The Power of GIS for Sustainable Solutions

by Woolpert

My mission at work is to transform the built environment to keep and grow ecological wealth. When I joined Woolpert five years ago, I rubbed elbows for the first time with geospatial and GIS professionals, and they have opened my eyes to new possibilities. Building design, energy efficiency, alternative transportation, climate change adaptation, alternative energy and city planning are all critical issues faced by those who create the built environment. Sustainable designers are constantly trying to find solutions to counter environmental degradation and move more of our communities and infrastructure towards regeneration. But we are often working on these large problems slowly, one building at a time. The mission to create ecological wealth (instead of destroying it) has urgency. We need to attack these problems faster, better and smarter at the level of entire communities, campuses, cities and societies. GIS and geospatial professionals have tools we need to rapidly scale up sustainable solutions.

GIS has the ability to provide an operational awareness of facility assets at all scales. Ultimately, this helps us all recognize significant cost efficiencies, minimize risk and improve environmental performance and analysis. It also helps us discover site-appropriate solutions because of the geographic nature of any analysis. Examples please? GIS is powerful enough to create an energy model of an entire city like Goteborg, Sweden, instead of just a single building. Or check out the interactive map of energy use for New York City, created by Bianca Howard, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at Columbia University. The interactive map shows which buildings are using the most energy and how they are using it.

At GreenBuild in November, my colleague, John Pryzbyla, and I will present on the use of GIS tools both inside and outside of buildings to facilitate these types of energy audits along with other applications. These GIS tools are also being used to facilitate LEED certification, manage operations and maintenance activities, plan for emergency management, achieve Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, identify space optimization and more. Analysis throughout the lifecycle of a facility – from site selection,design and construction to use, maintenance and adaptation – is made possible for large swaths of real estate using GIS, helping designers like me discover smart investments for ecological returns. GIS is quickly becoming a key technology for sustaining built environments and growing ecological wealth for our communities.