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Jeff Thurston — “Sustainability and environment issues are centrally connected to healthy living on our planet and ‘green’ technologies play an integral role. Geospatial technologies are uniquely positioned to support this role because they act as the glue which binds the understanding of environmental processes to the decision making systems driving our economy.”

Matt Ball — “Geospatial technology is green technology, as it ultimately contributes toward the goal of  better stewardship for our planet. Large-scale monitoring of our planet against environmental metrics can only be accomplished through the application of geospatial technologies. “

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Sustainability and environment issues are centrally connected to healthy living on our planet and ‘green’ technologies play an integral role. Geospatial technologies are uniquely positioned to support this role because they act as the glue which binds the understanding of environmental processes to the decision making systems driving our economy.

About 30 years ago, during the first iterations of geographical information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), advances in remote sensing and the surveying technologies, environment was on the agenda. As geospatial technologies began to emerge, basic applications pertaining to the measurement of land, creating road topology and administrative boundaries for local government and other basic applications, were the order of the day.

Locating rivers, lakes and different geology and understanding how to build a database of the ‘environment’ was the task at hand. Don’t get me wrong, these are still major issues in many parts of the world, but technology and applications today, have advanced considerably in terms of connecting green-to-geospatial.

I like to call these advancements ’spatial trajactories’ and they are:

1) GIS have developed and matured into robust software and have excellent geo-processing tools, modeling tools which are more easily connected to processes and implemented and very high levels of interoperable capability to interface ‘green’ technology.

2) The CAD design community has shifted to embrace sustainability as a system connected not only through individual buildings, but through communities. It has also awakened to the fact that 40% of our carbon problems relate to buildings and poor design – and is moving to change that.

3) Expanded and established interoperability mechanisms for sharing data and improving data quality are enabling federated systems to which cross disciplines, move through trans-boundary issues, mix-match technologies, breakdown cultural bias and improve understanding are opening the door to work on problems in their true context.

4) The crucial developments in green technologies such as wind, solar, wave and carbon capture are connecting to geography and the realisation that different locations may be more conducive to different forms of energy generation – while the systems mentioned above manage them.

5) Improved monitoring and measurement technologies such as remote sensing, lidar and image analysis are enabling high resolution applications through modeling and improved, more reliable decision making – including real-time.

A key factor in how green technologies connect to the geospatial industry is related to economic viability. We now understand that unclean water comes with a cost. We understand that over-crowded communities come with social difficulties. We know that weather is related to agricultural production and we know that clean air connects to health care costs. These are only a few of the observations spatial enlightenment allow us to investigate.

The environment is intricately connected to our economy and the solutions for solving the issues related to the environment can invariably be found in the infrastructure that surrounds us. More efficient transportation systems, diversified energy sources, improved technologies for energy consumption and management, better land management and landscape monitoring and geospatial tools for local, regional and national government support in business decision making – all are necessary.

When we began V1 Magazine we had the understanding that green connected to geospatial, we were seeing evidence of it everywhere in terms of technology. Now, more than ever, we are convinced of this connection because we are seeing the processes emerge.

Building infrastructure is a big deal in the Middle East and Asia – to support the economic growth. Sustainable growth will be key to that success and, as example, the air quality in China is already on the agenda. In Europe, the INSPIRE program is now a central focus and the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program are rising up the ladder in discussion and implementation. The U.S. government has placed a priority on geospatial information in its ‘geospatial line of business’ initiative, and this immediately puts geoinformation at the land management level.

More information:
Environment is Ranked #1 Issue of 2008 By Transportation and Logistics Executives
Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe (INSPIRE)
Where do electrical utilities fit into sustainability and what role do geospatial technologies play?
What is the Connection of GIS to Sustainability?
U.S. Geospatial Line of Business
Sustainability Drives Innovation
Spatial Tools: Software for Sustainability

There are a flurry of new green technologies as companies and countries get serious about climate change and peak oil challenges. The idea of green technology is to reduce the environmental impacts, conserve natural resources, increase efficiency and curb our detrimental impact on our planet. As we all know, everything happens somewhere, so all events are geospatial in nature, and all green technologies have a hook into the geospatial industry in some way. But not all green technologies will relate and benefit the geospatial industry equally.

When I think about all the green technology that is gaining ground, there are some key areas for broad-scale improvements. Following is an outline of some of these more important green technologies, with some detail on how the geospatial community stands to benefit.

Green Computing

Let’s start with the machines and systems that run our technology. Computer workstations, servers, monitors and peripherals consume a great deal of energy. An eye-opening statistic to put this in perspective is the University of Colorado campus where an estimate 18,000 personal computers consume nearly $550,000 of energy every year. Computers also generate a great deal of heat that requires additional cooling, which adds more to this energy cost for a total estimated expenditure of $700,000 per year. A standard PC CPU consumes $120 of energy if left on continuously, but just $40 if run only during business hours.

Newer and more efficient servers, desktops and laptops are coming onto the market to help reduce power consumption. Another area where you can make an impact is the amount of paper that you use for print outs, and reusing and recycling materials such as ink and toner cartridges.

As a computer-oriented industry, it’s clear that how we run our offices, and the machines in our offices, can have a significant impact on energy consumption and resources.

Green Energy/Conservation

Geospatial technology has a significant role to play in the movement away from coal and petroleum toward alternative energies such as wind, solar, hydro, hydrogen, geothermal, biomass, fuel cells, and nuclear. Mapping efforts have been underway to help determine the optimum locations for solar and wind energy generation. Environmental impact studies of these locations incorporate geospatial analysis to assess the impacts of new facilities. Geospatial technologies are also used to plan power transmission routes to make certain that this new power gets to where its needed in the most efficient and expeditious manner.

The significant infrastructure needed for these new energy sources needs to planned, mapped, and maintained. The technology is used heavily throughout the lifecycle of the infrastructure. Geospatial technology has made significant contributions to the utility market and will continue to do so with green energy.

Green Transportation

The area of green transportation is very broad, from the individual hybrid to mass transit, and more efficient airline engines. While geospatial technology is likely embedded in a majority of personal vehicles these days through in-vehicle navigation systems, there isn’t much play for the industry on the individual level. But, when you take a look at larger transit issues, there’s a huge role for geospatial technologies in planning and running integrated transportation systems.

Geospatial technology is used to plan and maintain new routes for rail and bus rapid transit that take into account the population and the destinations that need to be served. The technology helps operators of fleets to optimize their routes for the quickest times with the least amount of fuel consumption. By adding real-time traffic data to these systems, the drivers can react to conditions and increase their efficiency in the face of bottlenecks.

Geospatial technology can also be effectively used to educate the public on green transportation alternatives through web-based map programs that display multi-modal transportation options. A map that can be dynamically explored goes a long way in getting people out from behind the wheel and into less environmentally costly alternative transportation options.

Green Building

The building industry has a long way to go to become more energy and resource efficient. Great strides are being made through building-oriented efficiency standards such as LEED. These standards are then being applied to larger geographic areas to encompass neighborhoods and campuses. The geospatial industry has a large role to play in this space that will only increase when the barriers between CAD, GIS and Building Information Models come down for more integrated sustainable design at multiple scales.

There is a convergence of disciplines that is taking place through the use of collaborative technologies. The inefficiencies of the building industry in terms of energy and resource consumption mandate sweeping changes that will certainly involve geospatial technologies in an ever-larger role.

Carbon Trading

While carbon trading itself isn’t a green technology, the use of carbon credits and payments to countries that reduce their emissions from deforestation and land degredation (REDD), is a green application of technology that necessitates large-scale monitoring and mapping of natural resources. REDD is a huge potential market for integrated geospatial technologies, including remote sensing and sensor networks.

Balancing those countries and companies that pollute against countries that maintain beneficial forestland that capture carbon and clean our air is an important balancing act that needs a system that can analyze geospatial inputs. Any carbon policy will need a GIS system at it’s core for assessment and enforcement.

Geospatial is Just Plain Green

Geospatial technology is green technology, as it ultimately contributes toward the goal of  better stewardship for our planet. Large-scale monitoring of our planet against environmental metrics can only be accomplished through the application of geospatial technologies. No other technology can provide the big picture oversight that will be necessary to stem the harm that we’re doing to our planet. As more green technologies come inline, it will ultimately be up to geospatial technology to assess their impacts.

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