Today I am speaking at HKS's Green Week on BIM and sustainability. During the preparation for this event a number of topics that seemed a good fit for this blog were uncovered. So this is the first in a series of posts on Moving the Sustainability Frontier with Software.
I read this a while ago and it really stuck with me, the sustainability frontier is a repurposing of the article referenced below:
"The productivity frontier is the sum of all existing best practices at any given time or the maximum value that a company can create at a given cost, using the best available technologies, skills, management techniques, and purchased inputs. Thus, when a company improves its operational effectiveness, it moves toward the frontier."
Porter, M. E. 1996. What is a strategy? Harvard Business Review (November-December): 61-78.
The sustainability frontier is the sum of a firm's best practices at any given time or the maximum sustainability that can be designed and measured at a given cost, using the best available technologies, skills, management techniques, and purchased inputs. When a firm improves its operational effectiveness, it moves its frontier.
The key difference between Porter's definition of the productivity frontier and my repurposed sustainability frontier besides vocabulary is the productivity frontier is determined by all existing skills, practices, technologies and is absolute across an industry sector. The sustainability frontier is a frontier set per firm that aligns with their specific goals. The sustainability frontier will then move not merely by more technology or skill being present but how a firm chooses to use whatever resources they have at any given time. Business move toward a constantly changing frontier, an AEC firm moves its own frontier as new methods and technologies are implemented.
I want to finish this first installment regarding the Sustainability frontier with a concept I stole from Bill Gates TED talk on reducing our carbon footprint through the use of renewable energy generation.
Number of People x Services per person x Energy per service x Carbon per unit of energy
The idea is that is we need to get any one of these at or near zero. The number of people is increasing, the number of services per person is increasing; these things can't really be effected. In the AEC industry we have a real opportunity to effect energy per service by using high efficiency materials and systems as well as using our design expertise to drive a more efficient form. Carbon per unit energy is also something we can impact through the use of PV panels and wind generation.
Stay tuned for more on this subject in later blog posts.