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How Blockchain Technology Could Transform Sustainability

Gensler principal Kirsten Ritchie shares her views on why this trendy tech may help crack the code on environment-friendly buildings.

Technology is changing the world as we know—and design—it. But have architects and designers unlocked the full potential of cutting-edge digital tools? In this series of comments, practitioners with a visionary approach examine some of the most influential and disruptive tech today—like blockchain technology, VR/AR/MR, spatial computing, machine learning, and cloud computing—and envisage their impact on the practice of architecture and interior design tomorrow. The changes they describe, while forecasts, will likely come to fruition, driving the way we plan, work, and create. Consider this a glimpse of the not-so-distant future.

Blockchain Sustainable
Illustration by Ori Toor

Blockchain technology is just a new version of a database. Except instead of big tables and server farms, it takes every new bit of information, creates a block, and sticks it on the end of the chain. In essence, every transaction is documented and time-stamped. And it’s non-editable, so the history is always there.

From a design perspective, I think it has the ability to massively simplify product attribute verification. Beyond color, design, and performance, we are interested in a growing number of environmental attributes: Is the product low emitting? What is the carbon footprint? Does the product come with an ingredient disclosure? Is it sustainably sourced? Consider the number of products that go into a project. Take those tens of thousands of SKUs and multiply them by an average of 30 attributes for each product. In the end, you’ve got 300,000 items that you’re trying to track for overall performance and accountability. We’re using great design talent to search databases and gather this information, but blockchain could enable us to do all that tracking very quickly.

I also think that this kind of data tracking could drive more manufacturers to create products with attributes more aligned with what our clients desire. If it’s quick and easy to find out whether or not a product meets certain sustainable standards, it’s much easier for designers and contractors to justify their requests.

There’s a plethora of data and we need a better way to streamline, organize, access, and translate it into real knowledge. Blockchain technology could save designers time and effort, help drive producers to meet our aspirational goals, and, in turn, cause market transformation.

Hipsf Kirsten Ritchie 2013 Cropped
Kirsten Ritchie, consulting project director and principal, Gensler. Courtesy Gensler

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