Meet the Honorees: Oliver Iltisberger, President Smart Buildings Division, ABB

by | Dec 20, 2021

The Environment+Energy Leader 100 is an annual list that recognizes the environment and energy “doers” who break trail in creating new solutions, programs, platforms, best practices and products to help their companies – or other companies – achieve greater success in commercial and industrial environment and energy management. Meet the Honorees… is an ongoing series that will feature one Honoree from 2022 each week. See the complete list of 2022 Honorees here.

Meet Oliver Iltisberger, who joined ABB in 2018 as president of the Smart Buildings Division. ABB’s global Smart Buildings business includes a broad portfolio of market leading home and building automation solutions as well as a global portfolio for energy distribution systems and products.

Tell us about your biggest work challenge? How are you addressing it?

Oliver Iltisberger: The mission towards net-zero carbon is a global imperative and commercial buildings are on the frontline in the battle against climate change. In fact, the world’s buildings generate 40% of global carbon emissions. Yet it is relatively simple and economically attractive to utilize existing technologies to address the challenge for buildings and infrastructure.

Whether retrofitting older buildings or designing new ones, making them “smarter” can have a huge impact. A smart building employs a range of interconnected technologies to optimize everything from water use, energy management, air conditioning, access, automation, and lighting to remote monitoring and communication networks, while simultaneously creating a more amenable working environment.

The concept of smart buildings is nothing new, of course. As you no doubt know, architects and developers have installed separate systems to control lighting, heating, and ventilation for decades.

Now, however, web-based platforms are taking smart buildings to the next level by allowing the facility systems to integrate seamlessly with each other, delivering a single, definitive view of how efficiently and effectively a building operates. Armed with this invaluable data, managers can take steps to avoid waste and improve use – cutting emissions and delivering savings at the same time.

While many businesses are tackling sustainability as a macro trend, we are designing the future of our business around all aspects of sustainability – from our products to our company culture and our networks. We’re not just selling technology that addresses issues such as climate change and manufacturing circularity, etc.

I joined ABB just over three years ago, when the company’s plans to embed sustainability through the very fabric of the organization were still at an early stage. This was enormously attractive to me as a potential employee, and I am very excited to be a leader in a business that is leading by example.

What was a successful project or implementation you worked on that you can share?

OI: Here at ABB, we are setting the agenda with our Mission to Zero which is part of our own journey towards carbon neutrality by 2030.

Not only do we aim to achieve carbon neutrality across all our own sites by 2030, but more importantly, we have designed a blueprint to help our customers and ecosystem to do the same. Our internal teams of engineers, data and innovation experts have built-up a scalable, replicable solution to help solve the many problems other companies face when it comes to increasing energy efficiencies, doing the right thing by the planet, as well as saving costs.

Solutions for decarbonizing buildings and sites will not only take us closer to our goal of carbon neutrality by 2030, but also help our customers reduce their annual CO2 emissions by 100 megatons – a key target of our 2030 sustainability strategy.

Our Lüdenscheid plant in Germany is a real-life example of how the energy transition can succeed sustainably through digital energy management.

We transformed the facility into the company’s first carbon-neutral production site by deploying energy-efficient technologies into one smart system, which is digitally networked and controllable.

Solar technology generates up to 100% of the factory’s requirements. When used with the site’s cogeneration plant, Lüdenscheid can generate 14% more energy than needed; this surplus is sold back into the public grid, meaning the site is energy positive.

The flagship facility at our Busch-Jaeger subsidiary saves up to 630t of CO2 a year and makes a long-term contribution to improving the environment for local people and the wider community. In the next few years, we aim to open dozens more Mission to Zero sites around the world to encourage positive, transformational change within our own business operations and in society as a whole.

Are there others within your organization who have helped make it a success and who also deserve recognition?

OI: I believe in collective action. Only by working with communities, partners, employees and customers can we get to a net zero carbon future faster and remain at the forefront of change.

I’d like to acknowledge the Smart Buildings team at ABB. They lead the Mission to Zero program with a cross-functional team and on-demand support from relevant stakeholders across the organization. In particular, I’d like to point out our Mission to Zero Center of Excellence team, who serve as our internal consulting and knowledge management body.

Our Green Real Estate team also continues to provide an invaluable contribution for baselining and road mapping work.

What trends do you expect to see in the market in the next few years? What challenges will the industry face and how will they overcome them?

OI: As politicians, corporates customers, and the public grapple with the aftermath of a global pandemic, supply chain disruption, and the climate emergency, 2022 will be anything but business as usual.  

In an era when predictions are far from straightforward, there are four trends that will shape the smart buildings sector and wider global economies in 2022. 

1. Governments and businesses “get real” about low-carbon urgency.

In the aftermath of COP26, the spotlight is now firmly on the built environment. The public is demanding action and governments are imposing tighter restrictions on building use, energy consumption and emissions.

Businesses will give their most urgent attention to the biggest carbon producing areas of their operation in order to have the biggest impact in the fastest time – buildings being among their leading priorities.

Aside from a duty and a desire to reduce their carbon impact, businesses will also pursue sustainability because it has a material financial impact. The value at stake from sustainability-related issues — from rising raw-material prices to new regulations — is substantial.   

In 2022, we’ll see even more innovation by design with pressure on global supply chain, resources, and low-carbon urgency driving a circular economy-first approach and seeing manufacturers rethinking and rebuilding products for longevity, recycling, and repair.

Smart, cloud-based, and AI-driven interoperable solutions that seamlessly manage heating, lighting, air conditioning and other systems will become more prevalent in small and medium-sized commercial buildings as they become a default component of new builds and are retro-fitted to older sites.

2. The importance of “available and easy” increases.

Next year will see priority given to making supply chains more resilient in the post-COVID world: using automation and digitization to tackle supply chain challenges and to respond to the increasing customer demand for sustainable working and living. By digitally connecting with suppliers and service providers, and investing in analytics, companies will gain the resilience and flexibility to respond to customer needs and market dynamics.

Digitization alone, however, won’t solve all challenges within the supply chain and 2022 will see the acceleration of a trend towards deglobalization and near-shoring, as well as the more sustainable, reusable, and circular economy solutions mentioned above. 

With disruption in the supply chain compounded by labor shortages, it is vital that smart building suppliers don’t just make products available – they also must make them easy. Even marginal reductions in installation times will bring huge benefit to businesses operating with reduced headcount.

3. The drive to digital intensifies.

The Covid-19 pandemic has radically altered how we perceive digital transformation. Projects that would previously take months or even years happened in days as businesses flexed their propositions to respond to national lockdowns and other restrictions. Responding to the pandemic has underscored the need for leaders to accelerate the adoption of agile ways of working and value chain transformation to help outmanoeuvre uncertainty.  

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are playing an increasingly important role in 2022 strategic business plan. Within smart buildings, connected sensors and machines are part of an ongoing revolution where everything is measured, and sensor data can be combined with powerful analytics. 

More than ever, the role of the CIO and CTO will be to leverage information – from visibility to transparency to insight. Fully digitally enabled organizations will have the capabilities to withstand the impact of pandemics (and other shocks) and be far more resilient on their path to recovery.

4. The future is “bigger than self” for businesses.

Corporates such as ABB can have a huge impact on the drive towards a low-carbon society by developing innovative technologies that reduce energy consumption, reduce emissions in infrastructure and buildings and therefore improve quality of life for citizens around the world. Our Mission to Zero program is a good example. 

Ultimately, however, the key trend in 2022 could be a recognition that the challenges highlighted above are bigger than any technology, business, or government. 

The greatest impact will be achieved by organizations working together — technology vendors collaborating towards the greater good – fueling innovation, directing investment, educating organizations, and helping them to find and implement the right solutions to help them meet their carbon emission reduction targets. Meeting the challenges of uncertain times and capitalizing on opportunities will require new ways of working. For technology vendors this means a paradigm-shift to a world where products and services are open-source. 

Tell us about a favorite hobby or passion you have that has had an impact on you and your work.

OI: I play tennis, go kayaking and skiing, and I like cooking. I am also passionate about energy efficiency in my own home,, using smart home technologies, photovoltaic panels, and a battery. I also drive an electric car.

Electrification of everything is a huge topic at ABB, and I believe that positive change starts at home.

Learn more about Olivier Iltisberger:

Twitter: @ABBgroupnews

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