Richard Smith, senior director energy management solutions, MRI Software says commercial occupiers and landlords need to get smart to make energy saving and sustainability a reality.

Reporting on the climate crisis has adopted an increasingly urgent tone in recent years. Increased media coverage has been supported by a sincere ‘do-or-die’ consensus among scientists, world leaders and activists. In response to this, a total of 190 countries attended UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) last November, achieving a general consensus that something needs to be done to halt climate change and environmentally damaging emissions – but no broad agreement on the specifics of how to do that.

Nonetheless, becoming greener has become a business imperative for organisations of every stripe, as reducing energy consumption has become a central pillar of environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies. It makes a business a good corporate citizen and paves the way for easier compliance as stricter environmental regulations come into force. Equally pressing for many businesses is the fact energy prices are soaring, with the costs reaching a crisis point in some organisations.

The good news is that today software tools that capture, measure, and analyse energy usage – often through Artificial Intelligence and machine learning – make the task of turning sustainability goals into insights and real actions much more manageable. An old maxim in business is: ‘What gets measured gets managed.’ There may be some debate as to whether this saying always applies, but it certainly does when it comes to energy. Energy measurement and management technology now enables businesses to make their environmental reporting more accurate and transparent, helping eliminate wastage going forward.

Improving sustainability through technology makes good business sense

Whether an organisation is a company managing an extensive property portfolio, an investment firm with substantial real estate assets, or a landlord aiming to meet the needs of a wide range of tenants, these solutions enable them to identify where to make improvements to reduce usage, improve efficiency and cut costs around their operational, HVAC, lighting and IT systems. It helps them set energy KPIs and monitor them in real time through dashboards and automated reports.

Although sustainability is often perceived as a form of sacrifice – i.e. giving something up for the planet's sake – it is possible for both sustainability and cost-saving to dovetail through improved measurement. And opportunities to have your cake and eat it are well worth pursuing.

Tapping into tech tools to monitor, analyse and manage energy consumption empowers organisations to not only be better global corporate citizens but to make better business choices. Advanced software is critical to providing an accurate reading for energy use. Businesses can put in place software solutions that automate data collection on energy usage, compiling it into a user-friendly application for further analysis and reporting – often employing AI-driven analytics to make use of complex and voluminous data. It enables organisations to identify and combat the most common and often unnoticed energy wasters across their properties. The result is complete visibility of energy consumption and a clear line of sight to reduced usage.

Mapping out and executing an energy efficiency plan

On the other hand, there is an opportunity cost in trying to plan forward without accurate information: to find the right solutions to energy inefficiencies, whether that might be insulation or a new lighting system, you first need to investigate the problem thoroughly. Once you have a reliable picture of the amount of energy you’re using, along with how, when, where and why it’s being used, and where it might be saved, then you have a map to work with as you plan forward. Aside from sustainability goals, efficiency will be essential to managing the economic strain everyone has had to contend with in light of soaring energy costs.

It is becoming essential that individual organisations occupying, owning, and operating substantial property holdings support them by creating long-term strategies to reduce carbon emissions across their real estate portfolios. What’s more, they must take concrete actions based on the more accurate information they can now attain. The result is actions that are not only good for corporate citizenship but for the bottom line, as we at MRI have seen that addressing an organisation’s carbon footprint and upholding commitments to more sustainable operations can also help reduce energy bills by up to 30%.

For instance, Apleona, a leading European real estate and facilities management company based in Germany, required a comprehensive and centralised energy management system that could report on energy consumption and carbon emissions, identify energy conservation measures, and produce reports that complied with local government regulations. For one typical project, the company managed to reduce energy consumption by 25% across 10 buildings and it has seen similar results in others.

Similarly, Carlsberg UK was able to visualise and measure its utility usage against production in a way in which was not previously possible through its use of energy management technology. The upshot was that it reduced its energy consumption in its brewing process by 10% – ­plus its water consumption by 10% and its effluent costs by 16%.

Another example is Texas Tech University, which wanted to make informed decisions about energy use without compromising growth. Since 2000, Texas Tech has succeeded in doubling its student population and growing its campus by two million square feet – while simultaneously lowering its energy budget by $6 million and reducing its energy use index by 33%. Texas Tech achieved this ‘win-win’ outcome by investing in advanced measurement software.

Capturing hard data to demonstrate genuine action

There is an additional factor for businesses and property owners to consider for their energy targets. The term ‘greenwashing’ is now widely circulated as businesses that fail to live up to their ESG targets often come under public scrutiny. The power of rhetoric to persuade people has its limitations. At some point, you will need hard data to present that shows your business is environmentally conscientious and taking real action. Again, having access to precise measurements would be a decisive factor.

We at MRI already see the management of energy usage becoming more strategic and centralised among both businesses and governmental organisations as they strive to boost sustainability objectives and improve efficiency. Tapping into tech tools and AI capabilities to measure, monitor, analyse and manage energy consumption empowers any organisation to not only be a better global corporate citizen but to make smarter business decisions.