COP26: Smart Technology Is Our Saving Grace

Looking up at a smart building with trees in the foreground Jamie Cameron, Director of Digital Solutions at Johnson Controls UK&I, explores how smart technologies can help us to reduce emissions from our buildings, and hit sustainability targets in line with COP26.

As COP26 has come to a close, and brand-new sustainability pledges take effect, the (solar-powered) spotlight now shines brighter than ever on governments and businesses to start meeting decarbonisation commitments.

Much of the required changes will focus on workplaces, such as office blocks. After all, we now know that a staggering 40% of the world’s global carbon emissions come from buildings alone. Reversing this might seem like an impossible task—but thankfully, there’s a secret weapon we can use to help us hit net-zero targets and curb climate change: smart technology.

COP26—A Turning Point For Tech

So far, Glasgow’s COP26 climate conference success has been under question. World leaders agreed several fresh deals and pledges to protect our planet, promising to slash CO2 emissions, end coal consumption, reverse temperature rises, and much more. But whilst these targets are welcome and rightfully ambitious, there often hasn’t been clear guidance on how we’ll actually achieve them. And as a result, investors are now pouring money into climate-friendly innovations to help us reach net zero.

“Climate tech” saw a surge in venture capital investment even during the pandemic, with a record $17bn (£12bn) pumped into the sector last year—triple the sum spent in 2016. And with the $100bn (£74bn) of green funding now promised by a major alliance of governments, banks, and philanthropists at COP26, new and existing smart technologies are finally set to make the places in which we live, work and play more efficient than ever. So, how does smart technology work?

The Business Benefits Of Smart Technology

When we think of energy-saving workplace technology, we often imagine motion-detecting light sensors, or a roof clad with solar panels. But in the last decade alone, green technology has become smarter, and more sustainable, than ever.

Thanks to new advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, “smart buildings” can now automatically monitor and optimise the energy use of their entire infrastructure. For example, digital platforms can gather data from weather forecasts to adjust levels of chilled and hot water, operate daylight-harvesting window blinds that move with the angle of the sun, and even recalibrate air filtering systems depending on rates of humidity and airborne pollutants. These 1% differences are just the beginning.

Often, each smart tech component connects to a central control system supervised by the building’s facilities manager. Specially-designed software, usually accessible via a smart device, gathers in-depth energy usage insights, allowing us to analyse building efficiency performance in far greater detail than before. With the ability to track consumption and view data in real-time, we can begin to make bigger, more impactful business decisions—such as identifying further ways to reduce energy spend, and where extra investment is required to meet sustainability targets.

It’s clear, then, that installing smart technology at work brings big business benefits. But with the world still reeling from the impact of the pandemic, and working habits now switching to a more hybrid model, should sustainable workplaces be such a high priority?

The Time To Act Is Today

One headline COP26 announcement came from Rishi Sunak, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. He pledged that from 2023, Britain will become the first country in the world to force all financial institutions and listed companies to publish plans on how they will transition to net zero.

This might not impact organisations of all sizes just yet—but it’s a warning that governments will only get stricter on sustainability efforts. Will there be a time when even sole traders must prove their contributions to net-zero targets? It’s possible. The message from world leaders is that we must all take personal responsibility for helping to reverse climate change. To secure the future of both our businesses and our planet, we now need to start transforming our workplaces and wield all the technology at our disposal. Only then, can we ensure to leave a positive impact long into the future.

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COP26: Smart Technology Is Our Saving Grace