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Daedalus was the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world. Today, embedded intelligence is enabling the most profound changes in the way we create and use buildings since his day.

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« Ontology of Building Service Performance | Who said that? »
Wednesday
Apr092008

Gourmet Sustainability

It’s not sustainable if they won’t keep on using it. Feeling cold while sitting in the dark is not a sustainable posture.

The last time we as a culture went on an energy savings kick, it lasted until prices went down. Remember presidential cardigans? Remember when no living room would be complete without a snuggle bag for each guest? Well, some of you don’t remember the ‘70s—but I do.

I also remember falling asleep during the 80’s in all those high efficiency low energy buildings designed during the ‘80s. All those buildings with windows that did not open, and little if any outside air.

The cultural anti-consumer moment will likely pass. The elevation of frugality into a virtue seems likely to last about as long as modern recessions do—about eight months. Thoreau lasted only 26 months in his cabin by Walden Pond—and he was dining each night in the homes of the most eligible women of Concord. Once economic uncertainty fades, it is far too easy to go back to the old ways.

Sustainable sustainability must be desirable.

The one virtue-based movement that lasted from the seventies was food. Fashionable food during the stagflation seventies was low impact and often vegetarian. The diet for a small planet was earnest and required concentration and effort. It survived because it grew into whole foods and slow foods. Low impact food became the new gourmet.

If you want to build a sustainable business, find sustainable value, in today’s interest in sustainability, you will need to find the path to benefits, just as natural food found its way to gourmet. High energy prices are a door to new business opportunities, but too many of today’s old line building systems vendors are trying to peddle acetic solutions with require too much attention, too much cost, and offer too little satisfaction.

Responsive building systems can do so much. Systems that can tune themselves should be less trouble to run that they are today. Systems that know precisely what their occupants need should be able to keep their occupants healthy and happy. Home systems that can request their maintenance in advance free up the weekends for the homeowner.

For the same reasons, sustainable systems could be an opportunity for the owner. Systems that can document how well they are doing will provide their owners more income, either higher rents or lower vacancy. The savvy owner will know what service the tenant wants, and provide that at lower cost to himself, to higher the satisfaction of the building occupants.

When I explained the service oriented building to a group of faculty at UNC, they grasped this instantly. They quickly asked when we would commit to more alert students, rather than to fixed temperatures in the classrooms. Alert students are the gourmet offering.

Let’s get cooking.

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