PCSG and KnowNow Information’s innovative new app is helping organisations to cut their energy bills while improving the comfort and productivity of their staff, writes Susie Tomson
Since the term ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ was coined in the late 1980s society has been acutely aware of the connection between our office environment and our well-being.
Used to describe symptoms of ill-health that appeared to be linked to time spent in a particular building, it was hailed by some as a medical reality and others as a charter for office workers to bunk-off.
Studies seeking to give it credence focused on everything from poor ventilation to viruses spread from keyboards, poor building design and occupant activities which were not in-line with the expected usage.
Though discredited, it served to shine a light on a vitally important issue – how buildings impact on both the environment and on their occupants’ wellbeing and productivity.
Since then a combination of factors – including rising energy costs, tighter government regulations, and concerns over corporate reputation – have seen a huge drive to create more sustainable and energy efficient – buildings.
With so much of our time spent in our offices, it is little surprise that the biggest players today compete on sustainability.
In 2014 Tim Cook, the Apple CEO, announced that the group’s new Campus 2 in Cupertino, California, would be the “greenest building on the planet” (a claim disputed by rivals but great to see sustainability being championed by these big names nonetheless.).
But adopting a ‘smarter’ approach to building performance is not the preserve of the world’s biggest firms – organisations of all sizes are re-thinking their approach to their premises and their people and the connection between the two.
Responding to this, companies – including PCSG – are developing innovative new tools and technologies to help with the more efficient management of our offices and commercial buildings.
We are helping organisations to recoup some of the ‘energy performance gap’ whereby actual energy consumption in many buildings is often 3-4 times the estimated design use.
At the same time, our technology is engaging building occupants and improving user comfort and productivity. Ultimately, it will be able to generate big benefits for both owners and occupiers.
These benefits include:
- A conservative estimate of a 20% reduction in energy bills
- Increased comfort and productivity of building occupants – A British Council for Offices report estimates £2000/ person of lost productivity due to poor building environments
- Demonstration of delivery on energy performance
- A boost to corporate reputation and engagement with staff leading to increased staff retention
Key drivers for change
The key driver for a ‘smarter’ form of building management is the huge discrepancy between ‘as-designed’ and ‘in-use’ energy consumption.
We are all keenly aware of air conditioning wars and automatic lighting controls that are over complicated and therefore over-ridden. But can we really blame the three to four times increase in the amount of energy being consumed on the building users?
The desire for change is great: According to a survey from the National Energy Foundation, which was targeted at facility managers, 75 per cent of respondents stated that improving a building’s energy consumption was a top five organisation priority.
Corporate reputation – and the war for attracting and retaining talent are other key drivers for change. The millennials want to work for an organisation that cares both for the people and for the environment.
Coupled with these drivers are advances in technology which enable us to collect, filter and crunch a huge swathe of data about our built environment which we could not do previously.
Today we can gain robust performance data on anything from energy and air quality to water use, enabling us to benchmark, compare and continually learn about the performance of our buildings.
Entelligently: How it works
Passionate about the importance of both sustainable buildings – and the need to place user comfort at the forefront of building management – two years ago, PCSG embarked on a joint project with Know Now Information, the data processing experts.
The outcome was Entelligently our app which seeks to optimise energy usage in buildings and minimise power bills while also maximising the comfort of occupiers and handing them the power to control their environment and wellbeing at work.
Supported by Innovate UK’s Energy Game Changer fund – which seeks to encourage new entrants to the energy sector and stimulate the adoption of disruptive technologies – it works by effectively turning people into sensors and actuators.
Office workers feed information into an easy-to-use app about their comfort levels – whether they feel hot, cold, sleepy etc. To encourage this feedback, they receive what we term ‘smart nudges’ or ‘snudges’.
The snudge provides them with information about how they might feel, depending on the combination of environmental conditions, both now and in the future. It also suggests actions to take to avoid discomfort.
Our snudges are targeted to enable the user to understand the building and the natural variations of the building as it is reset to ‘as-designed’ and can run efficiently.
So, a snudge to open vents, windows or door, take a break in a critical meeting as carbon dioxide levels peak – affecting decision making capacity – will bring the air quality back to productive levels for all and reduce sleepiness.
Or a snudge might focus on how the individual might feel the following day with temperatures forecast to be significantly lower (particularly relevant for window occupants). Entelligently might suggest layering up for changing conditions through the day.
Eventually, it will inform the user of their ‘best seat in the house’ – which will definitely be different for someone else.
Amidst these variables, there is one certainty: That everyone is individual in their comfort profile and trying to create a uniform internal environment in any office only leads to continual adjustment of heating and cooling controls, continually increasing the energy consumption as air con units work inefficiently battling for the perfect temperature – and contributing to the energy performance gap.
Entelligently: Engaging and influencing
Entelligently provides a ‘snapshot’ of summary information on the app homepage with an instant insight into how the building is performing and the user’s level of comfort compared to others who sit nearby.
This can also engage and influence individuals who are outliers (i.e. expressing views contra to the prevailing trend) to take responsibility for their own comfort and wellbeing, rather than blaming someone else and complaining.
The more data fed into Entelligently, the more ‘intelligent’ it becomes.
The outcome: A more energy efficient building, lower energy bills and staff who, because they can influence and improve their own comfort and wellbeing (and are doing their bit for the environment) are increasingly satisfied and perform better.
The wider ambition around this exciting project is to create a step-change in people’s perception of and behaviour towards energy.
A central component of Entelligently is inclusivity – shifting responsibility for energy away from an isolated individual in a facilities department, down through the organisation and generating a collaborative approach to its management and consumption.
By showing individuals in a visible, tangible – and highly engaging – way, how they can take individual action and interact positively with their environment and how this behaviour impacts on the world around them, we hope to encourage people to become part of the energy game changer.
Over the past nine months, we have developed Entelligently and trialled it in two office locations – the first, the offices of BDP, the Manchester-based engineering and architectural group and PCSG’s own head-quarters in Croydon.
Our trial revealed three key findings:
-Firstly, that factors affecting comfort vary considerably within a building zone as well as across individuals
– Secondly, that there are thresholds particular to users and critical triggers such as CO2 which can be used to prompt actions which can improve performance and comfort
– Thirdly, that people will adapt and respond to changes and act on information to improve their comfort which as well as saving energy can considerably improve individual performance.
The reasons for taking on board an app like Entelligently are compelling.
On energy alone, our initial research shows savings of up to 20 per cent on total energy bills.
Beyond that are the wider benefits – financial and social – to be gained from improved employee productivity and feelings of satisfaction. With salaries and benefits typically accounting for 90 per cent of an organisation’s operating costs, this is not a small consideration.
In a recent British Council for Offices (BCO) report, Defining and measuring productivity in offices, the value of lost productivity due to poor buildings is said to be on average between £1900 and £2200 per individual (our target cost per Entelligently user is significantly less than this).
The authors note that “the productivity potential of a workplace is directly affected by its ability to support the wellbeing of its users.”
After the success of our trials, we are now preparing to expand Entelligently into wider markets including shopping centres, hotels and universities.
We are looking for our next phases of early-adopters to work closely with us as we further refine and test the energy and performance benefits we believe are possible to be realised.
We also see Entelligently as a powerful tool for post-occupancy building performance, as well as informing refurbishment designs.
Our goal is to bring the energy performance of a building back to the ‘as designed’ levels whilst ensuring individuals are able to adapt effectively.
If you’d like to learn more about this exciting new app, please contact: Susie.Tomson@pcsg.co.uk