Despite plans in India to build more sustainable buildings, the needed urgent pace of development may call for a new approach…

According to India’s Alliance for an Energy-Efficient Economy (AEEE),  energy consumption in buildings in the country is expected to grow to 2809 Terawatt Hours by 2047.

As organizations worldwide come under governmental and market pressure to reduce their carbon footprint and optimize resource utilization, is there any new way or mindset to ring the message through to firms that are lagging in their efforts? hascome across what is known as the “systems thinking approach” as applied to sustainability and ESG challenges that could open up some closed minds and spur greater commitment to addressing the existential climate crisis.

To tell us more is Vikesh M, Service Delivery Head (EcoEnergy Insights), Carrier Corporation (India).

DigiconAsia: How is the systems thinking approach relevant in today’s scenario of accelerated global warming but underwhelming world cooperation to address the challenges?

Vikesh M (VM): Systems thinking is a powerful tool that helps people navigate the complexities and delicate balance of the socio-political and natural ecosystems within which businesses operate.

In other words, systems thinking helps people understand how things work together. It considers all the interconnected parts of a system, and how they affect each other.

According to the US government’s Sustainable Facilities Tool portal, a systems thinking approach in sustainable building operations involves considering the interdependencies and interactions of various components and stakeholders within the building system. It considers the broader context and aims to understand the effects and outcomes of planning, design, and operational decisions. 

Vikesh M, Service Delivery Head (EcoEnergy Insights), Carrier Corporation (India)

DigiconAsia: How can the systems thinking approach be used to accelerate adoption of sustainable building operations and other concerted measures to meet pressing COP28 recommendations at the needed level of urgency?

VM: Using a systems thinking approach in managing building operations has several benefits, including:

    • Nurturing holistic understanding: A systems thinking approach helps stakeholders in the country and beyond to understand the building, considering the interconnectedness of all factors involved. That makes it a powerful tool for addressing complex challenges in building operations. This can help organizations make more-informed decisions, build better stakeholder relationships and explore new opportunities outside of just their own business but at the public-private collaboration level.
    • Improved decision making: By encouraging people to improve how they consider the impacts and outcomes of planning, design and operational decisions, a systems thinking approach can help influential people and stakeholders to make more informed and effective decisions in regard to committing much more to solving the climate crisis. It can help identify trade-offs and the unintended consequences of decisions.
    • Long-term sustainability: A systems thinking approach takes a long-term perspective, considering the life cycle of the building and its impact on the environment and society over time. It helps in designing buildings that are resilient, adaptable and sustainable.

Here is a small-scale example: A large office building is looking to improve its sustainability performance. The building operations team has identified a few areas where they can make improvements, including:

    • Reducing energy consumption and cost
    • Increase occupant comfort

The team can use the systems thinking approach to identify the root causes of the building’s occupant comfort, energy costs and consumption, and design solutions that address the broader context. For example, they may find that the building’s  heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is oversized and inefficient. By optimizing that system, they can reduce energy consumption without sacrificing occupant comfort. 

The team may also find that there are opportunities to optimize energy expenses. By implementing a demand-limiting program, they can reduce energy consumption during peak times, when the cost of energy is highest and avoid penalties or earn rebates. 

The team can also apply the systems thinking approach to make more informed decisions about how to improve occupant comfort and save energy costs and consumption in the building. This can lead to significant improvements in the building’s environmental impact.

DigiconAsia thanks Vikesh for sharing his insights on the systems thinking approach to the global sustainability movement