Computers vital to global warming battle

Copyright: David Lawson

Published: Property Week 2007

After the wettest summer for years and a tough winter forecast, the last thing anyone wants to worry about is saving heat. But global warming has not gone away and the introduction of energy labelling of buildings next year will maintain the pressure for sustainability.

   Technology is often blamed for causing the problem. Computers and peripherals such as printers and scanners inhale vast amounts of energy and then cough it back to consume yet more power for cooling.  Yet computers could be vital to the solution. Facilities managers routinely monitor energy consumption online aided by the spread of ‘smart’ metering, providing near-continuous readouts rather than waiting for monthly bills.  But property managers, owners and occupiers have tended to limit their involvement to a brief scan of the figures for calculating budgets.Now Raindrop, publisher of the popular Manhattan suite of integrated software, has developed a method for not only measuring energy but creating an instant snapshot of a business’s carbon footprint.

   Property managers, owners, investors and occupiers have come to expect property IT systems to automatically produce information to monitor traditional key performance indicators [KPIs] such as the total cost of occupancy and cost per head of workspace. But with mounting pressure to demonstrate stronger environmental credentials, they are now looking to include energy and carbon emissions.  

  That required a new generation of indicators to quantify their ‘eco footprint’ and monitor environmental performance - then communicate this information to the management board and other parts of the organisation.   It demands an efficient and accurate means of capturing, calculating and monitoring information to assess strengths and weaknesses and compare environmental performance against internal targets and external benchmarks, says Raindrop.

  A building’s overall energy performance is expressed as kWh per square metre per year, covering sources such as electricity, natural gas, LPG and oil. But information for an overall carbon footprint has to be gathered from the whole business rather than just the property department, so Raindrop has created a more collaborative, broader-based system around its new web-based technology. 

  ‘We have always had an energy module but this has been enhanced by a set of carbon calculators which can now analyse a building, a portfolio or a whole organisation,’ says European commercial director Jason Allaway.  

   Raindrop has developed Manhattan to create ‘dashboards’ showing KPIs. An automated calculator takes into account offsets and can be rolled up to give a carbon footprint for a whole organisation.  The dashboards and KPIs can even be tailored according to an individual’s role within the organisation. One key factor in the development is the way Raindrop has moved its software onto the Web, helping broaden the input of information as well as making it available to a wide range of users and managers. A single property can be tested against another, or a whole portfolio can be compared with industry benchmarks and government standards.

  The other important difference to existing monitoring software is that this is not limited to energy but can include a wide variety of information from outside property departments – again because of ‘web enablement’.  Allaway claims this is the first time this has been integrated into real estate management software. It stems from Raindrop’s sponsorship of the Occupier Property Databank and close involvement with CoreNet’s campaign for greener property.  He says that by emphasising social and environmental factors, property systems like Manhattan can become a strategic partner rather than just a software tool.


Shoplifters live in fear of that dreaded bleeping when a tagged item is carried out of a store. Office workers could one day face the same ignominy for stealing carbon from fellow workers.   Energy advisor Building Sustainability has taken its on-screen carbon footprint dashboard to a new level by linking with Ubisense, which specialises in wireless tracking tags.

  Monitoring staff security cards provides a story of every individual’s activity, much as a store keeps track of products. This was not designed to name and shame staff, however. It is aimed at linking into building management systems to run property more efficiently, such as turning off heating and lights when it detects that areas are unoccupied.   ‘Our goal was to make buildings more intelligent,’ says Building Sustainability director Jason Green.

  But the ability to call up a dashboard showing not just a building’s overall performance but personal carbon footprints could be a key driver towards sustainable property. This may not rest on alarms bleeping but the power of the individual.  Managers can only do so much to cut a building’s carbon footprint. Most is down to staff, who can now see their impact on global warming - and call up the results of any change they make in everyday activity.   This hands-on, personalised power has been shown in the past to make staff feel part of a co-operative effort rather than like mice in an experiment.