Sustainability Leaders Series: Autodesk’s Jake Layes

The go-to man for sustainability and clean tech in Asia Pacific believes that sustainability is certainly the key and it can be driven by the fast developing region of Asia.

Autodesk, a global company providing software and services for 3D design and engineering, is – to rephrase their company motto – imagining, designing and creating a better and greener world. Jack Layes, their go-to man for sustainability and clean tech in Asia Pacific, believes that sustainability is certainly the key and it can be driven by the fast developing region of Asia. 

Layes, an MBA graduate of both Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, is a specialist in sustainable design and clean tech. He leads the company’s Clean Tech Partner Program in Asia, which supports start-up businesses engaged in clean technologies by providing Autodesk’s design software at greatly reduced cost. 

Through his work, he promotes the use of computer programmes and technology that enables architects, designers, engineers and enterprising innovators to create projects, products and infrastructure that are environmentally sound—from design to production to maintenance. 

Layes believes Asia can change the world by developing with a wiser use of resources. Here, he talks to Eco-Business about how Autodesk helps drive sustainability in the region.  

Great design and innovation have always gone hand in hand, and Autodesk is one such company embracing this ethos. What made Autodesk transition from championing design technology to design technology rooted in sustainability?

Sustainability is at the core of Autodesk.  It is the foundation of how we operate, and it is what our technology enables our customers to achieve. Our software accelerates the transition to a more sustainable and better world through the products our customers design and manufacture and the buildings and infrastructure they imagine and create. Autodesk also drives behavioural change by making sustainable design easy and accessible.

That said, we believe in developing insightful and cost-effective products and solutions for our customers worldwide, so they can simply continue to develop breakthrough designs and projects that use the planet’s resources wisely. 

Autodesk’s sustainability initiative executive Emma Stewart once described the firm’s advanced software known as Building Information Modelling or BIM as “[addressing] the chasm between design intent and actual building performance.” How does BIM help to drive sustainability efforts exactly? And how does sustainable design affect the bottom line?

The whole architecture, construction and infrastructure ecosystem is moving towards BIM. BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based design process that helps through the use of a seamless flow of information through the planning stages of designing, building and finally managing the infrastructure; specifically on how to more efficiently use energy, water, and land throughout the lifecycle of buildings and infrastructure. 

BIM, combined with Autodesk’s 3D software solutions, conceptual energy analysis and rapid energy modelling technologies, also helps reduce energy waste in buildings, be it new construction or retrofit projects. The use of whole-building analysis is also promoted, simulating building performance in response to environmental factors and conducting solar radiation, shadows/reflection and visual-impact studies, along with weather, energy, water, and carbon-emissions analysis.

This helps in maintenance, which is imperative to a building’s sustainability, long-term environmental impact and LEED accreditation. Intelligent BIM models not only predict energy usage and costs, they monitor these factors in real-time, allowing for appropriate adjustments to be made in order to conserve funds and natural resources.

In 2011, Autodesk’s Singapore headquarters became its first green office in Asia Pacific. Can you share more about Autodesk’s own sustainability initiatives? How far have you progressed and how is this measured?

Yes, our office in the Solaris building has received LEED certification and has won the BCA Green Mark Platinum Award. Every green building in Singapore is a notable feat considering that majority of the nation’s resources needs to be sourced from outside. Autodesk’s quest for LEED certification was not driven merely by the recognition that it would achieve, but an inherent desire to contribute towards the environment at every level of its functioning. It is an opportunity for us as an organisation to explore innovative ways of using our solutions and those of our customers for sustainable design by applying them to our own business and operations. As a result, we have saved 23 per cent in energy and associated GHG emissions per square foot versus comparable buildings in the region.

Governments and businesses in Asia Pacific have already started to recognise that sustainability is not just a minor piece in economic development but a key driver; including for competitiveness and the development of a modern society.

Jake Layes

Since 2008, Autodesk has consistently disclosed details about its sustainability performance, building upon our degree of transparency and coverage of issues. We report for many reasons, including our goal “to openly share our approach and encourage other companies to borrow best practices and ideas.” 

In our Autodesk Sustainability in Action Report for 2012 we have been able to decrease our carbon footprint of 28 per cent over fiscal year 2009 base year to 6,600 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCDE), which is on target to meet our climate-stabilising target set with C-FACT [Corporate Finance Approach to Climate-stabilising Targets]. We’ve also reduced emissions from tier 1 data centres by 62 per cent while decreasing IT infrastructure costs by US$7 million annually.

Lastly, we also have the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program that provides Autodesk Digital Prototyping software to clean technology start-up companies, entrepreneurs and innovators, with the goal of enabling and accelerating their innovation and solutions that address some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. The programme offers $150,000 of Autodesk software for $50. With our software, participating companies are able to speed up innovation and improve prediction accuracy during product development. The use of digital prototypes reduces the need for physical prototypes and enables prediction of a product’s environmental impact prior to its completion.

You’ve once said that Asia Pacific can be the driving force for sustainability. What makes this region unique? How can it lead the change in the world? 

Governments and businesses in Asia Pacific have already started to recognise that sustainability is not just a minor piece in economic development but a key driver; including for competitiveness and the development of a modern society. By 2030, the majority of the global middle class will be in Asia. This will further accelerate Asia’s development from being the manufacturing plant of the world to becoming a major driver for global economic growth. Pressing issues resulting from this development, increased standards of living (and consumption) and urbanisation are about seeking resources to support the on-going growth. This demands innovation of alternative solutions of energy and general clean technologies that provide clean air, energy, water and better materials. For Asia, it is additionally important to find new ways to mitigate poverty as well as provide directions for a sustainable way of life. 

This opportunity to innovate could potentially be exemplary models for the rest of the developing world to emulate. Solutions in sustainable design and innovations in clean tech and clean energy can point to a future where growth and raised living standards are possible without neglecting the environment challenges that so far have gone hand-in-hand with economic progress.

Increasingly today, the key drivers for sustainability initiatives in Asian companies are no longer just monetary savings or gains, or risk-aversion programmes (to comply with trade and export regulations). Japan, for example, already had a high awareness for environmental solutions among its general population before the Fukushima disaster; and having to deal now with severe energy shortage simply amplifies this trend. Australia’s government, meanwhile, made some recent major shifts in energy management and commitments, requiring the country to become more sustainable. 

Singapore, as one of Asia’s most liveable cities, is also leading the way in sustainable development by boldly tackling challenges common across many of today’s urban centres. This local focus has shown an increasing influence on industry segments such as green manufacturing, green building, smart grids, and water and energy efficiency. Urban solutions have become a key growth sector for Singapore, particularly in exporting its homegrown technology and becoming a ‘living lab’ for global companies to test-bed and commercialise green solutions here. 

The Sustainability Leaders Series is a weekly interview profiling sustainability leaders in the Asia Pacific region.

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