The Big Four

By Rob Watson | 8/14/2013

What happens to sustainability when four massive technologies collide?


Two years ago, GreenBiz Group asked that question, and came up with conclusions that they now refer to as VERGE. This concept encompasses a vast array of products, services and business, including other trends: next-gen cities, intelligent buildings, connected mobility systems, big data, smart grids and the “share economy.” Each stands to have a profound impact on business, consumers, government and sustainability.

VERGE is place-based—that is, it happens somewhere: a building, campus, neighborhood, city or region. This report looks at the key ways technology convergence will unfold in the context of the built environment over the next few years.

New Thinking

The 20th century emphasized linear thinking and the efficiencies of assembly-line production. By contrast, we believe the 21st century will be one of integration and non-linear systems thinking —a convergence of increasingly complementary parts in support of an optimized whole. The overall catalyst for this systems view is Information and Communications Technologies, or ICT—the explosion of information-enabled products and services.

That is certainly true when it comes to the built environment. Sensors and other metering technologies increasingly are becoming embedded in building equipment that can now be connected, monitored, controlled and optimized through cross-platform systems. ICT is facilitating a “conversation” between the electric power grid and intelligent buildings, vehicles and devices of all kinds. Although this convergence is just emerging, many indicators show that it’s already having a positive impact on various measures of sustainability, including:

Lower CO2. Projected 2012 CO2 emissions in the United States are on track to be about 14 percent lower than the 2007 peak. In terms of emissions per real dollar of GDP, the rate has decreased steadily since the 1973-74 oil embargo—from 1.93 pounds per dollar of GDP to a forecast 0.76 pounds in 2012—except for the odd year or two when the recession sapped economic growth more than the regular improvement of energy efficiency. Energy consumption per dollar of GDP shows a very similar trend: from 15.41 kBtu down to 7.48 kBtu per real dollar of GDP.

Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) per capita peaked in 2004 and have declined 6 percent since; total VMT is down about 3 percent from its 2007 peak.

Fixed broadband penetration (defined as download speeds of at least 2 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 756 Kbps) exceeds 40 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, but ranks 15th of 28 OECD countries on a per capita basis.

Building energy use in 2012 is expected to be almost 8 percent below the 2008 peak, the lowest annual consumption this century. Commercial building energy use is almost 6 percent lower than the 2008 apex.

Residential sector energy use is forecast to be nearly 11 percent lower. The average size of a dwelling unit (weighted average including both single & multifamily) is 7 percent below its 2006 peak.

It may be tempting to dismiss many of these indicators as being driven purely by challenging economic and employment conditions—but our research indicates that there is something deeper happening as well.


Click the links below to read more.  To see this article as it appears in our June 2013 issue, please visit our Magazine Archive.

Buildings: Doing More With Less

Transportation: Access Trumps Mobility

Information and Communications: Catalyst and Enabler

Energy: Smarter and Decarbonized

Infrastructure: Falling Apart


News > Thinking Ahead > The Big Four

Social Media