Friday, 16 February 2018

The building knows who you are

and what you’re about to do.

This is not necessarily what you expect, when you query Google for 'the greenest building in the world'.  But as of January 26, 2017, that is what you get, on the slick website of Richard van Hooijdonk, self-styled professional keynote speaker and futurist.

He is speaking about 'the Edge', the Amsterdam headquarters of international consulting firm Deloitte, designed by PLP Architecture.  And to be fair, he makes a valiant case for the success of the building's combination of environmental responsiveness and embedded IoT.

The Edge is a modern office building, located in a vibrant urban environment, with excellent public transport, and famously flat terrain for commuting by bicycle.  So it has an excellent start on achieving a very high score on any conventional sustainability rating system.

To ensure that that potential is realised, the building is fitted with literally thousands of state-of-the-art sensors and automated controls, for just about every environmental variable. It achieves notable reductions in energy demand. And because the demand is low enough, photovoltaics can supply something in excess of the electricity used – though the building integrated photovoltaics have to be supplemented by panels on adjacent rooftops.

That last point is not a criticism. But it is one more practical reminder that when discussing sustainability, it is really important to define the so-called system boundaries. That consideration applies equally to water management, waste, and even how the building contributes to, or disrupts local landscape ecologies. And of course, to agree whether any evaluation is being carried out with appropriate regard to the environmental cost of procurement and construction of the building.  And whether on a 'cradle to grave' basis, or even the much more demanding 'cradle to cradle'.

The Edge seems to have a go at everything.  My favourite part:
The Edge even features an ecological corridor on the north-facing terrace of the building for use by local insect, bird, and bat populations. The path of vegetation supports beneficial insects by providing insect hotels, while birds and bats are offered birdhouses and bat boxes that provide shelter and space for nesting.
Richard van Hooijdonk's article might be based on the official press releases, and doesn't pretend to be rigorous.  But it is an enthusiastic catalogue of contemporary initiatives and technologies employed by this building.  Fun to read, if a little disturbing.

The smartest, greenest office building on earth – The Edge – is like a computer with a roof

But if you want to do some detective work, read the more official Deloitte version:
The edge of tomorrow

Toward the end of the article, the company lists 'Sustainability gains across the network', including reductions in paper use.  That is when you realize that while the building may represent a big advance, the corporate environment overall can still only be described as 'less bad' for sustainability.

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