Built Environment


The built environment is an essential piece of the smart city puzzle. Buildings are the biggest single source of carbon emissions, accounting for about 40% of the world’s carbon footprint, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Buildings are energy hogs too, eating up nearly half of all energy consumed in the United States. Any city serious about livability, workability and sustainability must raise the “intelligence quotient” of its built environment.

This chapter will give city leaders and planners the tools to make the built environment part of the solution. It begins by defining the terms and explaining how buildings interact with information and communications technologies (ICT). It turns next to the way smart buildings create benefits for a city. Finally, it lists the technology targets that allow a city to achieve those benefits. As we go along, we’ll pause for brief case studies from around the world.

Key definitions

The term ‘built environment’ encompasses all human-made infrastructures. It refers to buildings, of course, but also to parks, stadiums and public spaces. However, three aspects of the built environment – streets, energy infrastructure and water infrastructure – are not emphasized here because they are addressed in separate chapters.

Buildings are a prominent part of every city, from private homes to offices, factories, stores, schools, hotels, restaurants and theaters. ‘Smart buildings’ is the common shorthand for structures empowered by ICT. Smart buildings use sensors, meters, systems and software to monitor and control a wide range of building functions – lighting, energy, water, HVAC, communications, video monitoring, intrusion detection, elevator monitoring and fire safety among them.

Why make buildings smarter? In its June 2013 Global Sustainability Perspective, real estate developer Jones Lang LaSalle put it this way: “Advances in smart building technology are enabling a new era in building energy efficiency and carbon footprint reduction, yielding a return on investment for building owners within one to two years. We can now perform real-time remote monitoring and control of entire portfolios of buildings, leading to dramatic improvements in building performance and meaningful energy savings."