A year on: technology and commercial retrofits

So, how does a building owner meet their carbon goals when more than 50% of any one building’s impact comes from its tenants?

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Toward a new built environment

It’s been a while since our last newsletter. We were in the throes of the pandemic then. The world was stunned. People were confined to their homes, central business districts, schools and airports all emptied out, and a vaccine was nowhere near reality.

A year on, we see how citizens took back much needed space from cars in their communities, changed their shopping habits, adapted their homes for work and struggled to take care of children or the elderly all the while continuing to work.

The pandemic will leave a deep and lasting impact on our cities because it has left a lasting impact on us.

Back in May 2020, we called attention to how Adaptability and Speed would become critical requirements in how we design and build our places to work, learn and shop and announced our commitment to start work on what we called the Construction Free Office.

Laws that impact our built environment are changing too. The White House announced its plan to cut emissions by at least 50% by 2030 from 2005 levels. New York City is also moving ahead with Local Law 97 which requires all buildings above 50,000 square feet to be retrofitted to reduce their footprint 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2040.

Since then, we have built our team, raised some money from investors, and have been heads down working on technology to solve one of the biggest problems we face: how to lower costs, improve quality and accelerate the speed of converting existing buildings and cities to better serve the changing needs of communities and businesses.

Design, supply chain & automation

So, how does a building owner meet their carbon goals when more than 50% of any one building’s impact comes from its tenants? That’s where we come in (going through this now? Let us help). We break this problem into 3: compliance, data and scale.

The compliance problem

Tenants’ HVAC usage, plug loads, lighting, and equipment loads have tremendous impact on a building’s footprint. For us to meet significant reductions in efficiency, the way we design offices and retail spaces has to change too.

But, if the way we design interior spaces is changing then compliance will have to change with it, but it will take time. Over the past few months, we have codified building code requirements for more than 1000 municipalities across major U.S. cities specifically to help us identify opportunities.

We cannot make meaningful impact on this problem without tackling compliance at scale. Hear more about our approach here from our Head of Compliance, Lance Amato, on Evan Troxl’s podcast TRXL.

The design data problem

Canoa started with supply chain for a reason. One of the more difficult problems to solve when the objective is to move fast and decarbonize is data. Our industry is not necessarily forthcoming when it comes to traceability of materials, labor data and more.

Knowing whether we are meeting legal emissions targets requires data during the design phase and not after a space has been constructed. This is a significant challenge we’ve taken upon ourselves to provide designers with the right data at the right time, so they can make better decisions. We call this decision support technology.

Companies like Salesforce are helping us get there by making it a requirement in their procurement process. Requirements which will make even architects and engineers have to collect and disclose critical data.

The scaling problem (automation)

We ask ourselves every day, “how do we retrofit 100,000,000 square feet of space a year”? Why? Impact.

Even small commercial buildings can easily be around for 100 to 200 years. Our internal estimates indicate they will undergo major renovations every 10 years and minor ones every 3–5 years. That’s tens of opportunities to decarbonize per building. Hundreds of thousands of opportunities to decarbonize per city.

If this demand can’t be serviced at speed, it will pass us by. Automation for us is more about specifications, programming, and compliance than it is about geometric rationalization.