At Autodesk University and COP28, sustainability takes center stage

Categories: Impact Autodesk Foundation Sustainability
Tags: material-efficiency philanthropy sustainable-construction total-carbon

Recently, I stepped into a new role as Autodesk’s first chief sustainability officer, a newly created position that recognizes the importance of sustainability across the industries we serve and importantly, folds this work into our core business.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I took part in my first Autodesk University (AU) serving in this new role. AU is where we convene our customers to showcase the latest and greatest Design and Make tools, and from the main stage keynotes to event operations behind the scenes, sustainability permeated every layer of the event experience. And that’s by design. This year, Autodesk employees and customers helped source over 100 sessions, four theater talks, two workshops, and multiple exhibits that spotlighted decarbonization and innovations driving a more sustainable future.

Building the sustainable homes of the future

One project that stands out to me is an Autodesk-led collaboration that brings an AI-powered, climate-friendly solution to affordable housing: The Phoenix. Consisting of 316 affordable and environmentally sustainable homes, The Phoenix in West Oakland, CA will be built at about half the cost, time, and carbon footprint of a typical multi-family building in the San Francisco Bay Area—this is revolutionary.

All of this is accomplished by a multi-disciplinary team harnessing the power of Autodesk’s Design and Make Platform to share data, streamline workflows, and tap into AI-powered insights across the entire project lifecycle. In the early phases of the project, the team made data-informed trade-offs between goals for operational carbon, embodied carbon, cost, and livability. Thanks to AI, the team could rapidly explore a broad range of design options that met the project’s complex goals.

MBH Architects, Factory_OS and Autodesk Research teamed up to leverage Autodesk Forma and Autodesk AI to reduce the building’s construction cost, project duration and carbon footprint by about 50% compared to a typical project.

The Phoenix project demonstrates how data flow is not only essential to decarbonization, but also possible to implement today, thanks to new tools like Autodesk’s AEC industry cloud, Forma, which connects directly with Revit and other third-party applications. We can only reduce the carbon footprint of a given project with better data—and Autodesk’s interoperable and extensible platform enables this today.

Accelerating innovation in sustainability

From theater talks to the exhibitor hall, AU was teeming with projects that transcend industry norms and aim to move the sector forward. An exceptional customer example is electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer Rivian. At AU, Rivian shared a look at its R1T truck and R1S SUV: two vehicles that offer something entirely new in the EV space and provide adventurous drivers with an electric option that doesn’t sacrifice functionality.

To develop these new vehicles, Rivian approached the design and make process in a unique way. In addition to using Autodesk Fusion for rapid design and prototyping of parts, and Revit to design its facilities, Rivian combined Autodesk Alias design tools with virtual reality from Autodesk VRED to give its distributed teams an immersive design review experience. This way, no matter where team members were located, they had the data and visual information to create a product with a cohesive vision, from ideation to production. Again, an example of our open and extensible platform enabling sustainable pioneers like Rivian to decarbonize the automotive industry.

Rivian joined us on the main stage and in the Expo to share how they’re accelerating transformation in the auto industry with its smart, connected electric vehicles.

Learn more about Rivian and how the design & manufacturing industry is leveraging Autodesk technology.

Another innovator on display in the AU exhibitor hall, Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), is changing the way we connect communities with much-needed resources. B2P builds bridges that help rural and isolated communities overcome difficult terrain to access nearby healthcare, education and economic growth. AutoCAD is essential to B2P’s successful design and completion of every bridge through its lifecycle and, at AU, they gave attendees a closer look at building materials, topographic maps, bridge models and impact metrics. B2P is an Autodesk Foundation portfolio organization—leveraging philanthropic capital as well as Autodesk expertise and technology to scale its mission. The Autodesk Foundation is matching up to $50,000 of donations made to B2P during AU.

Bridges to Prosperity has built more than 500 trail bridges, serving over 1.8 million community members around the world.

Reflecting on this dynamic range of projects—sustainable housing, EVs and life-changing bridges—I left AU inspired by the ways we can simultaneously disrupt our industries while centering sustainability.

Maybe it’s the magic of Vegas—or, more likely, the excitement of reuniting with Autodesk’s extended community at AU—but I feel energized and inspired to continue building on this incredibly important work.

COP28 welcomes back changemakers

Fortunately for me, the momentum doesn’t stop at AU. In just a few days, I’ll attend the United Nations annual climate change conference (COP28) in Dubai to join leaders from around the world as we share knowledge and take collective action to address climate change.

The call to address climate change grows more urgent by the year—from flash floods and hurricanes to record-breaking heatwaves and devastating wildfires. Alongside hundreds of world leaders and thousands of conference attendees, I’m eager to answer that call at COP28. I look forward to meeting with customers, partners and policymakers to discuss how we can drive progress in essential areas like decarbonization and a more resilient built environment.

Building on the momentum to decarbonize

In recent years, we have discussed methods to decarbonize our industries, which requires data, as well as deeply aligned collaboration among the public and private sectors, to scale effective solutions. The inclination to accomplish this work in the business community grows as time goes on—due to regulations, incentives and unfortunately, the increasing frequency and severity of climatic events.

Increasingly, business leaders in the Architecture, Engineering, Construction and Operations (AEC&O) and the Design & Manufacturing (D&M) industries recognize a corporate responsibility to address sustainability issues and in our recent report, 2023 State of Design & Make: Spotlight on Decarbonization, we found that 89% of respondents agree that decarbonization is important at a corporate level.

In particular, the practice of sustainable building has a major role to play in addressing climate change, especially as we take into consideration that the built environment is associated with approximately 40% of total global energy consumption per year and produces about one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to data from Architecture 2030. That’s why projects like The Phoenix give me so much hope for a changing tide in the building and construction sectors, and I look forward to sharing our learnings from projects that use data and decarbonization tools.

We have an opportunity to make examples like The Phoenix the norm, as opposed to the exemption. We need to make it just as easy to design and make sustainably—as it is to do so unsustainably today.

Autodesk’s Spotlight on Decarbonization report also offers valuable insights about the journey to decarbonization, noting the importance of employees, awareness and adoption of decarbonization tools, and all the benefits that come with implementing sustainable practices.

Five findings about the journey to decarbonization from page 15 of Autodesk’s Spotlight on Decarbonization report.

The journey to decarbonization is much more than a single decision about a particular project, building material or digital solution. It involves transforming the very industries that will shape the world for generations to come.

While the idea of transforming these industries sounds like a Herculean task, we’re not doing it alone. That’s why, as Autodesk’s first chief sustainability officer, I’m thrilled to support our company, our customers, and our industries writ large to transition to a low carbon future. Powered by this collaborative approach, as well sustainable innovations, decarbonization tools and data, we will design and make a better world for all.