Reflecting on the future of green and smart buildings

October 10, 2023
Scott Caldwell - Head of Sustainability Department

The foundations

In recent years we have seen some truly pioneering projects innovations in green and smart real estate. 

Smart DCU

Smart DCU is a collaboration between Dublin City Council and partners Enable, Insight and DCU Alpha, where the goal is to develop, test and trial cutting-edge technology in a hub of high-tech innovation and research. 

With almost 17,500 students and five campuses comprising everything from administration and security to transport, housing, entertainment and sports. It’s not hard to see how the results and findings from this smart project can provide insights which can be applied across many sectors. The projects here are exploring key issues facing us today like; how can we reduce carbon emissions and how can we harness green energy more efficiently?

Projects have included developing a seamless autism friendly pathfinding system and solar prospecting focused on harnessing and using solar energy more efficiently. The findings from these projects can be implemented on anything from a logistics hub to a production facility from a residential apartment block to a retail space.

Apple’s ‘Spaceship’

Further afield, Apple's famous ‘spaceship' headquarters in Silicon Valley, produces massive amounts of usable energy via its rooftop solar panels that help make the building sustainable. While its Data Centers and retail stores run on a mix of wind energy from its farms and solar energy, it has also purchased biogas fuel cells and micro-hydro generation systems. Tapping into the inherent potential in the renewable energy space has created value for the owners and shareholders, while improving the environment and enhancing Apple’s reputation. 

IoT at Croke Park

Another recent home-grown project to note is Croke Park, now the test bed for some of the most cutting-edge Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. Intel, Microsoft and Cisco were among the tech providers of the Croke Park Smart Stadium project where the network infrastructure is scalable and secure, with two separate Data Centres within the stadium itself. The network is designed specifically for sports and entertainment venues, bringing together all forms of access, communications, entertainment and operations onto a single innovative platform.

Strategically positioned sensors and gateways throughout the stadium collect and store enormous amounts of data. DCU researchers then analyse the data providing actionable insights designed to help improve fan experiences, safety, and reduce their carbon footprint, while driving efficiencies and cost-effective stadium management.  

Some of the pioneering projects have included algorithms designed to analyse patterns to predict where and when to use heat lamps on the pitch for optimal growth and cost savings, the measurement of crowd noise to ensure compliance with regulations, advanced water-level sensors in the drainage systems around the stadium to quickly detect flood risk, and even athlete performance monitoring with wearable radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags in clothing used to produce real time statistics.

Through hard data and actionable results, these testbed projects are forming firm, replicable foundations for where we go next.

Horizon Europe

There is an exciting project taking place across Ireland, Italy, Slovenia and Spain, which is of particular interest. Funded by Horizon Europe (2021-2027) the European Union’s (EU’s) key funding programme for research and innovation, this project aims to help manufacturers manage their energy consumption better. 


The DENiM (Digital intelligence for collaborative ENergy management in Manufacturing) project is developing an integrated toolchain for the provision of advanced digital services for smart energy management. Secure-edge connectivity using the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics, digital twin technology, energy modelling and automation tools will allow organisations to map energy flows across the complete manufacturing value chain and introduce energy efficiency into existing business processes through digitalisation. 

Over time, this should lead to a significant reduction in the use of energy of 30-40% in industrial contexts and cost savings of 15-20% from improved operations, as well as a reduction in waste of up to 10%.

The digital tools and technologies are being deployed at four pilot sites run by project partners representing four different types of manufacturing sectors – medical devices, automotive tooling, steel manufacturing and composite parts manufacturing. 

The outcomes of this project and others like it will have real world implications that can be applied across sectors to help us improve how we automate processes and monitor energy usage in our buildings in the years to come.

The future of innovation

There are a wealth of research projects taking place now which will enable us to make smarter and greener choices for our future construction projects. From programmable thermostats to self-sufficient energy buildings, from green materials to carbon tracking software. 

A sense of purpose

First and foremost, before any project is undertaken it’s important to pause and properly consider the purpose before taking any action. Any decisions that will impact an organisation and the environment and community it operates in must be made using foresight, clear data and forward planning.

Retrofitting to save embodied carbon

For example, a new construction project can be an attractive starting point because it can often feel easier to build something new rather than retrofit. However, by opting instead to renovate or retrofit, it can remove the need for virgin materials in the first place, significantly reducing embodied carbon.  

The devil is in the…data

Data analytics is set to be a key tool in helping the construction industry’s transition toward sustainability. By monitoring energy usage and tracking specific targets, this data can inform important decisions on materials and processes, ensuring projects are as sustainable as possible.

A smart spiderweb

A smart building is like a spiderweb of systems where everything is interconnected, and information is shared in real-time. When a fly hits the web at any point the spider is immediately aware. In much the same way, the connectivity of the building systems makes it possible to automate a range of processes, from heating to lighting, from hardware to water. 

For example, high tech industrial environments, data centres and pharmaceutical plants have highly sensitive equipment. Going forward a smart building can monitor those things that might affect it, such as humidity and temperature. Not only can this help to reduce repair costs, it can even prevent a problem from occurring in the first place. These types of innovations will not only help the bottom line for a business, they prevent needless obsolescence and repairs from taking place, creating another win for the environment. 

Integrated, but separate

It’s important to note that while smart systems work in tandem with building management systems, they are in fact distinct. For example, while a BMS may control the HVAC system based on pre programmed or responsive times, a smart building can activate the HVAC system based on CO2 levels instead.

The human in the building

Another major impact to be seen with the rise of smart buildings is their positive impact on the people using or inhabiting them. Sensors can be set to monitor air quality and particulate levels to prevent disease from spreading. Analysis of data on facilities usage can even help cleaning staff to work more effectively and efficiently creating a safer and more comfortable environment.

If you’d like to talk to us about optimising your building for a more sustainable future get in touch with our Head of Sustainability Scott Caldwell at 

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