Getting Smart about Sustainability

By VHB – Kari Hewitt, Director of Sustainability, and Steve Anderson, Director of Applied Technologies on 10/5/2017

As professionals operating in the sustainability and applied technology space, we are no strangers to buzz words, nor to the perception that our work is part of a passing trend. It may be easy to pass off the concept of “smart cities” as the latest of such trendy phrases. What is a “smart city” anyway? Why is everyone talking about “big data” and “internet of things”? Isn’t all this smart technology just for the privileged anyway?

It is fair to be skeptical and cautious. However, imagine a community where we are able to connect all citizens to the internet. Imagine a building stock powered by a smart grid and meters that can respond to changes in demand and inform building managers and homeowners instantly of leaks or inefficiencies. Sensors that know when to light up a street or sidewalk for passing pedestrians or that can inform citizens and public health officials when air quality is poor. Smart waste receptacles powered by solar energy that tell haulers when they need to be emptied. A transportation network enabled with real time data and smart payment options to allow users to make smart and healthy choices about how to get to work or school.

We strongly believe that the cities that are leading the way on sustainability and resiliency are also leading the way on smart cities. And this is because their leaders recognize that these pathways are inextricably linked—innovation, sustainability, and resiliency are a necessity for cities to manage growing populations, remain economically competitive, and to advance solutions to global climate change challenges. They also recognize that city government exists to provide services to its citizens and that they need to be thoughtful about the user's perspective - using technology to better meet the needs of all citizens. Smart City technologies have the potential to:

  • Improve health and well-being
  • Enhance mobility
  • Boost economic development
  • Reduce disparities/inequities
  • Improve facility management
  • Improve safety, emergency response, and cyber security
  • Promote efficiency and environmental stewardship
  • Enhance transparency
  • Enhance resiliency
  • Measure & report on performance

A key tenet of sustainable planning, design, and management of buildings and communities comes down to effective decision-making. When people are armed with real-time information that they can compare to historic patterns, they are able to make smart decisions, and see if those decisions are actually making a difference. Smart Cities technologies have the ability to arm governments, businesses, and citizens with information to make their communities thrive.

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