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A Smart Approach?: Raising Uncomfortable Questions about Building Automation in the Workplace

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Forthcoming
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Abstract

Building automation in the workplace is argued to open the door to a more energy-efficient and, thus, more sustainable future. The need for human interaction is replaced with automatic control and allowing algorithms to make autonomous decisions for the buildings’ energy systems, like heating, lighting and air conditioning. However, automation takes away the occupants’ agency leading to unexpected rebound effects, and may itself require energy-consuming elaborate algorithms, new sensors, data storage and computational infrastructure. I ask, is office building automation really a viable approach for the people and the planet? Or is the rhetoric of automation helping us turn a blind eye to the fact that we should invest our energy fundamentally differently? In this position paper I raise questions about the social and environmental sustainability of office building automation and the power of those who are made uncomfortable so we can all feel a little bit better about ourselves.