Sustainability and Design: The Key to Efficiency

Carl Bass, Autodesk, at Green:Net 2011Trying to re-engineer buildings and other objects for sustainability and environmentally friendly materials after they are built — even as a prototype — is expensive and time-consuming, says Autodesk CEO Carl Bass. Which is why the design software company is pushing the idea of using its software earlier in the process, he told the attendees at GigaOM’s Green:Net conference: to identify materials or ways of constructing a building that could make it more environmentally efficient, before a prototype is even created.
Bass said that decisions about sustainability and other considerations “are best made at the beginning of developing a project.” In most cases, designers come up with a design and then build a physical prototype, then refine the design, build another prototype, and so on — but “at some point you’re going to run out of time or energy or money to test any more,” the Autodesk CEO said. “With digital prototypes, you can explore those options a lot further before you actually have to build a physical prototype.”
Autodesk is working with a design company called Granta to help designers make some of these decisions, particularly when it comes to the materials they choose, earlier in the process, said Bass. There are thousands of different types of plastic alone, with different qualities and engineering aspects that determine how and where they will be used. With the new features in its software, “we’ve enabled people to do better material selection as part of their design — the earlier in the process you can make decisions the better off you will be,” Bass said.
Designers are constantly being asked to take more of these kinds of questions into account, the Autodesk CEO said, but “the only asset that is getting cheaper over time that you can deploy towards these kinds of questions is computing, and it’s getting exponentially cheaper — I can rent an hour of computing time for a nickel.” When a designer needs to model what the impact will be of rotating the building on the lot to reduce energy use, or using triple-pane windows instead of double, Autodesk allows them to do that, Bass said.
The company has also set up a cleantech partner program, which donates up to $150,000 in software to environmental startups, and Autodesk is also involved with efforts such as Green Building XML, which is designed to help exchange information about environmental aspects of building construction and design.

Watch live streaming video from greennet2011 at