The Age of Algorithms

The Age of Algorithms

The entire green building assessment process could easily be turned over to algorithms, eliminating a need for third-party auditors or assessors, as well as expensive consultants, essentially allowing projects to “self-certify” and cutting costs by 10 or even 100 times. Every project that met certain criteria could be labeled a “green” building, without engaging consultants, requiring uploads to a website by dozens of hands, review by “experts,” and finally, many months (even a year or more) later, receiving a rating at a certain level, as is now the case with LEED certification. Quality control would also be via audits triggered by significant anomalies in the data submitted, must as the (secret) Internal Revenue Service software decides which tax returns to audit from the 145 million individual and 100 million business returns submitted each year.

In the book, Reinventing Green Building, we explore what this opportunity would require, e.g., eliminating “analog” criteria currently embodied in most green building rating systems and substituting strictly “digital” criteria, amenable to evaluation by machine not experts. But for now, consider why a focus on algorithms and digital assessment is so important.

Management guru Ram Charan comments: 

The single greatest instrument of change…is the advancement of mathematical tools called algorithms and their related sophisticated software. Never before has so much mental power been computerized and made available to so many.… In combination with other technological factors, algorithms are dramatically changing both the structure of the global economy and the lifestyles of individual people.

We already know that “flash trading” on Wall Street, done strictly with algorithms, has made it virtually impossible for smaller and short-term investors to gain any advantage. Algorithms are far smarter than any individual, far quicker to apply and far more able to incorporate new information as fast as it becomes available. Isn't LEED or Green Globes or BREEAM just another algorithm, with the goal of defining a "green building?" If so, why shouldn't it be amenable to complete automation?

Bringing Green Building Certification into the Age of Big Data

With such dramatic changes underway and more on the horizon, why are green building certification protocols still stuck in the “horse and buggy,” "paper and pencil" stage? Architects certainly are not, engineers are not, builders are not, and most certainly, building owners are not. Yet, someone who learned about LEED 2.0 in 2001 and took a 15-year sabbatical would return in 2016 and find that not much had changed, except that hand-crafted data are uploaded online instead of being submitted in 3-ring binders!

Artisanal beers, coffees and other foods are fine, but do we really need "artisanal" green building certification systems?

As we demonstrate in the book, one consequence is that, more and more, building owners are turning their backs on certification and leaving certification’s “benefits” on the table, as a reaction to high costs, long certification times and the system’s ever-increasing complexity. In Reinventing Green Building, I take on this challenge and show how we can use the convergence of IT, real estate, sustainability and energy to our advantage to change our certification systems for the better, by orders of magnitude.