Lis Christy / Stacey Vaeth Photography
Wanda Lau

Opportunities in operations

Sept. 7, 2022
Once an afterthought among some in the building industry, operations is steadily receiving more attention due to its significant impact on achieving owner, energy, and smart design objectives.

In the building industry acronym AECO—architecture, engineering, construction, and operations—the letter seemingly most often left out is the “O.” Decades ago, this oversight felt like a real disconnect. One of my first jobs in the profession was at my university’s physical plant, where, as a construction site inspector, I would navigate between the architects and engineers drafting in the formal office spaces and the facilities personnel tucked in makeshift workspaces on the shop floor. Thinking back, I didn’t see many, if any, fellow students interning in operations, unlike its AEC counterparts.

But as research continues to highlight the role of building operations in our collective goal of achieving carbon neutrality, I anticipate that the talent gap in operations will continue to gain much-deserved attention from educators, policymakers, and the building industry at large. More importantly, I hope that individuals seeking tech-centric, engaging, and meaningful work will give facility operations a chance. The viability of the smart buildings industry depends on a steady and diverse talent pipeline, which both writer Betsy Conroy and Institute for Living Future CEO Lindsay Baker discuss in this issue.

According to Architecture 2030, 27% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions come from building operations. The industry needs more professionals who understand building operations are much more than “set it and forget it.” Building operations require continual tuning as systems and tools become more sophisticated, occupancy patterns and needs evolve, and upgrades and innovations rewrite old habits. Smart technologies can help facilitate operations, but they will need guidance and input from people.

In August, the McKinsey Quarterly: Transition to Net Zero interactive spotlight on buildings highlighted the environmental and economic opportunities in retrofitting structures with intelligent technologies. “[D]emand for digital systems to track and improve energy use will likely rise,” the authors write. “First movers into green engineering and performance-management services that support the retrofit industry will likely see bigger wins.” Along with new, low-carbon HVAC technologies, “smart building controls and improved insulation would help reduce energy demand.”

And how big is the opportunity? An estimated 4 million to 6 million new jobs per year through 2030, according to the article, with annual capital spending reaching upwards of $1.9 trillion between 2036 and 2040. The numbers for all players in the AECO space to work together speak for themselves.

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About the Author

Wanda Lau | Editorial Director

Wanda Lau is the editorial director of Smart Buildings Technology, LEDs Magazine, and Architectural SSL. She is an award-winning editor, writer, and podcaster whose work appears in several publications, including Architectural Lighting and Architect, where she was most recently the executive editor. In 2021, she was named one of Folio: and AdMonsters' Top Women in Media, in the DEI Champions category. Along with working a decade in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, she holds a B.S. in civil engineering from Michigan State University, an S.M. in building technology from MIT, and an M.A. in journalism from Syracuse University.

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