As the race to net zero gathers pace, building owners and tenants are turning to Internet of Things technology at a record rate. New partnerships are possible, but new problems are emerging, says Schneider Electric’s Antonia Trumbull.
With buildings responsible for nearly 40 per cent of global emissions, the real estate sector is deploying IoT technologies at speed to enhance efficiencies, collect data and uncover decarbonisation opportunities.
But much of the discussion and action to date has been about data and analytics required to meet and exceed net zero targets. “There has been far less discussion about the technology that is being procured and its embedded carbon footprint,” says Trumbull, Schneider Electric’s real estate segment lead for the Pacific.
It can be hard to keep track of the number of connected IoT devices, but on current estimates there will be around 27 billion IoT connections by the end of 2025. The “Internet of Trash” is also growing at an exponential rate, up 21 per cent in the last five years alone according to the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020.
This is still something of a hidden problem in the property industry, but one Trumbull sees from her unique perspective. With a bachelor’s degree in property economics and a Master’s in data science, she has worked across asset management and financial analysis. Trumbull spent two years developing digital processes to enhance sustainability outcomes at JLL and three more years working with digital twin proptech Willow.
She says Schneider Electric is in a “special position” to bring tenants and landlords together to solve this problem.
The size of Schneider Electric’s footprint in Australia is impressive. It owns the Clipsal brand, for instance, which manufactures more than 20,000 electrical products. “We have physical devices in nearly every residential and commercial building in Australia,” Trumbull notes.
Schneider Electric also delivers solar and energy storage, microgrids, cybersecurity services, digital twins and more. “Because we provide lifecycle solutions from manufacturing to design and construction through to operation and maintenance, we can see the opportunities across the full value chain.”
Trumbull says the biggest sticking point for the property industry is transparency. “How can a large office landlord have oversight of the logistics and transport emissions created when they order a new light switch?”
Getting a clear picture of a company’s complete carbon footprint can be a big challenge. Emissions reporting is broken down into Scope 1 (direct emissions), Scope 2 (indirect emissions associated with the purchase of energy) and Scope 3 (indirect or value chain emissions). “Most companies have Scope 1 and 2 emissions under control because these are the emissions within their control,” Trumbull notes. But ‘absolute zero’ for Scope 3 is much harder to measure and manage.
“For building owners to meet their Scope 3 targets – the emissions outside their control – their tenants must achieve Scope 1 and 2 emissions. For tenants, it is the reverse. To achieve Scope 3, buildings must achieve Scope 1 and 2.” This is a symbiotic relationship that Trumbull thinks is “unique to real estate”.
“Our goals are completely reliant on each other’s performance. This is why it is absolutely necessary for owners and tenants to work together.”
Technology can be the “glue” that brings owners and occupiers together. Technology can also provide the transparency needed to drive net zero at scale – but choosing the right technology, and the right technology partner, has never been more important.
“We need that visibility across the length of the value chain to ensure, as we solve one problem, we don’t create a new one.”
Learn more about why Schneider Electric was named the world's most sustainable corporation in 2021 after Corporate Knights assessed more than 8,000 global companies.