Blogs > Sara Gutterman > August 2013 > Miles per Square Foot, Anyone?

Miles per Square Foot, Anyone?

I had an unexpected moment of revelation during a recent conversation with John Viera, Director of Sustainability & Vehicle Environmental Matters at Ford. We were talking about the various ways that Ford is improving fuel efficiency to reduce carbon emissions, expanding its focus on electrification, and increasing the use of sustainable materials like plant-based insulation, soy foams, and recycled plastic bottles for components, fabrics, and finishes.

I had asked Viera what it will take to wean us off using petroleum to fuel our vehicles since the oil companies have such an oppressive stranglehold on the industry. He responded that it is a complex issue, not only because the oil companies are so influential, but also because many consumers still have a narrow definition of what they want in an “uncompromised vehicle”, which doesn’t necessarily include electrification.

Viera suggested that consumers are still skeptical about electric vehicles, mostly due to inconvenience (they’re used to being able to drive 300-500 miles in a gas-powered car, whereas they can only currently drive on average 60-100 miles in an electric vehicle) and infrastructure (electric charging stations aren’t prevalent or fast enough yet). “People are impatient,” says Viera, “and while gas remains cheap, it will be difficult to transform the conversation, particularly since affordability is the main purchasing driver for most consumers.”

In that instant, I realized that the automotive industry is facing a similar quandary as the building industry: both sectors are stymied by false valuation metrics. Just as determining the real value of a home—which should include energy efficiency, quality, durability, and other sustainability factors—is obstructed by the misleading measurement of price per square foot, establishing the true value of a vehicle is thwarted by the skewed metric of miles per gallon.

In the future, we will value our homes based on the way they perform, the amount of money we save on utility bills, upkeep, and maintenance, and the extent to which they make our lives simpler through automation and intelligence.

Similarly, we will soon value our vehicles based on their computing power and ability to connect with our homes, offices, schools, and communities. Thanks to innovative automotive technologies developed by companies like Bosch, vehicles will quickly cease to simply be a mode of transportation by which we travel from one point to another. They will become an integral part of our communication systems, instructing our homes to turn on lights and HVAC systems when we’re on our way home from work, proactively reminding us of (and providing directions to) meetings and appointments, and communicating with other vehicles to decrease accident rates.

Shai Agassi, Founder of Better Place, says that “an electric car is a modern appliance…more like a cell phone than a refrigerator. The modern EV will be constantly both battery and software.”

Agassi also says that “an electric car is Moore’s Law on wheels.” Just ask Elon Musk, Founder of Tesla. In a recent analyst call, Musk predicted that the price for EV batteries will drop under $200 per kilowatt hour (kWh) in “the not-too-distant-future” (batteries cost $500 per kWh when the original Tesla roadster shipped 5 years ago). At a steady 8% cost reduction trend, batteries will reach $100 per kWh within the decade, making electric vehicles a viable, if not undeniable, economic choice.

Additionally, electric vehicles will become an essential component for self-sufficiency and independence for our homes—we’ll be able to use charged car batteries as backup generators in times of emergency to power our homes. Certainly, as extreme weather events become more frequent and communities experience ongoing power outages, the perceived and economic value of an electric vehicle that can power a house and provide a family comfort and security during a time of distress will become indisputable, especially since a gas-powered vehicle simply can’t provide this type of service.

The connected electric vehicle will invariably shift us away from the miles per gallon metric and towards valuing enabling technologies. Just as it will become nearly impossible in the near future to build a home that doesn’t incorporate and appropriately value energy efficiency, water conservation, improved indoor air quality, and durability, it will become increasingly more challenging to produce and sell a vehicle that doesn’t offer zero carbon emissions, integrated connectivity services, interactive diagnostics, and enabling technologies.

What other similarities exist between the transforming building and automotive industries? Write to me at or follow me on Twitter @SaraGBM.

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Posted: 8/22/2013 12:07:50 PM by Mary Kestner | with 0 comments

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