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Energy COOL: Greenbuild window on better living/working spaces

December 5th, 2015 · No Comments

Since diving into the deep end when it comes to energy issues, almost every day sees new fascinating concepts, approaches, and technologies. Fascinating … exciting … even hope inspiring at times. And, as well, as the passion builds, so many of these are truly Energy COOL. Often, at conferences, the trade show floors intrigue and impassion me far more than sitting and listening to formal presentations. Simply put, I do not know what and who will catch my attention when walking into these ‘business development/promotion’ spaces but know that I will have some happy surprises.

Every year, the trade show of USGBC‘s Greenbuild provides numerous opportunities for learning and excitement about developing and, even more importantly, available technologies and systems that can help provide solutions to and create opportunities within our energy, environmental, and economic challenges.

The 2015 Greenbuild, held in Washington DC last month, had an enormous trade-show floor — essentially stuffing the DC Convention Center’s ‘basement’ with hundreds of booths. Regretfully, with only a few hours available, I couldn’t even walk the entire trade show space with limited ability to pay serious attention to booths. Even so, there were many both new items of interest and new windows on long known about items. This post provides four brief examples from Greenbuild:

  • Comfy: “intelligent software for personalized comfort in the workplace”;
  • Suite Plants‘ indoor/outdoor vertical planters;
  • Waterfence rain storage systems; and,
  • Solatube tubes for bringing sunlight into living and working spaces.

Let’s be clear, none of these is the earth-shaking panacea to climate change and all our energy challenges that Bill Gates (and others) seems to be seeking and counting on.  While these aren’t Holy Grails, each  provides Silver BB value streams to be ‘part of a solution set’ to our myriad challenges. More interestingly, each of these has intriguing system-of-system value streams and their staff that I engaged with at Greenbuild were ready to speak substantively about this.

For some discussion, follow after the fold.


Comfy is an IT tool that integrates with existing building control systems that enables individual building occupants to tailor more easily temperature to their personal preferences.  While this is unlikely to eliminate office mate disputes over ‘it’s too cold/no, it’s too hot”, this provides much easier and rapid ability for individuals throughout a work environment to create the conditions in which they are most comfortable (and, thus, we suspect, more productive).  Another benefit derives as

Comfy was designed to reduce hot and cold calls, which are a hassle for building manager teams.

Additionally, the firm is claiming that Comfy is driving down HVAC energy costs by 15-25% — primarily “by reducing unnecessary conditioning of unoccupied spaces.”  That reduced cooling demand translates also into reduced maintenance costs due to reduced system use and has the potential to — in the future — lower acquisition costs through more precise design of cooling systems against actual building usage requirements.

Let’s summarize:

  • Happier and more productive building occupants;
  • Happier and more productive maintenance staff;
  • Happier CFOs due to lower utility bills.

Hmm … seems like Building Robotics has a winning formula with Comfy.

Suite Plants

Essentially anyone whose worked in a major Corporation’s office suites is used to the ‘dead plant service’ — those sometimes attractive plants, serviced occasionally, which seem often to be on their death beds.  And, those plants eat up floor space and are all too often inconveniently placed. However, plants help create healthier and more productive work spaces.  Suite Plants changes this equation:  going vertical (whether planters mounted on the wall or moving wall separators) rather than horizontal.

Suite Plants gives life to a conference room

In addition to reducing plant square-foot usage (imagine the total for a firm with 10,000 employees in offices) and bringing plants to eye level (with the mental health value of seeing living plants and, therefore, productivity implications), Suite Plants also reduces maintenance requirements as the closed water supply requires fewer watering visits and fosters longer-lived plants.

As an interesting angle, Suite Plants wants to operate via existing plant services.  Those services help provide a better customer experience — less likely to have the wrong plants and thus more likely to have green (rather than brown) on the walls.  And, of course, these are market entry options.

More productive employees, lower square foot usage, lower maintenance, lower (more productive) water use … again, a interesting systems-of-systems way for a company to earn some more green by getting a bit Greener.


As rainwater harvesting gets ever more attention, Waterfence provides an intriguing addition to the market space.  Rather than a barrel under the downspout (my own solution) or a cistern underground, Waterfence provides the water storage as a fence — a two-for-one benefit from this one investment. As an additional benefit to providing a ‘robust perimeter fence’, the product (“manufactured from 100% recyclable materials”) is hard to tag — simple washing removes graffiti.


Solar light tubes are, well, Energy COOL.  My windowless laundry room has electric lighting perhaps 1-2 hours/week due to the quality of light from its solar light tube.  As with most technology, 2015’s solar light tubes are an improved product over 2007 variants: systems to provide shade when sun isn’t desired and to reduce the ‘searchlight’ effect (lumens going into outer space rather than the living space) when the light bulb inside is turned on.  More and more commercial and other institutional (such as school) environments are adapting light tubes.  Solar light tubes provide multiple benefit streams: better quality interior light (with better health), reduced electricity costs, and reduced pollution loads.   While the electricity savings more than pay for the costs, the resulting health and productivity improvement value streams potentially have an order of magnitude more real benefit.


Thinking systems of systems

Clearly, these four don’t represent some magical Holy Grail ‘solution’ for climate change challenges and opportunities but they each provide substantive examples of how understanding system-of-systems’ benefit streams (including what many refer to as ‘co-benefits’) fosters a pretty impressive ROI which is true for so many of the Silver BBs measures that we can — and should — pursue to foster a prosperous and climate-friendly future.


NOTE:  Greenbuild’s trade show had multiple firms in each of the above domains (building controls; vertical gardening/living walls; water storage; solar light systems) — these four are examples of the richness of that trade-show environment.

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Tags: architecture · Energy · energy cool · energy home