Buildings as a platform for innovation and transformation

Last year, my colleagues and I at GreenBiz Group started asking the question, “What happens when four massive technologies — energy, information, buildings, and transportation — collide?" We dubbed the collision VERGE, and launched a global brand of conferences, events, research, and media. (The next event is November 12-13 in San Francisco.)

VERGE focuses on how data and IT create new platforms that enable radical efficiencies, breakthrough business models, and innovative products and services, and includes within its sphere a number of other megatrends: next-gen cities, intelligent buildings, connected mobility systems, big data, smart grids, the “share economy,” the "Internet of things" and more. Each of these things is enabled by technology convergence, and each stands to have a profound impact on how companies operate, how cities interact with their denizens, and how all of us live, work, travel, play, and shop.

Ultimately, VERGE is place-based — that is, it happens somewhere: a building, campus, neighborhood, city, or region. That is the focus of a report published today, written by green building pioneer and GreenBiz senior contributor Rob Watson. VERGE and the Built Environment focuses on the key trends that undergird how this technology convergence will unfold in the context of the built environment over the next few years.

The free, 34-page report can be downloaded here.

“The 20th century emphasized linear thinking and the efficiencies of assembly-line production,” writes Watson. “We got very good at understanding the parts and optimizing the components. Unfortunately, this came at the expense of sub-optimization of the larger system. By contrast, we believe the 21st century will be one of integration and non-linear systems thinking — a convergence of increasingly complementary parts in support of an optimized whole. The overall catalyst for this systems view is information and communications technologies, or ICT — the explosion of information-enabled products and services.”

Part of the story, says Watson, is that changing technology, demographics and individual preferences is leading companies to squeeze more out of the space they have, rather than squeezing out more space. Average office space per person is steadily declining and forecast to drop more than 30 percent in the next five years. “Big-box” retailers are getting smaller, especially as they move into urban cores, he says.

Technology is enabling companies to reduce or eliminate permanent space per employee. Instead, they have unassigned space that can change daily, assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis, or depending upon the need for collaborative and team activities. ICT has facilitated both the more-efficient use of space through online reservations and also the ability to work remotely.

Next Page: Energy use down while energy intensity rises