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Will technology save the green building revolution?

There are a lot of problems in today’s world, ranging from constant threats of extreme storms to flood risks, to perhaps even ourselves. The real estate sector has a number of challenges we need to overcome, and we need to overcome them quickly. So will technology save us? That topic has garnered much debate in the community.

I sat down with Measurabl’s COO Dana Arnold and Site 1001’s Director of Business Development and Technology Craig Wood, to talk about what we need to be saved from and how technology can play a role in scaling sustainability efforts across the built environment. Here’s an excerpt from the discussion:

Kelia Cowan: One thing that we need to address before we can even say “yes”, “no”, or “maybe” is: What do we actually need to be saved from?

Dana Arnold: When it comes to green buildings, we’re talking about a building that has little to no impact on its surroundings. To do that successfully, we need to measure and quantify operations utilizing technology. You’ve got to acknowledge that buildings have a huge negative impact overall on the global environment. There’s still a lot of aspirational things that we know we need to do. But, because 99% of buildings are already built, we’re struggling to adapt these buildings to that reality and how we can adapt buildings to be helping us and not hurting us.

Craig Wood: I think we kind of need to be saved from our ever-expanding footprint. We have increasing growth in the global population and projections are that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. And if you look at those cities, they geographically only occupy about 2% of the landmass of the entire planet, yet they generate 70% of the world’s greenhouse gases. So what we’re really looking to save ourselves from, if we see this increasing growth in the population, is the corresponding increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

KC: Where is the biggest room for growth in technology? What do we have today and where do we need tech to be in order for us to really excel at what we’re doing?

DA: There is a huge gap in how we handle water. From the generation of water, to the low cost, to our lack of infrastructure, to efficient management of water consumption, people don’t necessarily pay water its true value. Water really is our most valuable resource for energy. But the cheap cost of water leaves a lot of room for improvement in how we extract, how we’re replenishing, and how we’re using water efficiently.

“The future is going to be very different from where the traditional facilities management mindset has been in the past.” – Craig Wood, Site 1001

CW: There are a few things impeding the progression of technology, the greater adoption of technology, and the utilization of tech that can help us most, namely proprietary systems and technologies. For example, within building management systems (BMS) today, they’re generally configured in proprietary ways. Typically, the vendor that installs and maintains that BMS is going to configure it in a way that’s unique to them. So, even if you go to another building owned by the same company that may have the same BMS but is using a different vendor, it would have a totally different configuration. That presents challenges in extracting data and getting insights into the performance of those two buildings to benchmark them against each other.

The role of management is really expanding and evolving and changing. Today it should be called “smart” or “sustainable building operations” instead of “facilities management” because facilities management is a more reactive term whereas really what they’re doing today, and what technology makes possible, is smart building operations. When you look at it that way, you’re really redefining the role that you’re playing within the building and what you need to be doing in terms of your sustainable building strategies. It’s a maturity issue, and it’s also a shift in mindset. The future is going to be very different from where the traditional facilities management mindset has been in the past.

To catch the rest of the discussion, download the Q&A interview with Dana & Craig to learn if technology will save us from the challenge of greening our built environment.