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Academia / Data / Environment / Universities

“Sustainability is a measurement problem”: Constantine Kontokosta of CUSP

Hear early lessons from what data scientists from the inaugural class at NYU's Center for Urban Science and Progress are learning from New York City

Dr. Constantine Kontokosta, Deputy Director, CUSP-NYU

Full research outcomes from NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), which welcomed its first class this fall, are forthcoming, and already the effort is preparing for its second crew.

Applications just opened for matriculation in 2014.

An early sense of what data scientists will learn from New York City was discussed on this podcast, which featured the CUSP Deputy Director, Constantine Kontokosta, on Commercial Real Estate Radio.

Some of the observations that the professor made on the podcast include:

  • “Sustainability is a measurement problem. We don’t have a good handle on what the right metrics are.” He cites variables like Indoor Air Quality and Daylight, which could have real impact on occupational health and/or productivity. Should those correlations become documented, Kontokosta explains, it could yield real interest from investors.
  • New York City is now collecting 16,000 buildings worth of electricity and water usage data, the first unified data set of its size and kind.
  • PLANYC2013’s Greener, Greater Buildings program will require submetering of buildings by 2025. Meanwhile, increased data expectations by cities are leading to better quality data from buildings.
  • As more cities start tracking data, buildings are likely to see the next step to be benchmarking and improve practices so they aren’t labelled as laggards. He said seven cities have energy disclosure policies so far.
  • New York City has unique pressure to get more efficient as ConEdison has reached its supply and transmission capacity.
  • Private lending to support green interventions is likely to improve as investors gets more information about which interventions reliably yield which outcomes — right now there is an information asymmetry problem, he said.
  • Asking which building uses the least amount of energy per square foot is too simplistic, because you need to know what the inhabitants of that building are doing. Use is relevant. Kontokosta is working on a model to address this and other complexities of benchmarking buildings.

Prof. Kontokosta said the technology exists now to measure almost anything that a building owner might like to measure.

As more data gets collected and analyzed, he said that he expects that it will yield insights that will drive interest in green interventions from traditional investors, not just investors looking for environmental or socially responsible branding.

For example, he explained, if indoor air quality or daylight access can be shown to have a certain percentage impact on worker productivity, that begins to have measurable returns for employers.

Or, if 30 percent to 40 percent improvements in energy efficiencies begin to yield a dollars per square foot savings in building expenses, that begins to yield realizable improvements in return for property owners.

In short, efficiency will only garner dominant focus when the math works in favor of a bottom line.

Companies: Center for Urban Science and Progress / NYU Tandon School of Engineering
Series: Brooklyn

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