees, and once the network is in place, it paves the way for massive scaling and new technologies.

Next to data collection, assessment is also vital for building owners and operators to know where they stand, identify areas for improvement and achieve ratings and certification that can be leveraged to promote their commitment to sustainability. For companies looking to determine areas where they can improve sustainability, they first need to have a baseline for where they are today. The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) launched SPIRE, the industry’s first comprehensive Smart Building assessment and rating program that holistically measures building technology and performance, taking into account the entirety of a Smart Building.

A key part of the program is the assessment of advanced, interoperable technology that enables the collection and analysis of data to improve building performance, occupant experiences and operational efficiency that support sustainability. Via TIA QuEST Forum’s Sustainability Assessor companies can rapidly self-assess and benchmark their sustainability and corporate social responsibility programs against industry best practices. By simply answering key questions, the Sustainability Assessor gives an organization a rating of how they perform in ten different areas of sustainability. These areas include environmental management, resource efficiency optimization, carbon footprint, social responsibility, supply chain management and stakeholder engagement.

There’s no doubt that both sustainability and Smart Buildings are here to stay, and with an estimated 40% of all carbon emissions globally attributed to the built environment, there’s also no doubt that the two together can have a significant impact. Sustainability must be an absolute baseline for Smart Buildings, and as the sustainability concept has evolved, that means deploying and integrating Smart Building technologies that address all aspects of a building’s impact—planet, people and profit.