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Justin Sablich of Springwise: “Homes have been getting smarter for a while now”

Homes have been getting smarter for a while now, but the home ecosystem has been reshaped dramatically in light of the pandemic, with work, shopping and healthcare rapidly integrating more into daily home life. With that, technology and design are aiming to connect these different facets in helpful ways. As we show in the Springwise/Aritco […]

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Homes have been getting smarter for a while now, but the home ecosystem has been reshaped dramatically in light of the pandemic, with work, shopping and healthcare rapidly integrating more into daily home life. With that, technology and design are aiming to connect these different facets in helpful ways. As we show in the Springwise/Aritco report, AI-driven tech within the home is shaping how we’re monitoring our health, making purchases and maintaining appliances. These all have great potential to make us happier and healthier, especially those who might otherwise struggle with certain daily tasks due to physical disabilities.


As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Justin Sablich.

Justin Sablich is a cross-platform journalist and content strategist based in London. He spent 13 years as a digital editor, audience developer and writer for The New York Times. He is now Editor of Springwise, a global innovation intelligence platform that drives positive and sustainable change. Springwise has recently joined forces with global home lift company Aritco published the new Future of the Home research paper which reveals the top 18 innovations that we can expect to see in our homes in 2021 and beyond.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I’ve managed to have a pretty decent career despite never having a concrete plan or a career path in mind. I knew I wanted to work in journalism and studied it in college, but my first real job was being a “web producer,” which was managing content and publishing other people’s journalism. It was more interesting than it sounds, especially since it was at The New York Times in 2006. This was still the “Wild West” era of digital journalism, and in the spirit of experimentation, I was encouraged to learn as many additional skills as possible in order to create as much digital content as possible.

Before long I was producing video and audio stories, live blogging baseball games and launching new Twitter feeds. I always thought I’d end up specializing in one particular area, but 15 years later I’m still in a content role where I’m doing a little bit of everything. I also can’t seem to settle on a topic area, starting off as a sports journalist before moving into travel and tourism, a bit of science and tech, and now the world of sustainable business innovation. I have no idea what I’ll be doing five years from now, but I absolutely love working with the purpose-driven content that we produce at Springwise. I’d like to spend the rest of my career promoting ideas that have the potential to do some good and help solve real problems.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

As a kid and an obsessed Yankees fan, my fantasy career-wise was to be a sports writer, since I loved sports but wasn’t very good at playing anything. I ended up working on the NYT sports desk and did a stint covering live games at Yankee Stadium, shadowing our beat writers and learning the ropes, and eventually getting to write a game story for the paper, so it was a pretty surreal experience for me personally.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

At The Times, I carved out a diverse role where I could do several different things quite well, but not one particular thing at the very highest level, like so many of my colleagues who were masters of their specialized craft. So, I sometimes struggled with imposter syndrome when comparing myself to others, but I finally turned a corner once I accepted that I was a generalist and that was OK. Having a diverse skill set led to some incredible experiences, like being part of our team that covered the 2012 London Olympics, where I got to produce a daily video series even though video production was only an occasional part of my typical day-to-day.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I worked under a very supportive digital sports editor at The Times, Jeffrey Marcus, who was always good at encouraging me to push through my personal insecurities. He’s still someone who I can call today if I need a good pep talk.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

“Quiet” by Susan Cain was a gamechanger, because I didn’t realize I was an introvert until I read it, so life made a lot more sense after that. I would especially recommend it to those in leadership positions, because introverts thrive under very different circumstances than extroverts, and those with the loudest voices during meetings aren’t necessarily the smartest people in the room (quite often the opposite, in my experience).

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t fall in love with your work so much that you can’t throw it away for the good of the team.” A professor at grad school said something along those lines to me after I poured my heart and soul into my part of a team project and because our concept evolved, my slick interactive map wasn’t used in the end. It didn’t make me feel any better at the time, but I get it now, after having written articles that never got published because needs change, and it’s also helped me in team settings to really think about the big picture. I also look at it now as another way of saying “you are not your work,” and not everything is personal.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Homebuilding in the US has grown tremendously. We’d love to hear about some of the new trends and techniques that are being used to build the homes of the future.

We recently published the Aritco/Springwise Future of the Home report, which details the direction we see homes heading in from the angle of innovative responses to COVID. Since we’re spending more time at home, more thought is being put into what should and needs to be part of our living environments. There’s growing demand for spaces designed for comfort but that can also serve a purpose, especially with health and wellbeing on many minds. Some of the innovations featured in the report aim to improve indoor air quality and hygiene.

I think COVID has also given us more time to think about how and why things are done the way they are, leading to even more consideration on the environmental impact our homes have. So the home has become a canvas of sorts for sustainable experimentation, especially in terms of energy efficiency.

Can you share with us a few of the methods that are being used to make homes more sustainable and more water and energy efficient?

We’re spotting a ton of great solutions in these areas on Springwise. One recent example we highlighted what is being described as a “Fitbit” for your home water meter, developed by Nudge Systems. It’s a smart device that syncs to an app to track home water usage. What’s really cool is that it can determine how much water is being used for things like flushing the toilet, running the washing machine, and showering. The idea is that once users know exactly where their water is going, they will be in a better position to adjust habits and adopt water-saving tech where they need it most.

In the Aritco/Springwise report, we also highlighted the Swiss startup Koleda’s home heater that delivers heat via infrared radiation, whereby heat is transferred directly to different objects in the room. This uses around 30 percent less energy than traditional convection heating systems. There are so many more I could mention.

There is a lot of talk about Smart Homes. Can you tell our readers a bit about what that is, what that looks like, and how that might help people?

Homes have been getting smarter for a while now, but the home ecosystem has been reshaped dramatically in light of the pandemic, with work, shopping and healthcare rapidly integrating more into daily home life. With that, technology and design are aiming to connect these different facets in helpful ways. As we show in the Springwise/Aritco report, AI-driven tech within the home is shaping how we’re monitoring our health, making purchases and maintaining appliances. These all have great potential to make us happier and healthier, especially those who might otherwise struggle with certain daily tasks due to physical disabilities.

Aside from Smart Homes, can you talk about other interesting tech innovations that are being incorporated into homes today?

There seems to be a lot of attention being paid on windows these days, though many of these are still in the development stages. But I think we’ll soon have windows that can absorb light and use it to purify indoor air, and others doubling as clean-energy sources. We might also get to a point where air conditioners become obsolete, with windows developing powerful cooling and noise-canceling properties.

Can you talk about innovations that are being made to make homes more pet friendly?

We haven’t had this on our radar so much, so I am probably not qualified to address it specifically. I would love it if something could safely and easily prevent my dog from losing his mind every time the doorbell rang.

How about actual construction materials? Are there new trends in certain materials to address changes in the climate, fires, floods, and hurricanes?

There’s a lot of promising sustainable building material being developed in all parts of the world, especially in the repurposing of the types of plastics that are difficult to otherwise recycle. We recently spotted a company in Uganda, Takataka Plastic, creating small machines that can sort, shred and melt PET and reform it into construction material. The company says its prototype wall tiles much cheaper to make and are twice as strong as conventional ceramic alternatives. Plastic can also be repurposed into material strong enough to withstand a hurricane, as JD Companies, a Canadian construction firm, proved with its beach house prototype.

For someone looking to invest in the real estate industry, are there exciting growth opportunities that you think people should look at more carefully?

I am not qualified to offer any investment advice, sorry!

Let’s talk a bit about housing availability and affordable housing. Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

I’m not an expert in this area, but the simplest explanation is that wages couldn’t keep up with the astronomical costs of living in these big cities. What’s frustrating is that those running these cities can’t seem to come up with affordable housing solutions. In San Francisco, it costs 750,000 dollars to build a two-bedroom apartment, and that qualifies as affordable housing there.

Is there anything that home builders can do to further help address these problems?

We’re seeing this a lot where sustainable building processes are proven to also be more fiscally sound. This is key to addressing other social issues as well. I previously mentioned Takataka in Uganda, which has a manufacturing method that not only addresses the country’s plastic waste crisis, but is also part of combatting the significant housing shortage facing that nation.

Getting back to San Francisco, we featured a Bay Area startup a few months ago with an innovative approach. Oby can build a tiny, solar-powered home in an existing homeowners’ backyard, which can then be rented out at below-market rates. The company does all the work and provides homeowners with rental income. Sure, this one approach won’t solve the housing crisis, but we see a lot of startups coming at it from different angles. The common thread is that sustainable building methods at their core are typically very cost-effective.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think we have a really good mission at Springwise, which is to promote the best ideas from all parts of the world and in all industries that have potential to drive positive and sustainable change. We want to inspire innovators to keep innovating, and for business leaders to adopt their ideas and enact them on a wider scale. I just want to keep building on what we are doing and reach a wider audience, so as many entrepreneurs as possible can use us as a tool to develop their own purpose-driven solutions.

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m most active on LinkedIn these days, and for those interested in the latest green innovations and trends, I send out a bi-weekly newsletter via Springwise called the Sustainable Source.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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