The business value of environmental applications is growing significantly and will become the dominant economic force for generating wealth in the near future – efficient land use and effective infrastructure solve environmental problems and is good business. Some geospatial leaders understand this and are investing in these applications and technologies and are already beginning to capitalize on initial projects. Environmental applications are inherently spatial and GIS and CAD are necessary tools for planning, creating and operating them.
Several driving forces are converging today. Limited oil and gas energy supply, inceasing population growth, lack of clean water availability, aging infrastructure and changing climate are driving factors that will contribute to major fundamental changes. New approaches and techniques in how infrastructure and buildings are built, assets and resources are managed and how we understand processes spatially are being demanded. The connection of people to the landscape is undergoing rapid change and GIS and CAD technologies are at the forefront of that change – leading.
The reality is that people need fresh air, fresh water, energy and efficient places to live and work. The challenge for the GIS and CAD communities is to understand how these technologies can be used to continue to build, operate and create places and environments where people can continue to meet their needs, but more efficiently – more sustainably.
Non-renewable energy is becoming exceedingly expensive, but locatable non-renewable sources are also becoming more costly to develop. Rapid development in China, India and Africa are placing pressure on current available energy production, leading to the higher prices. However there is a growing realisation that renewable resources can contribute significant amounts of energy, particularly when coupled to higher efficiency in a mixed-approach to energy availability and infrastructure design.
Whereas conventional oil production is highly connected to geological spatial processes, renewable resources are more connected to the spatial dynamics of wind, meteorology, siting, tidal movements, spatial geothermal dynamics and other landscape impacted change factors – requiring constant monitoring, measurement and assessment. At the same time, efficient production of high quality food, suitable for a growing population is dependent upon constant monitoring, management and planning of food related landscape processes. These factors are resulting in an explosion of new GIS tool applications which are necessary for integrating GPS, remote sensing, instrumentation data and other geoinformation generated from these processes. At the same time, it is widely recognised that poor building design is gobbling up 40% of energy use. Improvements in building efficiency could lead to 100’s of billions of Euro in savings.
Energy as a driving force
While we often think about buildings, bridges, roads and so on as the means to move traffic, house people and support businesses, the development of these projects is increasingly impacted by a need to meet local environmental policy, to reduce operating cost once built and to increase efficiency in their construction, thus investment startup and construction costs. For these reasons, business models that transcend environmental efficiency in building and operation are in high demand. But to achieve them requires new approaches and a willingness to engage new technologies that enable these goals to be reached, understood and continually monitored. In some cases new buildings will even contribute energy back into local power grids.
The shift in infrastructure is already underway. It is important to realise that infrastructure deploys both CAD and geospatial toolsets. Yet, there are not many people who understand or appreciate the CAD/geospatial connections to these projects. They are more than design alone. They also have a wider geospatial integrative nature, particularly in their long term operation.
This factor should perk our ears, because new approaches – and business models – are waiting to be developed and many of these will incorporate coupled approaches, new technologies and different knowledge capital. We are at an exciting time because the underlying infrastructure of our society and how it operates, why we value it and how we interact with it, are changing – at the base.
We talk about ‘green building’ and ’ecological design’ but what it is it exactly? A need exists to take fuzzy environmental terms and put some strength and direction into them, to quantify them, so that when we say ”green” – we understand precisely what it means. This is happening as standards and specifications become enabled. OGC has recently approved CityGML as a specification, LEED specifications are well known and standards for corridor noise are developing along with other variables. The take home point here, is that new businesses capable of monitoring and measuring operation characteristics (and reporting them) will become a growth opportunity.
This has implications for GIS and CAD technology design and manufacture. I would venture that we will see technologies beginning to incorporate higher levels of automated logic that can classify operations, assess conformance and determine potential for further integration in spatial operations. Local building standards will be at the GPS field level, GIS will determine regional energy efficiency, CAD software will not only determine structural performance, but also energy use rates and efficiency, for example. We are rapidly moving from a location only focus, to a value chain / process leveraging requirement.
Environmental applications are a very broad category, but mainly deal with the research and analysis of the natural world and the natural and human-induced impact upon it. Environmental applications can involve forward-looking assessment to avoid harm, the monitoring of current conditions or remediation after something has gone awry. The typical purpose of the effort is simply to avoid, prevent or resolve conflict between humans and nature. There are varying business values to each of these three motivations.
When avoiding or resolving conflict between business concerns and the environment, the business value is likely mandated. Prior to the modern times of environmental regulations, the corporate motivation of profit first saw the idea of resolving environmental conflict as too expensive to undertake. Thankfully, public policy has taken a safeguard approach that has levied stiff penalties to create bottom-line motivations for environmental compliance. The business value of assessment and remediation now is very tangible in most modern countries, and there are large industries that serve environmental interests, with good profits to be made in the effort.
Preventing conflict is an area with considerable market value regardless of motivation, for it deals with risk that can be quantified to direct bottom-line results. The impact of environmental events have a direct tie to business assets, which can come to great harm at nature’s mercy, and the cost of replacement is considerable. Risk also deals with a company’s potential for harm toward the environment, and insurance policies cover remediation costs if the company’s actions cause. Here the insurance counteracts mandated or court-assessed penalties.
Technology tools that address environmental applications are varied, but very few accept inputs from multiple disciplines for a broad understanding and holistic view of problems and solutions. GIS and CAD both have a role to play in environmental applications, and the convergence of these two technologies will be increasingly important goal in order to gain much better understanding of the conflict space between infrastructure and the environment.
The Role of GIS
GIS has long had a role in regional and global integrated environmental assessments. Traditional application areas for GIS and remote sensing techniques include : forestry, hydrology, ecological modeling, marine biology, environmental monitoring, urban ecology, biodiversity assessment, land management, invasive species work, fire fuel loading and other various applications that deal with potential conflict areas. Each involves the collection and cataloging of details about the Earth’s surface along with some degree of spatial analysis.
GIS is now an essential first step in most environmental assessments, due to its ability to accept multiple inputs and variables that allow the user to create both an original picture of the environment and a picture of how that environment has changed or could change. GIS is uniquely suited to environmental visualization and simulation that allows experts to combine their knowledge in one shared repository.
CAD Modeling with a Nature Interface
CAD deals with detailed design views that allow practitioners to turn ideas and models into tangible realities. The design-based views don’t often incorporate an accurate picture of the environment outside these designed facilities, yet they’re increasingly dealing with that impact in order to increase energy efficiencies, and to take a green building approach with minimal impact on the environment.
CAD is increasingly incorporating broader outdoor environments, and city models, that are evolving to intelligent models, where analysis aids the design process. This evolution of CAD tools toward building information modeling and intelligent design, means that it is becoming more closely aligned with the design and purpose of the geospatial toolset.
The converged toolset provides the big-picture view of GIS along with the highly detailed design tools that will benefit greatly from a better understanding of Earth system interactions. The convergence of CAD, GIS and Building Information Modeling is becoming much easier as standards are implemented and software becomes more interoperable. The recent adoption of CityGML by the Open Geospatial Consortium should go a long way toward easing this convergence and speeding this development.
When contemplating the business value of a converged geospatial and drafting toolset, it’s easy to realize the benefits. Primarily, the enhanced understanding of the impacts of built structures on the environment leads to a greater balance that benefit both nature and our infrastructure. The bottom-line benefits largely evolve around greater efficiencies, whether that means less energy used in buildings and in transport or more energy generated from natural systems such as solar, wind, hydro or geothermal. Such a system would also ensure a lighter impact on the planet, which translates into long-term viable benefits from the environment rather than harsh repercussions from prior actions that renders areas of our planet unlivable.
The creeping repercussions of climate change is placing a much clearer business benefit on environmental applications. We no longer can believe that our actions on our planet are without long-term impacts, and the environmental repercussions of prior actions are having profound impacts on our economies, public health, safety and security.
Thankfully, the need to explain the need for applications involved in environmental assessment is going away. Unfortunately, the reason it no longer needs explaining is that the repercussions from mismanagement is having an increasing bottom-line effect on businesses.