I’m very excited about today’s interview, as it offers insight into the wonderful and complex world of sustainable design in the corporate sector. I was fortunate enough to connect with Adam Menter, Sustainability Design Consultant for Autodesk and get his insight into this essential aspect of business. Get ready to learn some things worth talking and tweeting about.

LC: Sustainability projects work to incorporate economic, social, and ecological factors into design. From your experience working in the corporate sector, do one of these elements always dominate and influence the objective of the project, are they considered evenly, or does it depend on the scope of that particular project?


AM: Economic factors usually trump others. If it doesn’t make financial sense to make a sustainability-related investment, you either need a darn good reason to do it or a lot of spending money. Then, depending on the situation – and its potential risk and/or upside to the company – social and environmental factors may be equally likely to dominate.
LC: I was at the Autodesk gallery about a month ago. There is just so much innovation in one place, like a physical snapshot of Moore’s Law. What is it like working in an atmosphere with such cutting edge technology and what type of projects are you able to execute as a result of the accessibility to these technological resources?

AM: It’s great to work at a place that has the opportunity to really improve how we build and make things. If you look at almost everything around you – from the building you’re sitting in, to the chair you’re sitting in – it could have been designed with Autodesk software. Our software products enable new and important innovations. Most of the things you saw at the Autodesk gallery weren’t made by Autodesk. They were made by the engineers, architects, and designers who are our customers. But as our software gets better-and-better, it helps those customers work in new and better ways. 

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is when a digital model of a building is enriched with information to help make better decisions about how it’s

designed and built. For example, information about the thermal properties of a building can be combined with weather data to help predict and improve its energy efficiency. Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is a contractual way of aligning incentives between building owners, architects, engineers, and contractors that reduces waste and improves the quality of the building. IPD would be possible without BIM – but BIM tools make the IPD process more effective by helping different design disciplines work together more closely to improve the efficiency of a building.

So, in short, I’m most excited when our customers use our tools to continue to raise the bar on what constitutes good design practice. Sustainable design is good design in that it leads to the most effective use of energy, materials, and other resources.

 


LC: When it comes to solar panel designs, would you suggest it is more beneficial to analyze and improve existing designs, or to start from scratch to create a cheaper, lighter, more mobile unit? Does this rule of thumb translate to other sustainable designs as well?

I am not an expert in solar panel design, but it’s always beneficial to think of new approaches and novel ways of solving problems. You don’t always need to start from scratch – but it’s important to think about the whole system and be deliberate about looking for inspiration from other fields. Both of these things can lead to unexpected breakthroughs. Biomimicry has been a hot topic in sustainability in recent years. Biomimicry is essentially a disciplined search for design inspiration from the fields of biology and ecology. 

I’m currently working on an education initiative to teach engineers the principles and practice of sustainable design. Because Whole Systems thinking is so fundamental to sustainable design, we included it as one of the first topic areas on our new educational platform: The Autodesk Sustainability Workshop.

 

LC: You are co-organizer of the GreenerMind Summit, which connects sustainability professionals. It allows them to share ideas, and more importantly act upon them. The motto as I am told is ‘Just Fucking Do It’ (I love it). What made this summit so successful and what is in the works for another event?  

Three key things that made the Greenermind Summit successful were: 
1) The location
. We got away from civilization and spent two uninterrupted days in the woods – connecting with each other, having meaningful conversations, cooking together, and having fun. No cell phones and no internet.

2) The attendees. The folks who came were working on interesting projects and had meaningful things to contribute. They had both a love for ideas and an appreciation that ideas can only get you so far without action. Also, the Greenermind Summit was an outgrowth of Net Impact San Francisco – so the majority of people there had a very concrete grounding in business.

3) The vibe. We got people out of their comfort zones early – and set a tone that allowed attendees bring their whole selves to the conference. From the opening “ice-breaker” activity to the final morning’s time for introspection, we pushed the attendees to be at their best and bring-out the best in others. In the end, serious discussions of work projects and creative ideas to solve our environmental & societal problems went hand-in-hand with volleyball games, smores around the campfire, and late-night dance parties.

In January we’re planning for a 6-month reunion. One of the things we’ll do is talk about the projects and actions that were catalyzed at the Summit. In June, we’ll host the second annual Greenermind Summit back up in the Mendocino Woodlands.

Thanks Adam! Now we know what industry leaders like Autodesk are doing on the sustainability frontier, and are able to gain some insight into how technology-based innovation ties into sustainable design.

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