Why it is Important to Have Better Information for Managing our Buildings

HomeI have written a fair amount about technologies and data structures for collecting and managing information related to the insides of buildings.  At some level, it is important to answer the "So What?" question.  Why is it important for us to have better information about the inside of buildings?   If for no other reason, it is important for us as a species to reduce our collective impact on the fragile environment that is our home planet.

To paraphrase Peter Drucker, That which can be measured can be managed.  That which can be managed can be improved.  If this is true, then it is critically important that we start doing a better job in managing the performance of our buildings so that we can reduce their collective environmental impact.  When you start to look at the statistics, you may be startled by their implications.

There are a number of global trends that make it critically important that we take a much more focused and proactive approach to managing our built environment.  Let's take a look at a few of these:

Lets look first at population growth.  As a species, we have occupied the planet for roughly 40,000 years or about 2,000 generations.

500 Years of Population Growth 500 Years of Population Growth

During the past five generations, however, human populations have exploded.  A combination of rising birth rates and falling mortality rates has pushed global human populations to over six billion at the turn of the century and we are headed rapidly toward nine billion by 2030.  As populations have grown, so has our consumption of natural resources and the impact of our wastes of all forms on our fragile environment.

Not only is our population growing, but we are also seeing a mass migration to the cities from rural areas.

Population Urbanization Population Urbanization

As the industrialization of emerging world economies grows rapidly, we are witnessing one of the largest human migrations in history as people move from rural areas to cities in search of economic opportunity. For the first time, in 2007, more people lived in cities than in rural areas. This migration to urban centers from rural areas is driving a demand for more buildings of all types in our urban population centers. This urban migration is both being aided and driven by a growth in earning power of some of world's poorer inhabitants. The World Bank classifies the "middle class" as those earning between $4,000 and $17,000 per year. This population is projected to grow from approximately 400 million in 2005 to over 1.2 Billion by 2030 according to World Bank staff estimates. To get a sense of the impact of some of these trends on construction, consider this: "Shanghai every year adds more building space than exists in all of Manhattan." John Fernandez – MIT (June 2007) The global building boom is hardly constrained to the industrial centers of China either.  Urban centers around the world have seen a huge increase in construction activity in the past 20 years.

The environmental impact of this building boom is difficult to estimate, but will certainly be significant. Take a few minutes to consider the information presented in the following charts:

Buildings Contributions of CO2 Buildings Contributions of CO2

Construction Consumption of Raw Materials Construction Consumption of Raw Materials

As these graphs clearly show, the construction industry consumes a huge amount of our raw materials.  Furthermore, once a building is complete it consumes huge amounts of energy.  Buildings are also the primary contributor of CO2 to our atmosphere.  Given these facts and figures, if I had to pick one area to focus my efforts so that we could reduce our impact on global warming it would be to focus on reducing the impacts of buildings on the environment.

I am not an architect nor a structural materials engineer.    I am not able to make any new scientific breakthrough that will make our buildings more energy efficient or less costly.  I am a GIS professional.  What I CAN do is to help collect better measurements about how our buildings are being occupied and managed.  I can help design better systems to make this information available to people who are responsible for managing buildings so that they can make more informed decisions about the management of their buildings.  If Peter Druker is right, perhaps the availability of more and better information about buildings will help us improve our management of them.  And that should help reduce our environmental impact.

So... why IS it important to have better information for managing our buildings?  If you are not interested in saving money or making our built environment safer, then at least it is important to help save the planet.  As we like to say in the Great State of Maine...  Love Your Mutha.

Love Your Mutha Love Your Mutha