Week 3: The rise & practice of Social Innovation and Sustainability by Sebastian Krol

Sustainability in a city such as New York might appear to be a “mirage.” Every day on my way to Bard College I have seen tons of non-recycled garbage or huge vans slowly moving in a seemingly permanent traffic jam. No wonder that New York was named “America’s Dirtiest City” in 2012. During the third week of the module, however, we have learned about various initiatives that are contributing to the economy of New York and society’s wellbeing.

Takeaway #1: There are no smart cities without smart buildings

The meeting with Gene Boniberger of Rudin Management showed that operational efficiency and sustainability go hand in hand. In collaboration with Columbia University and Selex, the company has created a platform called Digital Building Operating System (DI-BOSS). The platform allows for the optimization of energy usage without sacrificing comfort. For instance at 345 Park Avenue (see the picture below), the energy expenditures were reduced by 7%, resulting in 1 million USD in savings per annum. It was made possible by accumulating big data about the “buildings’ emissions”: its temperature, elevator usage, energy usage, occupancy, etc., and forecasting weather conditions. This platform can be easily emulated in other buildings around the world (I need to check how the tenants deal with similar issues in Poland). The “big data” could revolutionize real estate industries everywhere.


Takeaway #2: Building a sense of community around sustainability is possible without a big budget.

Although the capital market in the US is one of the best developed in the world, their social capital is significantly lagging behind Europe. Wendy E. Brawer, the Founder and Director of Green Maps Systems, is a pioneer in this regard.  Every society needs people like Brawer, who are dedicated to serving society through new innovations (Green Maps System has been adopted in 65 countries). Surprisingly, this initiative is not present in my home county (I have sent the website link to my friend who works in the City Municipality of Krakow). Hopefully, he will follow-up with me.

Takeaway #3: Hipster economy goes beyond the efficiency paradigm

Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm in the heart of NYC, proves that consumers are willing to pay an additional premium for products that come from local communities. The functioning of Brooklyn Grange is illogical from the point of view of capacity (although the team is excellent at maximizing utilization, they compete with huge food farms) and location (concentration of pollution). However, Ben Flander, President and Founder, has created an appealing marketing story, involved local communities, and has been constantly innovating his farm. As a result, his farm has been a profitable business and has had an increasing impact on the ecology of New York. To me, Brooklyn Grange is “a Starbucks in farming”.

Taking everything into account, I think that the NYC module was a great success. Thanks to Dean Horwitch’s and Professor Mulloth’s extensive network, we had a chance to meet these exceptional individuals and learn about these great companies. For many students in our cohort, it has been a transformative experience.


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