Transforming the Built Environment

- the opening salvoes of the Fifth Industrial Revolution?

Climate change – transforming the way we think

The industrialised world has been driven by a series of progressive industrial revolutions in techniques and technology. The first three such revolutions saw the use of coal, generating steam to power machines in the areas of transportation and manufacturing, resulting in the wide spread use of automation to drive up productivity. The fourth revolution surfaced as technological advances over the past 30 years gave birth to an exponential growth in computing power as digitisation embraced virtually every aspect of our lives. Some would argue that this is creating a revolution in the way we think, reason and make decisions – the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). However, this is but an evolutionary development in the application of digitisation though, admittedly, an evolution which requires careful regulation if the ethical and moral component of decision making is not to be subordinated to technology.

These industrial revolutions have delivered strong economies and a rapid development of civilisation and trade across much of the World, but what was not foreseen was the impact on our climate as the use of fossil fuels, the reduction of green space though rapid urbanisation and the availability of transportation on a global scale, resulted in global warming at an unprecedented level. Climate change and the means to combat it are leading not simply to another evolution in the way we view our progress but to a widespread revolution in how we tackle this seemingly intractable environmental problem before the planet is damaged irreparably for future generations.

The Digitised World – new horizons

One answer to this problem lies in how we apply digitisation, the collection of data and its rapid analysis to create useable intelligence and information, informing environmental decisions. The digital revolution has revolutionised the way in which we approach the world around us. It has removed the boundaries to thought and given the opportunity for unfettered imaginations to create what only 20 years ago would have been deemed impossible. Digitisation now pervades every aspect of life, from the way we work, to how we live and communicate.

As our world addresses the impact of climate change and the expanding demands for carbon neutral developments, so we now have the opportunity to address how we live and consider the environment surrounding living spaces – the Built Environment. This environment can be anticipated and tested before construction starts – the technology is now available to create the ‘Virtual Twin’ of an object, whether small of large. Scale is no longer an obstacle to design, development or construction. Retrofitting to combat the problems created by legacy buildings, though more complex in its implementation, can be viewed in a similar fashion.

By configuring relevant and accurate data, with the ability to input from real physical, biological and chemical data sources in three dimensions, it is possible to generate in the virtual world the twin of its real world counterpart. Accessing and analysing this data from sensors feeding a data platform, it will be possible to shape new built developments, anticipate where people will live, work and play, optimise energy use, monitor and adjust the internal environment, provide the transportation requirements relevant to the contemporary world and ask the difficult ‘what if’ and ‘if we’ questions in future scenario modelling. Arbnco is seizing the possibilities this presents and creating some of the solutions to tackle our significant environmental challenges.

Seizing the moment

Developments in this area are vital. It can be argued that we should have recognised and started to confront challenges a number of years ago. Environmental sensor technology has been in existence for over a decade but the focus was on energy saving to reduce cost, not to combat the impact of climate change. Such technology now gives us the ability to monitor all aspects of the environment in working and living spaces and, based on the information received, to determine the appropriate course of action to reduce emissions, increase the wellness factor of the environment, improve the physical and mental well-being of those using the spaces and reduce cost.

By doing so, we start to make inroads into the climate issues, increase the health of our communities and generate greater value in our built environment. The potential for this to become a key business factor is significant as it improves not only how we live and work but creates greater awareness amongst the commercial community of the employee well-being and financial benefits to be gained. Such well-being increasingly is central to employers’ thinking when creating strategies for people in the work place and it features in the creation and development of new, ‘smart’ communities.

Transforming spaces for people

The emphasis increasingly is on how we transform the places in which we live and work. The construction industry, where little has changed in terms of the techniques used for over 100 years, is starting to grasp the value of operating in the digital world. Building Information Modelling (BIM) is literally taking on new dimensions, both at the design stage and during construction, and ultimately in building management, enabling built assets to be managed economically and effectively, using real-time sensor data fed onto a data platform to breath life into the Virtual Twin, data ranging from energy consumption, through space planning and usage, to fabric wear and tear.

The value this generates is significant, a value which is at the heart of Arbnco technology developments as it drives a new revolution in environmental monitoring in the Built Environment, to enhance not only the long term sustainability of the assets but, significantly, to improve the health and well-being of the people who live and work in those places and ultimately a transformation in how we approach global environmental challenges.

Unless such challenges are addressed, political and economic instability will hinder progress. Stable economic development is essential to match the political and security uncertainties, to enable us to meet the needs of populations in an environmentally challenging world. The collection, availability and interpretation of accurate and relevant data is the key to that future sustainability and certainty.

Transformation through Innovation

As Society increasingly embraces the digital, virtual world, created by the Internet, social media and the exponential growth of gaming technology, I would argue that we should look at how the unfettered imagination of the youthful mind can be harnessed to create the solutions we are seeking to take the climate challenge head on and enhance the environment in which we alive.

The lifestyle of young people is shaped by the virtual world. It conditions how they think and act, where nothing is impossible and experimentation can be carried out fearlessly. Furthermore, they are not afraid of change – change is the norm. Change which causes uncertainty and concern in the minds of some adults is second nature. Our young people view the world differently – they tend to look at the digital world before the real world, to see what the digital world is doing and how the real world then reacts. It is about experience – not the physical object. Young people measure life by experiences and are shaped by it. It is is how that shaping occurs which determines how people develop and grow.

The demands from young people for a healthier lifestyle and for greater awareness of our environment is evident, though these demands, until now, have largely been ignored. The pressure from that element of our Society is, quite rightly, growing, driven in part by the
‘Greta Thunberg effect’ but increasingly by a deeper understanding amongst the modern generation of the impacts of climate change and the ensuing environmental damage.

As we wrestle with the counter measures to the threat of climate change and the drive towards achieving a zero carbon world, we should harness the power of youthful imagination and innovation as it seeks to reshape the world they are inheriting – it is that thinking which will launch the Fifth Industrial Revolution, a revolution which Arbnco is anticipating and for which it is preparing.

A window into the future

There is little doubt that we need to drive thinking and innovation in the application of digitisation to counter the damage which climate change potentially can cause. By seizing the right data to inform decision making and harnessing the power of imagination to drive innovation, we can start to address our environment and take steps to protect and sustain it. The answer lies in the data we collect, the nature of that data and the intelligence that data analysis will yield.

Not only will we deal with the here and now but have a feel for what positive, remedial actions we can take in the future. Integrated and configured data on a dynamic data platform gives the politician and business leader, the people who are forging global and national policies, a window into their world – a window into what might be as they struggle to manage the legacy of the past, grasp the reality of the present and shape the future.


John Stokoe CB CBE: Strategy Adviser, arbnco