For years, both commercial and residential property managers have adhered to a fixed set of job responsibilities – collecting rent, coordinating maintenance requests, renewing leases and attracting new residents. Property management systems have helped them complete many of those tasks.
One more job responsibility – managing and forecasting a building's carbon footprint – should be added, according to Ross Sharman, director of Australia-based Knowledge Global and Oracle Magazine’s 2009 Green IT Architect of the Year.
Sharman and Knowledge Global, a sustainability consultancy, have created a comprehensive, automated environmental monitoring system for buildings called EMMA (Environmental Management Solution). The EMMA system is a solution for property owners and managers who want to measure, track and forecast exactly how much energy a building is using/losing, while simultaneously educating their tenants about their carbon output.
Let's take a look at how EMMA works and its most interesting capability: How it displays the energy information it records and how that affects human behavior.
It's well-known that events and processes that are measured improve more quickly than those that aren't. That's why at the heart of the EMMA system is the constant measurement, tracking and analysis of dozens of pieces of environmental and building data.
The EMMA system gathers environmental data from a variety of electronic monitors inside and outside of a building. This data is aggregated by a variety of software applications and displayed in a digital user interface. The information provides an ongoing snapshot of the "health" of the building.
Metrics the EMMA system measures and how they are tracked include:
- Gas, water, electricity use, waste and weather information through the monitoring of meters
- Human traffic through security systems and thermal imaging technology similar to what shopping centers use
- Occupant demographics through tenant profiling and human resources
- Building space through floor plans and tenant agreements
- Well-being of occupants through online surveys
Imagine the possibilities when you're able to unite these pieces of data. For example, by measuring human traffic, you would have an "occupancy rate" number to measure against your energy use statistics. This would be valuable information for determining to what extent people are influencing a building's energy use.
Over time, patterns about energy use would emerge allowing building owners to forecast energy costs. They also would be able to easily identify energy efficiency opportunities as numbers fluctuate. And problem areas which the precise measurement of the carbon footprint of a building exposes over time.
How EMMA is different
What's different about Knowledge Global's environmental monitoring system? According to Frank Buytendijk of Oracle, it's how it's implemented – by putting energy use directly in front of people on a daily basis.
It's not a one-time energy audit but an ongoing effort to maintain a watchful eye over a buildings' carbon output. The ultimate goal: Making people more conscious about their carbon footprint.
Another big difference is the environmental display monitor placed in the building's lobby. The EMMA system draws on historical energy use data and even weather forecasts to create a daily, optimal forecast for a building's energy use. The display is similar to the online interface pictured below.
Throughout the day, the building's real-time environmental information is fed to this graphical display and compared against the optimal forecast. When an aberration occurs, the property manager is notified via e-mail or mobile device of the issue, and the discrepancy is shown graphically on the monitor.
Imagine that: Visitors and tenants of an office building are met front and center with real-time information about the environmental health of the building they are in. Talk about getting in your face about the reduction of energy use.
This display is also online, where it can be checked at any time. Property owners and managers who own multiple properties would find this web-based approach especially useful.
There are a handful of services out there that monitor building energy use but none of them modify behavior like the EMMA system does.
The EMMA monitor in the lobby of buildings displays energy use by floor, room and even by tenant. This makes it easy to organize competitions that motivate tenants to reduce the amount of energy they are using.
EMMA's wireless "eggs" are another visual incentive for reducing tenants' carbon footprint. These egg-shaped devices sit throughout a building – in common areas and on each floor, for example – and glow red or green as energy use fluctuates against the optimal forecast. This constant reminder about energy use encourages tenants to use less, or at least, makes them aware of energy use in areas they may have not even thought about before.
Will we see this level of monitoring in residential homes? Possibly. The carbon/energy monitoring industry is still young, with Google's Power Meter perhaps the only service that has even begun to creep into the public eye. It's not out of the question for people to eventually consider the carbon output of their homes just as relevant to the environment as the carbon output of their cars. Right now, it's not practical for home owners to outfit their homes with a monitoring system as sophisticated as EMMA. However, a simpler version of EMMA may be in the future of residential building construction.
Could this type of technology become part of a governmental regulatory program? Likely. If governments can regulate automobile emissions, then it's reasonable to assume they could create some sort of carbon "cap" for homes and office buildings. With the momentum that "green" initiatives have experienced, some level of governmental control of a building's carbon footprint is likely inevitable. And if that does happen, EMMA's detailed reporting will make carbon footprint reporting – which would be the cornerstone of any regulatory program - accurate and consistent.
What we would like to see
We'd really like to see property management software include green monitoring features in their systems. To date, none of them track this information. But that's more because the carbon tracking industry is so young and not a reflection on the state of property management software. I predict that green monitoring features will be a part of web-based property management software systems at some point. It makes too much sense – both environmentally and financially – to keep a close eye on the environmental health of a building.
What are you thoughts? Is the EMMA system (or some variation of it) the future of green building management?
Disclaimer: Software Advice and Knowledge Global are not affiliated in any way.
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