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Smarter Sustainability

Sept. 10, 2021
Decarbonization & Electrification are key for our sustainable future.

Our Smarter Sustainability journey presents an amazing opportunity for us to show the world how we can make a difference and lead the transformation. The biggest takeaway is that we, as individuals and companies have very little control over our collective carbon footprint.

Government really matters—"That system or group of people governing an organized community."

My journey's goal is to achieve improved Sustainability for all. Gathering information and writing for this article has reawakened my personal carbon-free goals. I have lived over 30 years almost carbon-free in a highly automated, passive solar home with a recycled brick mass storage wall, in a close walkable community—and a more recently-acquired electric vehicle. Much of my industry presence (as AutomatedBuildings.com) has been projected from that carbon-free home corner office location. Almost no changes were needed for Covid, just no traveling to events.

My main recreational activities are also carbon-free: biking, hiking, sailing, and kayaking. All supporting my life goal "Live where you want to play while bringing manageable parts of your work with you.” I am embracing the teachings of my mentors old and young to improve my personal Sustainability. But there are limits to what individuals can do to achieve true substantially; real progress will only happen collectively. Hence the following thoughts.

My friend and sustainability mentor Alex Zimmerman the Founding President of Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) provides these thoughts in his blog entry, Personal vs Societal Responsibility for GHG Emissions:

The discussion around the climate crisis and solutions to it is often dominated by a focus on choices made by individuals. There is an insidious aspect to this. It implies that if causes, and therefore solutions, to the climate crisis, arise largely as a result of aggregate individual choice, then climate change is your fault because you are not making the correct choices, and further, it is somehow a moral or ethical failing on your part. Not only that, it lets societal institutions avoid acknowledging their responsibility and acting on it.

But really, how much of climate impact is in fact due to personal choice and how much is effectively beyond our individual control because of societal choices? I decided to explore this question by looking at our household carbon footprint and the effect of some changes that we have made recently…

What lessons can be drawn from this exercise?

The first is that personal choice can indeed make some difference. Also, and I think this is the biggest takeaway, is that we, as individuals, have very little control over the carbon footprint of the remaining categories.

My point is this: while there are things we can and should do as individuals, the majority of the carbon footprint we have is determined by societal choices, choices, and decisions made by the government. In this struggle, the government really matters, and therefore who you vote for matters – politics matters.

The province in Canada where Alex and I live has created a 100-page pdf, A Building Electrification Road Map for British Columbia. The abundant supply of clean, renewable electricity in BC and the mature state of high efficiency, electric technologies for most building space and water heating applications, means electrification is recognized by all levels of government as a critical component of strategies for decarbonizing the province's building sector.

This is fueled and supported by Canada Green Building Council - whose mission is: a transformed built environment leading to a sustainable future. CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Standard is the new measure of green building innovation. Carbon emissions represent the true climatic impact of buildings. Only by focusing on emissions during design, and assessing emissions once in operation, can we ensure the low-carbon outcomes Canada needs.

Massive infrastructure investment is needed in the electricity grid worldwide. Renewable power generation and energy storage is a smarter, faster, and less expensive infrastructure improvement choice. Storage will change how electric systems are engineered – building to average demand rather than peak.

What is Smarter Sustainability? This Forbes article by Lars Reger, CTO and Executive Vice President at NXP Semiconductors, A Smarter World Will Be More Sustainable, starts to explain:

A world that anticipates and automates, which promises to envelop users in an integrated array of services that don’t just wait to be asked to help (on demand) but rather serve as trusted participants in the choices and actions we take. This automation can deliver a range of tangible sustainability benefits, from energy savings to reduced emissions.

I am very pleased to have Brad White's article, A Practical Guide to Deep Carbon Reduction Retrofits in the September issue of AutomatedBuildings. Key passage:

Eliminating the bulk of emissions from existing buildings poses unique challenges, but bringing an in-depth understanding of building operations into the design process offers a path forward. We have several excellent examples of this outcome Vancity Credit Union Headquarters  and Park Place  and Coquitlam Centre Mall.

Brad proceeded from this article,  Data Driven Design – Retrofitting for a Low Carbon Future. His thesis:

How we design and size equipment needs a modern approach as we retrofit with low carbon heating systems. All of that BAS data you’ve been archiving can help.

This article from the Memoori website describes decarbonization in the California, and how (and why) it is leading the rest of the nation:

California is especially known for its green regulations, where it has continuously set new standards for vehicles, power generation, and building efficiency in the US. This global shift is to a smarter, stronger, more diverse and greatly enhanced electrical supply with reduced Carbon emissions.

In my last article Smarter Buildings Decarbonize I wrote that the new measured variable is carbon. Are you ready to measure, record, analyze, and react?

Over the last 18 months, Climate Tech VC has obsessively reported on the explosion of activity in climate tech investing. The company has tracked roughly 1,000 unique investors who have collectively participated in funding more than 600 venture capital climate tech deals since Q2 2020. 

Japan will be hosting the  first Decarbonization Expo at the end of the month. The exhibition will gather decarbonisation solutions such as Corporate PPA, Renewable Energy, Technology for Energy Management, Net Zero Energy Building, Next-Gen Ventilation, etc. The expo hopes to attract people who are in charge of corporate management, executive board members, corporate planning, factory/building management, etc.

All of the above links show, our industry has amazing opportunities to add sustainability to all we do. We need to talk about carbon reduction collectively and how a smarter world will be more sustainable world. This conversation can help us evolve, grow and market our products and services.

Our present crusade is gathering followers for the coalition led by the Monday Live Group. From the latest LinkedIn post:

The Monday Live group realized the need to explain easily and quickly how our products and services connect  Using the Monday Live - Open Source Stack Tool.

As we all start to use the tool, its value greatly increases. this quick pictorial stack summary shows how each user evolves the tool. The purpose of the stack was to quickly explain ourselves. So here is my take using the stack as the medium to explain with linkage to where the info came from. The captured examples says it all and quickly explain our varied solutions. The pictures are worth a thousand words

Another organization leading important discussions is the Coalition for Smarter Buildings. From their homepage:

WE ARE THE COALITION FOR SMARTER BUILDINGS - C4SB We envision a world where people live, learn, work, and play in healthy, comfortable, and productive built-spaces, enabled by smart digital technologies that ensure sustainable and economically responsible development and operation.

Main topics in C4SB Proposal to White House CEQ

Workforce Development and Job Creation

  • Drive Analytics Adoption
  • Information Interoperability
  • Deployment Plan
  • Measure and Verify
  • Financial and Accounting (Procurement)
  • Industry input on Smarter Sustainability

Here’s a LinkedIn post from the founder of Nexus Labs, James Dice  - Energy efficiency and electrification:

Energy efficiency and electrification are the two main drivers of decarbonisation of the buildings sector. That transformation relies primarily on technologies already available on the market.

Digitalisation and smart controls enable efficiency gains that reduce emissions from the buildings sector by 350 Mt CO2 by 2050.

To get to a zero carbon buildings sector, this IEA report says we must:

1.Retrofit >85% of buildings to zero‐carbon‐ready level by 2050 (and ensure that zero‐carbon‐ready compliant building energy codes are in place by 2030 at the latest)

2. Build 100% zero‐carbon‐ready new building construction by 2030

3. Scale up heat pump production by 10x by 2050

4. Install solar thermal on 1.2B buildings by 2050

5. Adjust our residential energy heating and cooling setpoints to avoid 14% of demand by 2050

6. Increase appliance efficiency by 40% by 2050

7. Sell only LED lighting by 2025

8. Provide electricity and clean cooking to 9.7B people by 2050

9. Install 7500 TWh of distributed solar PV generation on buildings

10. Install 3.5B privately owned EV chargers in buildings

I think we as an industry must unite around this list.

Paul Polman and Andrew Winston, writing in the Harvard Business Review ask the important question, “is the world better off because your company is in it?” in this article, The Net Positive Manifesto :

Both practically and morally, corporate leaders can no longer sit on the sidelines of major societal shifts or treat human and planetary issues as “someone else’s problem.” For their own good, they must play an active role in addressing our biggest shared challenges. The economy won’t thrive unless people and the planet are thriving.

Society’s expectations of business have changed more in the past two years than in the previous 20. A pandemic, expanding and ever-more-expensive natural disasters, George Floyd’s murder, attacks on democracy, and more: All moved us past a tipping point. Both practically and morally, corporate leaders can no longer sit on the sidelines of major societal shifts or treat human and planetary issues as “someone else’s problem.” For their own good, companies must play an active role in solving our biggest shared challenges. The economy won’t thrive unless people and the planet are thriving.

Here's some news from betakit.com, a site that covers startup news and tech innovation stories in Canada:

Audette offers a platform that creates low-carbon transition plans for large commercial real estate portfolios, digitizing the process of assessing energy conservation potential in buildings. The company’s software captures data from a variety of sources, including utilities, maintenance requests, building reports, and sensors in smart buildings. Audette then uses this data to identify and review opportunities for low-carbon building improvements.

With the impacts of climate change growing more apparent, the need for low-carbon planning has never been greater,” said  Christopher Naismith, Audette’s founder and CEO, speaking in a BetaKit interview. “Retrofitting the built environment represents an enormous opportunity for rapid decarbonization, and Audette is helping asset managers realize these ambitions.”

If we are to achieve sustainability, we need to be smarter. Help us by joining the decarbonization and electrification crusade.

About the Author

Ken Sinclair | Editor/Owner/Founder

Ken Sinclair has been called an oracle of the digital age. He sees himself more as a storyteller and hopes the stories he tells will be a catalyst for the IoT future we are all (eventually) going to live. The more than 50 chapters in that ongoing story of digital transformation below are peppered with HTML links to articles containing an amazing and diverse amount of information.

Ken believes that systems will be smarter, self-learning, edgy, innovative, and sophisticated, and to create, manage and re-invent those systems the industry needs to grow our most important resource, our  younger people, by reaching out to them with messages about how vibrant, vital and rewarding working in this industry can be.

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