Category Archives: Sustainability in the Age of Big Data

Building a Green Empire

Netronix Pic

By Julie Spitkovsky, Netronix, Inc.

You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand.  Raising awareness, sharing information and cultivating interest about indoor air quality are important tools for building design professionals to exploit at the start of the design process to achieve optimal indoor air conditions from the start of a project through building occupancy.

Getting people to break habits is extremely difficult.  Paul Scialla, Founder and CEO at Delos explains, “Our built environments can shape our habits, regulate our sleep-wake cycle, drive us toward healthy and unhealthy choices, and passively influence our health through the quality of our surroundings.  We spend 90% of our time indoors, and by incorporating a variety of healthy design, construction and operations strategies through evidence-based programs such as the WELL Building Standard, we have a profound opportunity to advance human health, well-being and productivity for everyone.”  

“Our built environments can shape our habits, regulate our sleep-wake cycle, drive us toward healthy and unhealthy choices, and passively influence our health through the quality of our surroundings.”

Occupant health is a clear economic incentive. In 2007, a study by Mudarri and Fisk estimated that annual costs of asthma attributable to dampness and mold exposure in homes were between $2.1-4.8 billion. By 2014, studies in the health sector revealed reductions in mortality rates, bloodstream infection rates, and medicine consumption in green hospitals, compared to conventional hospitals, indicating that some of these effects could occur because of improved IAQ. Fewer sick days, reduced employee turnover, and fewer medical errors are compelling incentives to design spaces that incorporate evidence based research findings.  

MATERIALS MATTER

Consumer products and building materials emit dangerous gases like VOCs, Formaldehyde and Carbon Dioxide, influencing indoor air quality.  Many of these types of compounds were not present half a century ago. According to the EPA, examples of consumer products and building materials that are also sources of indoor air pollution include office furniture, flooring, paints and coating, adhesives and sealants, wall coverings, office equipment, wood products, textiles, and insulation.  In 2010, the World Health Organization established guidelines for maximum thresholds of Formaldehyde at .08 ppm, though there are few guidelines for other gases, environmental conditions and particulate matter (the WHO only first identified particulate matter as an indoor pollutant in 2006, explicitly recognizing the limited availability of resources). Indoor air quality (IAQ) is enhanced by using materials that have negligible carcinogenic or chemical emissions, are installed with minimal VOC-producing compounds, offer moisture resistance, and require simple, non-toxic cleaning methods and products. Today, more consumer products and building materials are being studied and certified as low chemical-emitting materials in an effort to control and achieve good indoor air quality.  But is this enough?

ENERGY BUNNIES

One premise for green building design is its impact in the energy sector. Today buildings account for 41% of US energy consumption, with nearly half of that usage coming from the commercial sector. Designers have control over energy consumption and indoor air quality factors such as materials, systems, ventilation, the environmental control scheme, and layout. In 2016, the percentage of firms with over 60% green certified projects reached 18 % and is estimated to triple to 37% by 2018. Under LEED standards, Gold Rated buildings earning 39 points are estimated to reduce environmental impact by 50 percent, while Platinum Rated buildings earning 52 points are estimated to reduce environmental impact by almost 70 percent.

VENTILATION MATTERS

Historically the connection between buildings as repositories and gateways of resource flow and air pollution was difficult to measure.  In office buildings, over 1/2 of end use energy expenditures come from heating, ventilating and cooling.  One of the challenges with flushing ventilation, bringing in outside air at night when the building is unoccupied to cool down the building or remove heat, is the re-introduction of outdoor pollutants and generation of new pollutants.  The reaction between outdoor air and indoor materials is a break in equilibrium at the surface of materials causing the emissions of new pollutants, otherwise absorbed by building structures.  Well-ventilated work spaces proved to have lower levels of  CO2 correlating with decreased levels of worker anxiety and increased levels of productivity.  More specific findings in support of the mounting evidence demonstrating the relationship between Indoor Air Quality & productivity tells us there is 61% higher cognitive functioning in green buildings that meet occupant health and energy efficiency standards set by LEED and 100% higher cognitive functioning in buildings with twice the ventilated air rate required for LEED certification (+Green Plus Buildings).  

“…heightened levels of Carbon Dioxide over the course of a school year can have detrimental physical effects on children’s developing respiratory system.”

According to Bruce White, Vice President of Airthinx, Inc. “We are starting to see, and have a clearer picture of  the health effects of indoor contaminants like PM 1, PM 2.5, PM 10, CO2, CH2O, VOC’s on building occupants. We see from recent studies out of Harvard, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, USGBC & IWBI, what elevated levels of CO2 alone can do to students and building occupants. Specifically, in children, elevated levels of CO2 can cause wheezing and levels over 1,000 ppm can result in a 10-20% increases in days away from school. That alone affects the school not only in lower test scores, but also in funding from the US Department of Education on attendance levels. More importantly, the prolonged exposure to heightened levels of Carbon Dioxide over the course of a school year can have detrimental physical effect on children’s’ developing respiratory system.”

HOLISTIC APPROACH

A poor indoor environment causes occupant discomfort, health problems and poor performance.  Building system performance directly impacts maintenance frequency, equipment life, and energy usage. Understanding the process and possible IAQ endpoints (moisture control, drainage, ductwork protection, HVAC production, use of low VOC building materials, minimum ventilation) encourages improved building design. For example, a life cycle assessment (LCA) addresses the impact of a product through all of its life stages. By executing sustainable design in architecture, there is an opportunity for long-term value through modifiable building systems over the life-cycle instead of least-cost investments.

The impacts of evidence based design, a once value added anomaly, are now a requirement for competitive practice.  Occupants heightened exposure to the availability of data & metrics, conditions them to demand more assured outcomes on expensive building projects.  Architects are in a position to make collective and informed choices that will have a broad impact in the aggregate, such as advising about emission testing protocols to ensure test results can be translated into real world use cases. For example, under LEED, designers can earn up to 15 points for implementing indoor air quality measures.

SMART SENSORS

When considering the options available for indoor air quality management, the exclusive reliance on cleaning the air with filtration systems may not be enough. Air filtration cleaning method results rest on the assumption that ‘dirty’ contaminants are eliminated. Rather, the systems selectively remove some pollutants but not others, and generate new pollutants when the systems are not properly maintained. A reliable counterpart and solution is continuous monitoring of air quality levels in any infrastructure, preserving the integrity of the measurements, producing never before seen analytics and information, and creating better indoor environments, everywhere in the world.  In this way, space planning can be more intuitive and give future projects a greater chance of success.   

Building a collective understanding of the indoor air quality problem and its ecosystem, creates opportunities to make informed decisions and inspires actions to transform indoor spaces. 

Mr. Valentine Lehr, of Lehr Engineering in New York weighs in, “As a consulting design engineer, I am aware that the best intentions and latest technology often fail when needed maintenance and constant monitoring are neglected.  At the heart of this is the cost and effort of monitoring these systems and validating proper operation, both tasks which require human input.  Further, while devices to monitor air content have been available, these are usually singularly specific, expensive and need frequent calibration. In that regard, the Airthinx monitor is a significant development and improvement.  It’s low cost, easy installation, ability to monitor multiple potential contaminants and ease of integration with BMS and specialized monitoring/alarm centers allows for an unprecedented number of devices to be installed, and the original design intent to be fully maintained, assuring high IAQ.”

The solution, developed by Netronix’s IoT platform, guarantees the highest standards of security, reliability, and scalability of the network, and enables quick deployment of devices in commercial, retail & residential buildings with simple, affordable integration into any built environment. Each Airthinx IAQ device has nine built-in sensors (PM 1, PM 2.5, PM 10, CO2, CH2O, VOCs, Temperature, Humidity, & Pressure), measuring air quality with industrial accuracy, at a fraction of the cost, making air quality monitoring financially feasible at room level.

“Its low cost, easy installation, ability to monitor multiple potential contaminants and ease of integration with BMS and specialized monitoring/alarm centers allows for an unprecedented number of devices to be installed, and the original design intent to be fully maintained, assuring high IAQ.”

The advantage of a portable device that fits in the palm of a hand with data available instantaneously from a mobile phone, iPad or desktop is accessibility to information, anytime, anywhere.

Knowledge is power!

 

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The Malaysian Airlines Flight Disappearance and the Future Epic Battle between Data for Good and Evil

By Gary Survis*

It was only a matter of minutes after the discovery of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that questions began to be asked about the data.  How could a Boeing 777 jet airliner disappear without a digital trace?  What about the data the airplane collected?  What about the tracking data?  The transponders?  How about the satellite “pings”?  What can  the cell phones’ GPS’s tell us?  It was assumed that the quickest path to answering questions about the mysterious flight disappearance was to decipher the big data digital stream that the plane must have created.  One response was a “crowd sourced” effort to use big data to locate the plane.  People believed that in this age of data omnipresence that leveraging data to solve the mystery was the obvious next step.  Some of the same people who feared the NSA’s intrusions and monitoring, were hoping that data held the answer to this enigmatic puzzle.

Malaysian flight 2

But, as the story began to unfold, it became apparent that whoever was perpetrating this “deliberate” act also understood the power of data.  The slow discovery that the transponder and ACARS system (used to transmit maintenance data to the ground) were “turned off” showed a high level of sophistication and knowledge of the data a modern jet creates.  In fact, during a typical 6 hour flight, an airplane will create between 250 and 500 Megabytes of data.  Those responsible for taking action on this flight understood data, how it might be used to locate the plane, and the need to control it.

And so it seems that we are embarking on a journey to a new era where there will be an epic battle between those that will use data for good and those that will seek to control it for evil purposes.  Today, when we talk of big data, we recognize that we are only in the early stages of this transformation.  The internet of things promises even more data in the future from a multitude of industrial devices and sensors.  Who controls this data and for what purpose will be one of the defining discussions of our age.

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One area where there is hope for data being leveraged for good is in the area of sustainability.  We face many seemingly intractable challenges to our future including feeding our population, evolving to respond to the reality of global climate change, and managing our finite resources in the face of unrestrained development and growth.  The list of projects where big data is being used to attack these issues is encouraging.  Space Time Insight is using geospatial visualization to help utilities deliver the smart grid and integrate more renewables into their mix.  Google and the University of Maryland are partnering to develop satellite driven high resolution interactive maps that can track deforestation due to fire, logging, and other sources.  Companies like Monsanto and DuPont are developing “prescriptive planting” technologies that gather and then feedback data to farmers on everything from planting depth, distance and farm machinery productivity.

And these are but a few of the many very promising uses of big data in sustainability.  On March 27th, the Wharton School’s Initiative for Environmental Leadership (IGEL) will be hosting a conference to examine this topic entitled Sustainability in the Age of Big Data.  Companies such as Shell, SAP, IBM, Dow, and others will be grappling with both the power and promise of big data in the sustainability space.  The hope is that business will begin to harness the immense potential of big data to be used for good and begin to solve some of our society’s most pressing problems.

It is still early days in defining how we will use all of this data that we will be creating in virtually every aspect of our lives.  At Syncsort, where I work, we are helping the Fortune 100 begin to discover how to employ this data in transforming their business.  I remain optimistic that good will prevail over evil.  But, I am also realistic.  With open source technologies like Hadoop, massive open data projects, and increasingly inexpensive computing technology, it has never been easier for those that wish to use data for evil to have sophisticated tools previously available only to governments and the largest commercial enterprises. As with the Malaysian Airlines flight disappearance, people want data to be used for good, but it can also play a more sinister role.  Let us hope that we truly understand data’s power and that good prevails over evil in this epic battle for the future of big data.

*Gary Survis is Chief Marketing Officer, Syncsort Data Integration, leading Syncsort’s global Big Data integration marketing team. Gary is a seasoned marketing executive with experience combining traditional and digital marketing tools to provide practical solutions to today’s marketing challenges. He is also currently a Lecturer at Wharton and a Senior Fellow at Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership. 

Big Sustainability: Solutions from Insight – Keynote Speaker Dave Kepler

Leveraging Big Data – The Dow Chemical Company

What is the most import invention of the Modern Period? It depends on your perspective. I would say Gutenberg and his innovative use of the printing press in the 1400’s. It played a key role in the Renaissance, the scientific revolution, and laid the foundation for a knowledge-based economy. Remember, for historians, the Modern Period occurred several centuries ago.
It has now been only a decade since data traffic on networks exceeded voice and that gap has grown significantly. We are very early in understanding ”What does ‘Big’ data mean?”

Within one generation, my father’s lifetime, he has experienced the transition in this country from paper-based communications to universal access of telephone, radio, television and now the internet and its social media outlets.
The reality is that in this recent phase of communications, the Internet has brought in mass participation in information creation and sharing by most of the people on the planet and now we are seeing rapid introduction of devices into the conversation as well.

“Big Data” is the market’s recognition that there is potential in this conversation and therefore, the mining and the analytical way we manage it can unlock value.
Regardless of your organization’s history or size, your future will have many more opportunities to encounter Big Data. Using and levering this Big Data in a business context will become the easy part. Advancing the objectives of Sustainable Development will be one a of business’s biggest challenges in this age of information.

Big Data’s Influence on Sustainability

By Nathan Sell*

Our world is inundated with data collection, from location services to demographic information enormous volumes of data are generated with each passing moment, so much so that 90% of the existing data has been generated in only the past two years.  This data can provide enormous opportunities in marketing, allowing companies to target an ideal customer, resulting in eerily relevant ads on social media or in targeted emails.  “Big Data” doesn’t stop here, it has a multitude of uses and one of its most important may be the impact Big Data can have on Environmental Sustainability.

Ultimately, Big Data’s influence on sustainability comes down to the notion that you can’t manage what you don’t measure.  Through a plethora of metrics that have arisen by which we can now measure the environmental burden of a company’s operations or supply chain, we can also model how changes can have an enormous impact.  Early movers in the use of Big Data as a sustainability tool have seen enormous cost savings, and reduced impact, both to their operations, supply chain, as well as product use and disposal.  Big Data allows for modelling and scenarios that can alter mindsets, showing the possibilities in both monetary savings as well as reduced environmental impact.

By streamlining deliveries, UPS has saved millions of gallons of gas, and approximately $50million in fuel costs.  Ford has reduced the weight of their popular F-150 for their 2015 model by 700 lbs by using aluminum alloy technology.  This change could have a greater impact on overall fuel economy amongst Ford vehicles on the road than their electric vehicles due to the truck’s popularity.  Big Data alone will not solve our sustainability issues, but coupled with innovation, like Nike’s waterless dyeing technologies, or waste reducing manufacturing techniques, Big Data can fuel a more sustainable economy by allowing for the educated decisions that bring about more sustainable products, and redefine our notion of “premium.”

Big Data, has allowed for enormous benefits to be had by some of the largest companies out there.  We must, however be cautious with our use of Big Data.  Despite much of the anonymity associated with it, this data is frequently much less anonymous than one might think.  We also should consider what companies are doing with their own big data.  Exposing an unseen environmental burden could be bad PR, but withholding it from shareholders could end in scandal.  Educated consumers must demand transparency from companies we invest in and purchase from.  Corporate Responsibility Reporting (CSR) and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) are driving this transparency which in turn has led to great changes in the behavior of business.  The advent of Big Data has only just begun.  As supply chains and product use become better documented, it is clear that sustainability is only just beginning to get the attention it deserves.  On March 26th and 27th, the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) will host “Sustainability in the Age of Big Data” where companies leading the sustainability movement will share insight into their use of Big Data, undoubtedly leading others to think about what Sustainability and Big Data can do for them.

*Nathan Sell is currently the Graduate Intern at Wharton IGEL and a second-year Masters of Environmental Studies Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences.