The world’s swelling population is intensifying the complexity and urgency of numerous global challenges, from climate change to healthcare to access to water. Many of these problems are so complex and interconnected that they seem unsolvable, but designers worldwide are stepping forward to meet these challenges with smarter, better design.
“We’re in the midst of a design-led revolution, and we’re seeing the power that designers have to intentionally shape our world,” writes Autodesk CEO Carl Bass, in an introductory note to the company’s 6th annual sustainability report. “Designers from San Francisco to Nairobi are changing how we design and redesign the world around us at an unprecedented pace.”
Autodesk equips designers with the tools and technologies they need to imagine, design and create this better world. The company says its sustainability strategy focuses its efforts where we can have the greatest impact: providing the best sustainability solutions; delivering learning and training opportunities; expanding access to technology; and leading by example with its business practices.
Historically, design has been a long, arduous, and costly process. Designs were written with pen and paper, and several physical prototypes were needed before a viable design could be found. No longer. With Autodesk’s technology, designers can access information that was previously inaccessible, and understand the potential impacts of their design on the larger system it fits within. They can analyze and test thousands of iterations of a design in just minutes. They even can collaborate in unprecedented ways, inviting more voices and massive collaboration into every step of the design process.
The company’s Corporate-Finance Approach to Climate-Stabilizing Targets (C-FACT) methodology calls for companies to reduce GHG emissions in line with global scientific and policy climate stabilization targets, and in proportion to their relative contribution to the economy. If all companies were to adopt this approach and meet their corresponding targets, Autodesk says private-sector emissions would be on track to help stabilize the climate by 2050. Autodesk has made this methodology open source so that other companies can use it, and in early 2014, the company introduced a modified version of C-FACT for cities.
In 2013, Autodesk’s carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 9.9 percent per employee and 5.3 percent per square foot of real estate, compared with the year before. The company has reduced its overall carbon footprint by 38.1 percent in absolute terms since its baseline year in 2009. This exceeds the 23.4 percent reduction target the company established using its C-FACT methodology. Autodesk follows the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for carbon measurement and reporting, the most widely used international accounting tool for government and business leaders to understand, quantify, and manage greenhouse gas emissions.
Employee travel is one of the largest single contributors to Autodesk’s carbon footprint (38.4 percent), and though greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with this increased by 7.3 percent this year, the company is implementing practices to improve. Some of these include avoiding travel through use of virtual collaboration tools, selecting efficient cars, and implementing a strategic meetings-management program.
Autodesk also expanded and customized its sustainable facility strategy, according to the report. The company assesses its facilities’ environmental operating practices in areas such as energy and water conservation, waste management, green procurement, and indoor air quality management, and then create customized sustainability improvement plans. In fiscal year 2014, five additional Autodesk facilities were awarded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, bringing its total number of LEED-certified buildings to 15 (8 Platinum, 5 Gold, and 2 Certified). This represents 28 percent of the company’s total square footage.
Autodesk also reduced the carbon footprint of its supply chain by 17.2 percent. Most of these GHG emissions result from manufacturing, assembling and delivering physical software media and powering electronic software downloads and cloud-based services. This was achieved largely due to the increased customer use of electronic downloads, the report says. Customers downloaded about 675,000 products, representing 40 percent of all orders and reducing associated GHG emissions by nearly 500 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
“Skilled practitioners of sustainable design and engineering are in short supply, yet we’ve never needed them more,” Autodesk says in the report. “Through education, we can empower masses of people to understand the challenges we face and how to design lasting and scalable solutions to address them.”
The Autodesk Sustainability Workshop and Building Performance Analysis Certificate (BPAC) Program allows students and professionals to learn how to use design technology and analytics to make better, more sustainable design decisions during every step of the design process. Autodesk also sponsors sustainable design competitions and collaborates with several academic institutions and organizations to inspire more people to use design to address the world’s most pressing challenges. Since the Autodesk Education Community’s inception in 2006, over 8 million students and educators have registered, including more than 1 million in 2013.
Recognizing that technology can be expensive, Autodesk offers discounted and no fee software to students, nonprofit organizations, employees, and others who are developing design solutions that will shape a more sustainable future. In FY14, Autodesk donated software worth nearly almost $3.2 million in software to nonprofit organizations — an increase from the $2.6 million donated the previous year.
Overall, Autodesk’s sustainability report shows transparency all companies would do well to follow; recognizing achievements while acknowledging areas in need of improvement with actionable plans to improve. By improving its internal sustainability performance while equipping companies with the tools to improve theirs, Autodesk truly is confronting what it calls the “ultimate design challenge — to design a future where everyone can live well and live within the limits of the planet.”