6 Reasons Why VERGE Matters to Sustainability Professionals

On its face, the marketplace trend we call VERGE — the convergence of energy, information, building, and transportation products and services — seems a pure tech play. VERGE is, of course, about technology, but it’s also much more than that. It’s like saying that the Internet is a pure tech play. Sure, it’s about switchers, servers, routers, and software — but the Internet has transformed how we live, work, play, shop, and travel.

In that light, I believe that VERGE will have an impact on any professional engaged with sustainability, along with anyone who consults or provides services to them. And not just “some day.” VERGE is here, now.

I’m not saying this just because my company is selling tickets to an upcoming three-day conference on this topic. I’m saying this because it’s true: VERGE increasingly will take corporate sustainability initiatives to new levels and new places, accelerating activities beyond the current levels of efficiency, stakeholder relations, and “greening up” one’s company. It is a platform for radical efficiency. It is also a massive business opportunity.

Moreover, VERGE plays to sustainability professionals’ strengths: thinking systemically, building bridges, exploiting efficiencies, busting silos.

Simply put: For sustainability professionals, VERGE is a game-changer. Here are six reasons why:

1. It transforms the world of energy. VERGE, at its heart, is about how, in an interconnected world, real-time data can optimize how energy is bought, sold, and consumed. True, that sentence sounds oh-so techno-geeky, but VERGE technologies are enabling things that are at the top of most sustainability executives’ to-do list: cutting overall energy use, reducing the cost and ensuring the availability of electricity and fuels over the long term, and cost-effectively increasing use of renewable energy to power both buildings and vehicles. VERGE’s technology advances are increasingly enabling these things, accelerating changes that have been slowly taking place over the past several years. Those changes and solutions will be arriving at an increasingly faster clip, thanks to both technology and market developments, and sustainability executives will be in a position to help guide their companies' energy future.

2. It revolutionizes the built environment. Much of the action related to energy takes place in buildings and on corporate and other campuses, but that’s just the start of how VERGE is impacting the built environment. Smart, connected buildings operate more efficiently, often requiring less space to accommodate an increasingly mobile and dynamic workforce. Smart buildings produce massive data flows, as information streams from connected switches, lights, fans, fixtures, and devices, allowing a building to respond and anticipate occupants’ behavior. When you combine that with external data — everything from climate conditions to commuting patterns — it enables buildings that don't just optimize energy use, but predict behavior, making for safer, healthier, and more productive work and customer environments. Meanwhile, the inevitable growth of electric vehicles — among employees, customers, and for corporate fleet use — brings new opportunities to integrate charging stations into buildings. Over time, this also will allow a fleet of interconnected EVs to serve as back-up power for the buildings themselves.

3. It impacts everyday operations. It makes sense that VERGE technologies impact a company’s energy, buildings, and vehicles. But that’s not all. They also affect a wide range of company operations, from HR to logistics. For example, connectivity fosters new work modes, in many cases causing human resource and real estate executives to rethink how and where buildings can best be utilized — even what it means to “be at work.” (The wifi-enabled buses used by several Silicon Valley companies to ferry employees to and from their offices are good examples of how transportation and the workplace are colliding.) The movement of goods and people also becomes more efficient in a world of smart and connected systems. The impacts ripple out to include manufacturing, facilities, operations, customer service, and other departments and business functions.

4. It incites systems thinking. VERGE is about looking at things holistically, something most sustainability professionals are adept at doing, but something for which they are often lonely voices inside their organizations. Understanding the convergence of technologies that is at the heart of VERGE means grokking the big picture, seeing interconnectedness where others don’t. It means breaking down silos, getting different parts of a company to collaborate, or working collaboratively with external partners, from suppliers to NGOs to other industry players. And it means looking across industries and sectors to find solutions, build partnerships, and collaboratively address changing markets — again, playing to sustainability professionals’ strong suits.

5. It elevates efficiency to a business strategy. In a world of convergence, success isn’t just about reducing energy and resource use, but identifying and managing underutilized assets, from office space to waste products. VERGE enables radical resource efficiency, a term that can send sustainability professionals’ hearts aflutter. Nearly everything — raw materials, office supplies, buildings, vehicles, product inventories — stands to be better managed, monitored, and optimized. Along the way, the same data streams that allow for this optimization also facilitate higher-quality, real-time information, potentially both enriching and simplifying internal and external sustainability reporting. Indeed, VERGE is about all the hardcore measurable stuff that sustainability executives relish.

6. It accelerates sustainability strategies. If it’s not clear by now, all these capabilities and efficiencies stand to significantly improve companies’ environmental footprints: reducing emissions, increasing renewables use, eliminating waste, more efficiently manufacturing and distributing products and services, and innovating new customer solutions. VERGE technologies, from sensors to software to smart meters, are enablers of efficiency, in every sense of the word. Together, they provide a platform for facilitating and accelerating many of the sustainability initiatives undertaken by companies, universities, public agencies, the military, and others.

Of course, the activities and functions described above aren’t owned solely by sustainability professionals. They are also the purview of COOs, CFOs, and many others. That makes for another reason why VERGE matters: it stands to tighten the linkage between the sustainability function inside companies and top-level strategy and decision-makers.

As I said, this is not “some day” stuff — it is happening now. We’re seeing VERGE technologies unfolding in buildings, across enterprises, on college and corporate campuses, on military bases, and in cities. Maybe even in your company. Are you ready?