It’s been a little over a decade since I first listened to Al Gore’s famous speech on averting climate change. The simplicity of his solutions struck me the most. He put forward a combination of fifteen concrete ideas and tools that could turn anyone into a climate change advocate overnight. By calling on his audience to become involved and speak up, he stressed that all of us must rise up to the challenge of addressing global warming. The challenge he spoke of is not a small hiccup in our growing economy; it is a planetary emergency. In the real estate business, however, we conveniently forget that almost 40% of global carbon emissions is produced by buildings. Yet all it takes to tackle the crisis is to view it as an opportunity, not a burden, because real estate actually has the capacity to turn businesses carbon neutral by integrating climate solutions into all innovations.
At the time of Gore’s speech, I knew my way around traditional real estate all too well. I had founded OVG Real Estate and for about a decade we had been developing sustainable buildings in Europe for clients such as KPMG, ASICS, TNT, Timberland and many more. But, ‘zero footprint’ no longer felt good enough, and I was actively searching for a fresh sense of purpose. The potential of data and the crucial need to innovate were obvious, and yet, going from an idea to product, especially in this industry, takes more than thorough research and time. It takes unshakable conviction that you are on the right track. And so, by the time Gore gave his second TED talk calling for a worldwide mobilisation for renewable energy and a global transition to a low-carbon economy, my team and I were already on the edge of our seats ready to be part of a large scale movement.
The Edge – the world’s greenest, smartest office building
At the time we already prioritized Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and wanted to do good by, quite literally, building a better world. And so, to be able to move beyond ‘zero footprint’, we redefined industry standards and dug into the latest research in health and sustainability, and learned how available technological advances in IoT and AI could be used to deliver a healthy, energy-positive office building. The Edge, the world’s smartest most sustainable office building, is the tangible, cumulative result of these efforts. Located in Amsterdam’s South Axis, The Edge proudly showcases a combination of modern technology, adventurous architecture and transparency, and has fulfilled our ambitions in the areas of energy and sustainability.
An underlying driver to innovate was our goal in energy efficiency. As a result, the energy consumption of the building is minus 0.3 KWhe/m2/yr, making it energy positive. The Edge makes use of two regenerative energy sources – a thermal energy storage and solar panels. This new generation of aquifer thermal energy storage also integrates the world’s very first application of a specially designed evaporator technology to boost efficiency, while nearly 6000 m2 of solar panels, located both on the facades, the roof, and remotely on the roof of the University of Amsterdam, make use of neighborhood level energy sourcing.
Using thousands of sensors and embedded devices, The Edge generates data around the clock. This data is then stored and analyzed. We look for patterns that provide insights on how to improve the building’s operations as well as a solid framework for future projects. To illustrate, The Edge is home to 30,000 sensors, all of which track CO2 levels, humidity and lighting. The building uses the ground as a 30-meter-deep battery that stores heat in the summer and utilizes it later, during colder months. The distinct open atrium allows efficient airflow into the office spaces, but also makes an energy-efficient floor plan possible, concealing noise pollution coming from the north, while welcoming daylight from the south. We view The Edge as a living organism with a heart that provides energy, a lung that takes care of our air and a brain that makes our movements effortless.
In 2016 we achieved the highest ever-recorded BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ score of 98.36% for The Edge. Our team worked on this project together with Deloitte and AKD, and created a Grade A office space that set a new global benchmark for sustainability. More than that, The Edge also presented one of the first large scale implementation of IoT in commercial real estate. To achieve this, we closely collaborated with R&D centers, who helped us develop a new IP-based environment that found its first application in The Edge. Ultimately, taking technology to this level into an office building the size of The Edge was astonishing even to us, and we began thinking about how technology, next to upgrading a building, could also help us solve age-old problems in real estate.
Healthy buildings with greater longevity
Because our cities are filled with buildings that are hundreds or more years old, people tend to view them as permanent structures. But in reality, just like everything else, buildings have life cycles and depreciate over time. The only way to keep them alive longer is timely building maintenance and renovation, often involving complex and expensive building diagnostics. With an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years, a modern office building begins depreciating within 5 years after delivery. From that point on, unless it undergoes major renovation, you can start thinking of replacing the building or tearing it down, which, needless to say, is extremely unsustainable. The Edge was built with this problem in mind, and we aimed to make the building better over time, not worse.
One way to achieve this is to combine IoT and AI. We developed a transparent platform, which collects data, analyzes it and notifies facility managers when something should be repaired. Transparency is key, and so we offer a vast range of features, systems, platforms and dashboard that our tenants use for tracking, staying updated and to provide feedback. IP-based Building management System (BMS) embedded into The Edge is a good illustration of that, as it is fully integrated with lighting, audio visual, climate and energy management. All building analytics are fully implemented in the BMS, meaning that it automatically scans system parameters around the clock to detect and report even the slightest deviations from set benchmarks. This information is extremely valuable because it allows us to plan repairs much more efficiently.
The second approach we took is through a well-designed, stable user application. We understood the importance of two-way communication, and thus made sure that an efficient feedback loop is in place, and so The Edge feeds us with input through collected data and all available systems. More than 15 completely new IP-based systems have been used in The Edge, all of which were integrated into one user interface. Not to overwhelm occupants with 15 different apps, together with BLINQ Systems we developed one web-based app called Mapiq. Mapiq enables business intelligence across various back-end systems allowing for unprecedented operational optimization and has an integrated dashboard that provides us with key metrics of the entire office space and allows the users to indicate what they need and want. Through this app we are able to collect information about how people use the building, whether they find it comfortable, and what can and should be improved. As a result, thousands of operations and optimizations happen behind the scenes, inside and outside the building, and every day The Edge notifies us how to improve and maintain it, avoiding extensive repairs.
By delivering this unprecedented sustainable and energy-positive building, we solved some of the burning issues traditional real estate has always been facing. It took very little technology to see that the world needs better buildings, but it really does take all the technology in the world to actually develop such a building. Which is why we launched EDGE Technologies at the beginning of this year. Knowing that the built environment can and must be part of the solution when it comes to climate change, at EDGE Technologies we are primarily focusing on developing and operating the latest generation of buildings. All EDGE buildings must conform to a comprehensive and detailed blueprint and will above all prioritize the health and wellbeing of tenants and the planet.
Radicalizing sustainability with EDGE Technologies
Anyone living in a modern city sees how urbanization has notoriously disconnected people from nature. But while, ‘sustainability’ may very well be a buzzword to some, ‘climate change’ is not. And so, by launching EDGE Technologies, we shifted our focus from operating “less bad” to “doing good.” Meaning that leaving no footprint is no longer cutting it, and whatever we build today must have the capacity to effectively solve problems into the future. Our very first EDGE building, EDGE Olympic, is a solid testament to that focus shift.
Located in the modern CBD of Amsterdam, EDGE Olympic is a redevelopment, for which we followed a strict circularity strategy, keeping its environmental impact at an absolute minimum. We reused existing materials, where possible, and instead of demolishing the initial construction, introduced many new circular products and systems. Sustainability and intelligence is fundamental to all EDGE buildings, and is thoroughly defined in our building development blueprint.
We also knew that the ideal office building of 2018 must adapt to today’s fast-changing and demanding workforce, by prioritizing tenants’ health and contributing to their physical and mental wellbeing. Here, recent advances in IoT allowed us to take several steps ahead with EDGE Olympic. Utilizing a sensor nodes and regulators and actuators, the building application offers a range of interactive tools – from user localization (accuracy < 2m) to smart access to interactive floor plans. We also learned from The Edge and significantly upgraded the BMS, which is now fully integrated in EDGE Olympic. The new BMS is cloud-based and connected to an additional building analytics software, with securing all gathered data using automated back-ups. It includes a supported standard web service, with a subset of the generated data visualized in the user application. EDGE Olympic was designed to be a “thoughtful computer with a roof” that fosters strong, thriving communities, opening up tremendous opportunities for inter-personal development. This approach of designing healthy ecosystems for the user has taken us on an unexpected journey. Already in the early planning stages of The Edge, we quickly recognized that no one technological system, field or movement is going to solve the entire puzzle of wellbeing and connectivity. IoT, AI and machine learning alone do not hold that power, but thoughtfully combined, they certainly do. In the past two to three years we witnessed major developments in proptech, and we are optimistic about more and more real estate businesses committing to CSR, finding ways to engage with communities, and driving real social and environmental change. Alongside our partners and even competitors we look forward to making a lasting contribution to a low-carbon economy.