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35 Sustainable Intelligent Building Terms You Need to Know

Posted on October 10th, 2019

Every field has a unique-to-itself vocabulary that is specific to the profession, and sustainable intelligent building is no different. The technical terms of this field have very specific meanings, in which knowing and correctly using them can easily identify you as an insider, while not knowing this lingo often isolates and confuses those attempting to break in.

This technical language often will create meanings that are context-dependent, and within that context, these definitions do not vary.

Superior Essex Communications has attempted to craft a technical definition for two different audiences within this field: expert and non-expert. The definitions for the relevant terminology will provide a simple explanation of words that one will, undoubtedly, hear at trade shows or in technical writings as the worlds of sustainability and intelligent buildings continue to converge into one.

These are intentionally not dictionary definitions, but rather a context that offers a base of knowledge for how the terminology may be used.

AC Power — AC stands for alternating current, which means the current will reverse direction. AC electricity is measured according to its cycles, with one complete cycle being counted each time a given current travels in one direction and then doubles back on itself. In the U.S. it is measure to 60 Hertz (Hz) in some foreign countries, it’s 50 Hz. This type of power is good for a long transmission, bulk, high energy, high-powered, high voltage, high current, longer distance applications, and is more efficient than DC.

AC power is less dangerous than DC and therefore it is the type of electricity that is most commonly used in homes and offices. In the AC world, 300 volts is considered high voltage; anything below that is low voltage.

API — This is the shortcut version of saying ‘Application Programming Interface,’ which is a set of functions and procedures allowing the creation of applications that access the features or data of an operating system, application, or other service.

For the simplist of understandings in intelligent building, an API is the bridge between one operating system to another. In a practical application, if you want to power a light fixture, it’s going to have an API. Meaning, the API will first connect with a signal on PoE and then also a sensor. The API is the intelligence hub in an environment that controls everything.

CSR — The short form of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’. This is an organizational framework that helps a corporation better define total encompassing sustainability. A really good corporate social responsibility program addresses people, planet and profits — the triple bottom line. It defines a structure for an organization to dictate their goals and how these three things interrelate to make a truly sustainable business.

CaGBC — According to its website, the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) is a not-for-profit, national organization that has been working since 2002 to advance green building and sustainable community development practices in Canada. The CaGBC is the license holder for the LEED green building rating system in Canada and supports the WELL Building Standard and GRESB (Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark) in Canada.

The CaGBC is a partner to the USGBC which releases a Canadian Green Building Council, LEED standard but it references very closely to the United States version.

DC Power — Direct current (DC) is the unidirectional flow of an electric charge. When you look at power to most all the devices, they take direct current. Direct current means you always have a constant current. It does not matter whether it’s one amp, two amps, or three amps to direct positive and negative straight voltage and current levels, depending on what the devices need.

DC has many uses, and is more dangerous than AC. It can be used in automotive batteries, telecommunications, high-voltage power transmissions, and many other fuel cells.

Declare Label – Simply put, a Declare Label is a nutrition label for a building product that summarizes its compositional chemistry ingredients, but also can confirm that a product is Red List free.

Declare was created by the International Living Future Institute as a transparency platform and product database to educate and change the materials marketplace by allowing manufacturers to demonstrate their leadership in the marketplace as well as providing project teams with information for product sourcing.

Digital Electricity — This is a third option, next to AC and DC. It is created by taking the AC component of power and putting it at a frequency base. It will use very high frequency, over short times, to pulse AC power that is being delivered over a network cable — usually 22 gauge but it will work on network cables. With that transition, it’s frequency-based and requires a transmitter of AC coming in which then converts into Digital Electricity. It produces little packets of AC over frequency and a receiver that receives that signal with a little packet of power in it.

From there, it is converted back to AC or DC, whatever use case it is needed for. Simply put: it takes really quick pulses of power through a network cable and those add up, by the time you get to the other end, you have digital electricity. The advantage is that it allows push to power out over a much longer distances without having to plan for the normal voltage drop – and without having massive copper wire size to design around.

EPD – This is the abbreviation for ‘Environmental Product Declaration’. It’s a report that summarizes the total life cycle impacts of a product from raw material extraction to end of life disposal (cradle to grave). The output of this report summarizes what the overall environmental impacts of the total life cycle of that product.

ESG – ESG stands for Environmental Social Governance. It is a term that’s newly defined and really came up in the world when the U.N. created the U.N. Global Compact and the sustainable development goals. An ESG program is, basically, an evolved framework of a corporate social responsibility program. It means ultimately the same thing. It’s just an evolved term.

Embodied Carbon — Embodied carbon is a measure of the total carbon that was emitted across the product’s life cycle to make that product and to put in a building.

Energy Efficiency — Simply put, this is a means of saving energy. The slightly longer version is implementing processes and procedures and systems that allow energies to be reduced. It can also be means of installing renewable energy sources to ensure that there is an efficiency of the energy usage of the building in itself.

Global Warming Potential – You’ll commonly see this in acronym form which is GWP. Global warming potential is understood through life cycle assessment and can be reported in an Environmental Product Declaration. This is the number on an EPD or LCA that tells someone what the embodied carbon is of that product; so global warming potential is the life cycle term of embodied carbon.

HPD – Health Product Declaration is a report that summarizes the total compositional chemistry of a product and the human health hazards associated with that compositional chemistry. Human health impacts are translated through what is called the Green Screen List Translator, which is a tool that basically identifies the hazardous chemistries (LT-1) and then chemistries that are not so hazardous (LT-UNK).

High voltage — One thing to consider when referencing high voltage is, according to the code, could be either 600 volts or 300 volts. So, anything above that is considered high voltage, anything below that’s low voltage. Most devices, except for the old incandescent light bulbs and some motors, run low voltage. High voltage is actually more efficient today because of the equipment now versus historically.

IEEE — I-triple-E is the shorthand version of Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers. This is an association that is, essentially, responsible for Power over Ethernet. Anything ethernet-related is going to come through I-triple-E as an association. An example is, Cisco switches and all the protocols in the switching in servers, are all dictated by I-triple-E.

ILFI — The International Living Future Institute is a nonprofit organization out of Seattle, WA that created the Living Building Challenge standard, as well as the Living Product Challenge standard, and Declare program amongst other green building and green product certifications.

IWBI — The International WELL Building Institute. It is the creator and maintainer of the WELL building standard.

Intelligent Buildings — Intelligent buildings are buildings that will interact with its environment independent of human contact, it’s based on user input and settings. Once there are user input settings and set definitions, the devices in the building will react based on those. So basically, and once it’s been predefined, if the lights are too bright in the room, or rooms, the shades are going to change, the lights are going to change based on predefined expectations and set, the building will take those and self-manage itself.

And the next step above that, is when the building starts to self-farm. We’re not that far yet. That’s artificial intelligence, at some point. But today, it’s based on those protocols and those definitions. The building will self-manage, based on the setup. That’s the intelligence. Data’s coming in and the building is reacting to that data to change conditions.

IoT – This is the acronym for ‘Internet of Things’. It is where devices have started to be connected or networked, in the IP-based protocol. It is a general term used for all these devices, IoT device, could be a phone, it could be a camera, or it could be a fan or a motor. Anything that is networked in nature is going to be under the umbrella of Internet of Things. Things controlled by the Internet. ‘Things’ is a broad brush of all these different devices, which is millions and millions of devices today. Everything that is Power-over-Ethernet and PowerWise falls under the IoT umbrella, because the whole big picture is Internet of Things and Intelligent building fits right underneath that.

LEED — This is the short form for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is the leading green building standard on the market. LEED basically certifies that buildings are better, more sustainable than code. There are certain levels: certified, silver, gold, platinum. Platinum is the best, most green building according to the LEED rating system.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) — Life cycle assessment is actually the study in which we are understanding the total environmental impacts across every stage of a product’s life cycle. What are the environmental impacts of raw material extraction? The shipping in between that to the manufacturing facility. What are the environmental impacts of the manufacturing operations to produce the product? The shipping to the end user. What’s the impact in the use phase, shipping, and then what’s the end of life opportunity for that product? A life cycle assessment produces scientific results of impacts a product throughout each of these phases.

Life Cycle Optimization — Life cycle optimization is a review of a product’s life cycle impacts. Implementing changes to raw material extraction, manufacturing operations, or how a product interacts within its use phase, or its end of life. How an organization make changes that then reduces their life cycle impacts of their products.

Living Building Challenge – The living building challenge standard is a green building standard that defines what a truly sustainable building is. Not one that’s just better than code—what it means for a building to be sustainable.

Living Product Challenge Certification (LPC) — Living Product Challenge Certification is one of the most rigorous, environmental product certifications on the market. It is a multi-attribute assessment that audits products across 20 different imperatives. It’s the same as a Living Building Challenge for a building, same concept, but for a product

Having a product that is Living Product Challenge certified ensures that a company has positively benefited the community through hand prints. A hand print is an idea that instead of footprints (like a carbon footprint) we all have looked at how we can reduce our footprints. Hand prints are actually giving back to the earth to create a positive impact instead of just reducing negative impact.

Low Voltage — Low voltage, is considered to be anything below 300 volts.

MaterialsCAN — The Material’s Carbon Action Network in this group that has come together to include Skanska, Gensler, USG, Saint-Gobain, Armstrong Ceilings, Interface, Kingspan Panels and Superior Essex. It was developed to educate the market on the importance of understanding what is embodied carbon and how architect and those in the building industry can make better decisions on the products they’re using, to include decision surrounding lower embodied carbon and the importance of this.  If one would start to choose products that have, in fact, lowered its embodied carbon, this will inherently have a large effect to reduce the buildings impacts on climate.

Operational Carbon – Operational Carbon is the carbon that would be emitted based on the energy used by the systems of a building.

PoE – Power over ethernet, which is defined by IEEE, is the delivery of power over network cabling. It is limited by wattage, 60 watts, or actually is the Type 3, Type 4, and up to 90 watts. Delivering power to devices over the network cables so you have data and power being delivered through one network cable to a device.

Red List Free – The Red List is a list of 800 of the worst acting chemicals that have been defined by the International Future Institute as chemicals to avoid in building projects, due to their human health impacts. To be Red List Free, means that the product does not have any of the materials on the Red List.

Smart City — This is a city where all buildings are interconnected. An Intelligent space means the building or the room is intelligent, and then smart city is actually applying, helping infrastructure be intelligent. How can roads be intelligent? How can every interaction within city, cluster, community could be, can be intelligent and interacting together?

Traffic is the most easily understood example: If there are sensors that can detect heavy traffic in certain areas, the city, the area will automatically, through the lights and rerouting, will automatically manage that flow to eliminate the congestion.

Sustainable Intelligent Spaces – This goes along the same thing as intelligent buildings, intelligent cities. It could be in a building, could be an extension of the building outside. It could be a home, could be anything. A space, whether it’s in the city or building or otherwise, that has intelligence to it, related to the operation of the space itself. It could be the environmental control. It could be the lighting controls. It could be any of those type of controls in that space. That’s becoming more prevalent in, today than ever.

How do those controls affect the efficiency, both energy and carbon on the building, as well as and positively promote human health? The sustainable aspect is, how can intelligent spaces actually support sustainable design? This means sustainable intelligent spaces is really intelligence plus sustainability combined into one message.

USGBC — The United State Green Building Council, is the standard creator for the LEED rating system.

WELL — There is not an acronym there. It’s just the WELL Building Standard. Ultimately, it’s a building standard that has been developed by both doctors and building practitioners to define and certify that a space is in fact healthier.

Zero Energy — Zero energy is a building that is designed to meet zero energy standards. Basically, a building that does not use any more energy than it has produced via renewable energy sources, in some ways. The International Living Future Institute and the USGBC both have certifications and different definitions of what is zero energy.

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