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Smart and Sustainable Buildings and Infrastructure

Cities aim to have regenerated buildings, and to leverage data to optimise energy consumption and the use and management of resources in buildings and utilities: waste, water and energy.

Imagine having a city where residents have a high level of well-being and yet still do not make extensive use of the planet’s resources. In 2019, the Coalition for Urban Transitions estimated that it should be possible to cut emissions from cities by about 90 per cent by 2050 (15.5 GtCO2e by 2050) using proven technologies and practices, in particular for buildings and infrastructure. It is estimated that 36.5 per cent can be cut from residential buildings and 21.2 per cent from commercial buildings.1 Buildings are currently responsible for 30 to 40 per cent of total city emissions; and in order to achieve the COP21 target by 2050, emissions from buildings must be 80-90 per cent lower than they are today.2

Many buildings are energy inefficient and contribute heavily to carbon emissions. In the EU, as of February 2020, roughly 75 per cent of building stock was energy inefficient.3 So there is a long way to go: a 2019 Navigant report stated that only five per cent of the smart city projects that it tracked had a focus that was primarily on building innovation, and just 13 per cent had ‘some level of focus’.4

The World Green Building Council defines a green building as one that “in its design, construction or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts, and can create positive impacts, on our climate and natural environment; preserve precious natural resources and improve our quality of life”.5 Given the pressure on cities to act on climate change, green buildings are going to invade our urban centres. Besides being built with sustainable and ethical materials, they will be energy, water and resources-efficient, environmental-friendly by design, and capable of producing their own energy (electricity prosumers). Vertical and/or rooftop gardens will foster quality of living and a good environment for those who live in them or use them.

Green buildings will also leverage data and digital technology to improve the efficiency of infrastructure components and to adapt better to stakeholders’ usage. Flexible office operators will apply an Office-as-a-Service or Property-as-a-Service approach, involving a ’pay as you go’ and ’pay as you grow’ revenue model, aligned with an outcome of improved experience and productivity.

Gartner predicts that by 2028 there will be over four billion connected IoT devices in commercial smart buildings.6 They will be powered by telecommunications infrastructures, with 5G and High Efficiency Wi-Fi (6 or 6E) at the forefront, and will have smart utilities for power, waste and water.

As of May 2020, 28 major cities had signed the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment,7 which calls for cities to reach net zero carbon in operation by 2030 for all assets under their direct control, and to advocate for all buildings to become net zero carbon in operation by 2050.

Efficient smart infrastructure will evolve with a focus on a people-first approach to construction. This will help city leaders to implement a more holistic well-being concept for contributing to a better quality of life through smart and sustainable buildings and a well-integrated and intelligent city infrastructure. According to a study led by ESI ThoughtLab, smart water meters and smart grids have an adoption rate of around 68 per cent globally.8 The trend is upwards.

Smart and sustainable buildings open up a future to environments that do not just support our ways of living, but actually augment and enhance them. Smart buildings will serve as ambient social infrastructure that connects and interacts with occupants to improve their circumstances, by bringing features, services and information right to our location. Through smart buildings people no longer occupy a space, they engage with a place. With smart buildings architecture has evolved from designing structures and objects, to the design of systems and interactions. This leads to a human-centric future, where each interaction by the smart building with its occupants becomes an opportunity to learn and improve or enhance that interaction the next time around. Buildings tend to be integrated like never before into the way we work and live – as a result of a correlation of building and human performance.

“In order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming, we need to see in the next ten or so years the majority of our buildings become net zero carbon. Any guess on how many cities currently meet that goal? Less than one per cent. There is a staggering challenge here.”

-Jeff Merritt, Head of IoT and Urban Transformation at the World Economic Forum

Lower consumption of energy, materials and other resources via sustainable construction, smart technology and optimal data utilisation: Constructing a building is highly energy-intensive and polluting. A report in 2018 by the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, the International Energy Agency and the UN Environment Programme found that building construction and operations were responsible for 36 per cent of energy use globally.9 A WEF report also stated that of the 40 per cent greenhouse emissions generated by buildings, three-quarters come from building operations and from their construction and materials. Rating systems such as LEED, BREEAM, G-SEEK, CASBEE and Green Star have been established to assess the use of building materials. Sustainability in the use of building materials, energy-efficient, and technology-powered processes would help establish a more environmentally-aware approach to construction.

Capacity to adapt and adjust to circumstances and needs: For a built environment to be sustainable, it needs to be resilient in its usefulness and relevance. An unoccupied energy-efficient building is not a sustainable building. In a digital world of remote working and online shopping, the value proposition of buildings needs to change to meet the evolving needs of the workforce and society in general. A smart building therefore lends itself to being more operationally sustainable since it can adapt and reconfigure more easily to changing conditions. It can provide digitally enabled services to occupants, and ultimately utilise data-driven insights about building performance and usage to make improvements and adapt accurately over time. Furthermore, the smart building is able to utilise these new insights in order to understand how building energy performance relates to human activity as well as floor space. It will therefore be possible to measure the sustainability and efficiency of a building in supporting user outcomes, its productivity and experience.

Lower greenhouse emissions to contribute to net zero: Big cities are already aware of the environmental impact of poor buildings and infrastructure, and are acting to deal with the problem. In 2019 Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City, announced a ban on the construction of new all-glass buildings. Organisations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are also advocating a ban on ‘all-glass’ skyscrapers and greater use of alternate construction materials and alternative solutions such as solar PV windows that can be integrated within a building’s envelope.10 11 The European Commission has a Renovation Wave programme to promote effective action on public and private building stock in order to help make Europe climate-neutral by 2050. Currently, roughly 75 per cent of the building stock is energy inefficient, yet almost 85-95 per cent of today’s buildings will still be in use in 2050.12

Boost public health and the quality of living both indoors and outdoors: Smart and sustainable buildings, able to adapt to the specificities of their occupants, have a positive impact on the physical and mental health of them. Better air quality and reduced environmental noise help occupants to improve productivity, their decision-making ability and response to crises; and they alleviate psychological distress. According to the WEF’s 2021 Net Zero Carbon Cities report, Europe has the potential to achieve about EUR 29 billion in cumulative human health benefits by 2030 due to reductions in air pollutants. Smart technology in buildings also improves convenience and accessibility, promoting inclusion and adding to the quality of life.

Overall improvement of city landscape: Smart and sustainable practices applied to buildings and infrastructure change the city landscape completely, making it greener and more attractive. Smart buildings are massive information generators, with the average commercial office building producing about 150 GB of data each day. This creates an opportunity for cities to become more granular in city planning. With every new development or building, city planners and authorities can evaluate the overall impact on the surrounding context and social circumstances, and offer more pointed guidance on how best to fit the context, while putting in place standards for operational data sharing. Furthermore, city authorities are also able to incentivise the inclusion of social amenities where data analysis indicates this would be beneficial, for example, requiring the inclusion of green space or a library in exchange for permission to build additional commercial office space, thereby creating a win-win scenario for the city and the building owners. This knowledge sharing economy is the future of the smart and sustainable built environment.

Define a vision, technological guidelines and develop a roadmap: It is not about technology, but about digital transformation fostered by technology – and it starts with the vision. It includes an analysis and selection of smart technological developments that will bring value to all stakeholders, the establishment of technological guidelines to which the suppliers of infrastructure will have to respond, allowing for synergies; and the development of an implementation roadmap.

Stimulate and prioritise sustainability-targeted renovation, construction and restoration projects to ensure improved operational energy efficiency and carbon reductions. This can be done through policies, regulations, penalties or carbon taxes. Cities around the world are making commitments to sustainable development. For instance, in a global awareness and activation event of the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) in 2021, ten new companies gave a pledge to act on Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment. The effort must be led by local governments but involve developers, property companies and technology providers. According to a Deloitte analysis, in a newly-created building, an additional 20 per cent in construction costs for optimisation purposes brings a 30 per cent reduction in operational costs over three years, leading to a reduction of ten per cent in the total cost of ownership for the building. Incentives must be created according to the use purpose of the building. The tool ‘revitalisation calculator’ also helps the city decision making process regarding further use or reuse of the property by answering questions about whether to revitalise the building or to leave it as it is.

Launch incentive plans to promote alternate materials and build a strong engagement ecosystem: Through programmes and available funding, such as the European Commission’s Renovation Wave, opportunities for collaboration and knowledge exchange initiatives should be developed with a focus on urban management and quality infrastructure investment.

Beyond investing in buzzwords like 5G or sensory-tech solutions, extract value from data: Bear in mind what the city needs and ensure that data is used and transformed into value for achieving optimisation.

Promote data sharing standards and policy: As an example of current initiatives for integrating information and communication technology in sustainable development, the European Commission’s Digital Agenda is one of seven identified pillars for growth in the European Union, within which a key aspect is enhancing interoperability and standards. Simply generating data is not enough to support sustainability agendas. Availability of data must be combined with a thorough understanding of how to use it. The road from data to knowledge happens when information is made actionable.


Singapore has been one of the early adopters of green architecture and sustainable urban planning initiatives. In 2005, it introduced the Green Mark certification scheme, an initiative to drive Singapore's construction industry towards more environment-friendly buildings. This scheme was intended to promote sustainability in the construction environment and raise environmental awareness among developers, designers and builders when they start project conceptualisation and design, as well as during construction. The goal was for “at least 80 per cent of the buildings in Singapore to be green by 2030”.14 The city has extended the certification to Districts, such as industrial parks and education campuses.

A key example of a smart building is the Sands Expo and Convention Centre in Singapore's Marina Bay Sands. This was awarded the LEED Platinum in 2019 for building operations and maintenance, making it the first MICE venue in Asia Pacific to obtain an award for its sustainable green building initiatives ranging across energy-saving, lighting and air-conditioning systems, waste management, indoor plumbing, its carbon footprint and education. The Sands Expo and Convention Centre was also the first MICE facility in South East Asia to obtain ISO 20121 Sustainable Events Management System certification in 2014 in addition to being certified by Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority.

According to the Ministry of National Development, “As of January 2018, about 3,200 building projects in Singapore have met the BCA Green Mark standards. These cover more than 94 million square metres, which is around one-third of the total gross floor area of Singapore’s building stock“.15

Singapore has since introduced a new construction design called biophilic design, which is being used to increase occupant connectivity to the natural environment using direct nature, indirect nature, and space and place conditions. Richard Hassel, Co-Founder, WOHA, stated in a recent interview stated that, “A biophilic building attempts to replace walls, windows, columns, signs, and neon, with leaves, bark, birds, and insects.” He referred to Khoo Tech Park Hospital as an example: this is currently the most biophilic hospital in Asia with 700 species of native plants on the site.

One of the best current success stories is the Oasis Downtown building, which has a green plot ratio of 1,100 per cent, i.e., there is 11 times the amount of nature in the building than there would be if there were no building on the plot. Richard Hassel estimates that if just ten per cent of new buildings follow the same trend and achieve a 1,000 per cent green plot ratio, the city can be retrofit rapidly to achieve the equivalent of 100 per cent green cover for the city.16

As part of the strategy to green the city landscape and improve environmental sustainability, the city has also in place the Housing and Development Board (Singapore's public housing authority) Green Towns Programme - a ten-year plan to make HDB towns more sustainable and liveable by 2030. Two projects stand out:

  • Punggol. Smart and Sustainable Punggol is one of the milestones of the Strategic National Programs of Smart Nation Singapore: this is the plan to develop Punggol as Singapore’s first eco-town since 2010. As stated on the Smart Nation website, Punggol will be “a green and sustainable town that minimises wastage and maximises resource efficiency. (…) Residents living in the Punggol Northshore housing district can look forward to having their homes outfitted with built-in smart sockets and smart distribution boards that enable smart applications for the home, such as better monitoring of household energy consumption. Around the estate, features such as smart lighting will help save energy. In addition to the provision of solar panels by HDB on the roofs of housing blocks, JTC, SIT and SP Group will also collaborate on smart energy grid solutions to integrate energy generation and storage systems such as solar photovoltaic and batteries within PDD so as to optimise energy consumption and reduce carbon footprint by up to 1,500 tons annually. The implementation of pneumatic waste conveyance systems will also benefit the wider Punggol community. It allows for waste to be collected via air suction in underground pipes, minimising the traffic, noise, pests and smell nuisances associated with traditional waste collection.”17
  • Tengah. This 42,000 homes eco-smart city aims to be a clean state, cooler by design18 - Singapore’s first smart and sustainable town. Some of its features are:
    • Smart energy management, using artificial intelligence
    • Smart lighting will be utilised to manage the amount of lighting levels within the precinct, based on volumes of human traffic.
    • Automated waste collection, a system that uses high-speed air to transport household waste.
    • Smart-enabled homes, each equipped with smart switched socket outlets and a smart distribution board. Energy consumption can be managed through a mobile app.
    • HDB will pilot a centralised cooling system to regulate the temperature within residents’ flats, aiming at being more energy-efficient than individual air-conditioning units.19
Adelaide, Australia

Adelaide is focused on improving living in the city via innovative initiatives to re-develop and utilise space, in order to improve access to smart, clean and inclusive surroundings. U-City is an example of this.

In 2020, Uniting Communities (a not-for-profit organization) launched an innovative and futuristic U-city project (costing EUR 82 million), known as ‘the vertical city, within a city’. It is a 20 storey-high structure that includes integrated community components along with local community facilities. The property utilises sensor technology to optimise operational energy efficiency, by managing lighting, heating and ventilation systems depending on occupancy levels. It also features an embedded electricity network with a 55-kilowatt solar PV array on the roof, gas-boosted solar hot water provisioning, and natural ventilation throughout all living spaces.

In addition to having advanced tech-enabled energy efficiency solutions, the property promotes a sustainable multi-use development approach by combining assistive-technology-powered for disability and senior living accommodations with a social services hub, a café, residential apartments, and offices and retail space.

As a result of embedded technology solutions and design, the building can offer optimum energy and environmental performance, while being energy efficient and sustainable. It is currently the ’greenest’ building design in South Australia and is likely to use 45 per cent less energy and 30 per cent less water than a comparable new building.

Fukuoka, Japan

Fukuoka has been an inspiration internationally for green architecture and urban landscaping. The city continues to build on its smart and sustainable infrastructure strategy, with a focus on water sustainability.

As a recent initiative, the city developed a system that can simultaneously monitor and control the water flow and pressure to each area of the city via special sensors. This system can increase and decrease the water pressure in specific areas as required under precise operation. It monitors and controls water leakage. Additionally, using prediction models based on analytics from the sensor data in the system, the city can forecast how much water each area requires, to achieve effective water distribution throughout the city.

The city understands that public awareness projects, as well as technical optimisation, are essential to achieve water-conscious urban development. Multiple knowledge sharing and public awareness initiatives have therefore been launched to educate the citizens of Fukuoka about the importance of saving water, at schools and through various civic engagements.

As a result, 90% of the city’s citizens are dedicated to saving water. Moreover, the amount of water used by Fukuoka citizens is the smallest among all Japan’s major cities.

“Examples of smart infrastructure include intelligent traffic systems and other geospatial data and information which can make infrastructure planning more responsive to citizens’ needs and enable the efficiency of service delivery, garbage collection, water sanitation.…”

-Sameh Wahba, Global Director of Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice at the World Bank

  1. Coalition for Urban Transitions. Climate Emergency, Urban Opportunity. (2019)
  2. C40: Summary for Urban Policy Makers. (2018)
  3. European Commission: In focus: Energy Efficiency in Buildings. (2020)
  4. Navigant Research: Navigant Research’s Smart City Tracker 2Q19 Highlights 443 Projects Spanning 286 Cities Around the World. (2019)
  5. World Green Building Council: What is green building?; About green building.
  6. Gartner: Hype Cycle for Smart City Technologies and Solutions. (2019)
  7. CNBC: The planet has a problem with buildings: Here’s how smart ideas, tech and design can change that. (2020)
  8. ESI ThoughtLab: Smart City solutions in a riskier world. (2021)
  9. CNBC: The planet has a problem with buildings: Here’s how smart ideas, tech and design can change that. (2020)
  10. MicroShade: Should all-glass skyscrapers be banned?. (2020)
  11. ArchDaily: De Blasio's Glass Skyscraper Ban: What Alternative Materials Could Take its Place? (2020)
  12. European Commission: Renovation wave. (2021)
  13. World Green Building Council: 11th Annual World Green Building Week Sparks Over 200 Events Across 40 Countries. (2020)
  14. Building and Construction Authority, Singapore: 3rd Green Building Masterplan. (2014)
  15. Ministry of National Development, Singapore: BCA Green Mark.
  16. World Economic Forum: Singapore has an innovative new way to design its buildings. (2020)
  17. Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, Singapore: Punggol to be a full-fledged Smart Town. (2021)
  18. CNN Style: Singapore is building a 42,000-home eco 'smart' city. (2021)
  19. Housing & Development Board: Tengah; Presentation of Tengah by the Housing & Development Board.

You may access the links to these sources, where available, on page 148 of the Urban Future with a Purpose study.

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