Sustainability in the Workplace with Smart Lighting

Saving energy in the office back on the agenda as Covid-19 threat eases

Commercial property owners face a challenging period as countries move in and out of lockdown and uncertainty remains high. During this spell, there’s an acute need to be able to monitor if and how a building is being used, as well as to monitor building systems for equipment failures. This involves ensuring that machines or lights aren’t left on unnecessarily, checking that there are no burst pipes or flooding, and monitoring for potential security problems such as external doors or windows left open.

Ideally this monitoring should be done remotely because it may not be easy or even possible to send a person in to check. As the Covid-19 threat starts to ease, it’s important to keep the monitoring in place because there could be further periods of lockdown over the months and years.

Office owners also face the dual imperative of making their buildings safe for tenants at the same time as minimizing costs.

As these business decisions play out over the coming months, we also expect sustainability to move strongly back up the agenda. Much of this will stem from an energy-saving push to reduce costs, but staff and investors will increasingly encourage companies to make sustainability a top priority.

The energy used in office buildings has become a major issue. According to BP’s Energy Outlook 2020, buildings account for 29% of total energy consumption and 28% of total carbon emissions. Commercial and residential buildings generate 72% of the emissions, estimated at 21% of the global total. Building energy usage is clearly one of the large areas to target for significant emissions cuts.

These pressures and trends open a path to greater use of Internet of things (IoT) systems in commercial buildings. This is in order to enable remote monitoring and data gathering for anomaly and fault detection, as well as optimizing the use of building systems to lower energy usage and promote sustainability.

Within that general picture of IoT, intelligent lighting systems stand out as an option for commercial property because they enable building owners or tenants to achieve five things with one system, namely:

  • establish a network infrastructure through the lighting system for connecting up all the machinery in a building for remote monitoring, data collection and optimization;
  • minimize the cost of lighting, which accounts for 13% of electricity used globally, by shifting to energy-efficient and connected LEDs;
  • offer apps that help tenants be and feel safe as they return to work post-Covid-19;
  • provide UVC lighting to help disinfect surfaces in the office and keep them virus-free;
  • provide modern human-centric lighting for building tenants.

Taken together, these steps will also deliver significant sustainability benefits.

Signify’s Interact Office is a good example of a modern approach to lighting. It uses LEDs for lower running costs and improvements in sustainability. The luminaires can be fitted with other sensors for temperature, humidity, light and sound levels, as well as sensors to track occupancy and the overall number of people, and Bluetooth Low Energy beacons. The sensors are connected through Power over Ethernet or wirelessly to the Interact Office platform, which controls the lighting, collects data from the various sensors in use, provides some analytics, and integrates with other systems and applications for the building owners and office users.

In December 2020, Signify partnered with Honeywell to integrate its Interact Office lighting system with Honeywell’s Building Management System and Forge enterprise performance management system. The move will provide a more complete solution to enable building owners to monitor and optimize the systems in their buildings.

Other IoT approaches would require multiple different systems to achieve the same effects, each with its own cabling, its own cloud platform and management system, and its own APIs for extracting data or integrating with other systems.

Although the arguments for investing in intelligent lighting systems are strong, large-scale adoption is likely to take some time for several reasons. Firstly, a lot of office space is let on long contracts, and the incentive for building owners to invest beyond the minimum during the life of the contract is less strong. Secondly, there may be higher-priority areas for investment, such as making elevators in large office buildings safe against Covid-19, which will be a drain on available investment funds. Thirdly, we expect there will be something of a shift in where people work following the pandemic, with fewer large offices in central business districts and more smaller offices in the suburbs. Finally, and linked to that, we may see some repurposing of buildings.

Together, these factors signal high levels of uncertainty in the commercial office market. This is likely to mean that many building owners will hold off committing to significant investments that aren’t absolutely essential, until the outcomes of the changes are clearer.

As the threat of Covid-19 lifts, it will still be important to have measures in place for resilience, in case of future outbreaks of a virus. We expect the focus among commercial property owners will start to shift to differentiating office space in the commercial property market.

That shift will take place because most employers who use commercial office space will go into a period of re-evaluation during the second half of 2021, as they work out how much office space they now need and how they want to use it.

We anticipate that a lot of office space will come back onto the market during 2021. So, despite uncertainties, building owners and office managers will need to position their office space as a modern, resilient and safe working environment, which also minimizes running costs and helps the world to be more sustainable. Without this, they face the threat of falling rental income in a buyers’ market.

A version of this article was first published by Signify on 8 March 2021.