An Excerpt from "Reinventing Green Building"

From the Epilog in Reinventing Green Building

Green Building Technology to 2020, by Timothy C. Mack, JD, former president and CEO of the World Future Society and principal at AAI Foresight, Seattle, WA.

Green building is not limited by any means to certification systems, the focus of this book. Clearly, green building is experiencing an innovation explosion that is transforming its future, including new building materials, new strategic building management tools, and new construction technologies.  But beyond some green building certification systems’ inability to keep up with and adapt to these changing conditions and possibilities, the larger community of stakeholders lacks understanding about green technology possibilities. These changes are driven in part by powerful technology convergences occurring within nanotech, biotech, and materials sciences. 

Green building innovation is gaining speed, and will accelerate over the next half-decade and beyond, yielding significant implications for the green building industry.

Changing Materials

  • Air-cleaning paint, containing nano-scale titanium dioxide particles, is used to reduce harmful emissions from power plants and motor vehicles by interacting with light to break down nitrous oxide and volatile organic compounds into harmless substances. Adding silver nanoparticles to paint also prevents growth of mold, algae, and bacteria.

  • Green cement, developed in Germany several years ago, is a material that meets or exceeds ordinary Portland cement’s functional performance capabilities by incorporating and optimizing recycled materials, thereby reducing consumption of natural raw materials, water, and energy, resulting in a more sustainable construction material. Today green cement production accounts for 3.5 percent of global cement, but it has been forecasted to grow to over 13 percent of the market by 2020.

  • Fire-retardant insulation that can be produced from waste materials such as shredded denim, plastic milk bottles, newspapers, agricultural straw, hemp, and flax, to replace chemicals whose health impacts were called into question.

  • A Dutch bio-resin called Nabasco, representing nature-based composites (flax mixed with hemp) is used in panels produced with less energy and fewer chemicals than fiberglass (but that are lighter and just as durable).

  • Smart electrochromic and thermo-chromic window glass can respond to environmental conditions to utilize natural sunshine and heat to offset the need for artificial lighting and artificial heating from HVAC. In this technology, suspended-particles offer the highest switching speed plus maximum user control by using nano-particles and varying voltage levels. The global smart glass market is expected to reach $700 million in annual sales by 2024.Accordingly, office buildings with these features can clean themselves, improve indoor air quality, and respond to sunlight by adjusting window tint. Such buildings aim to attract tenants willing to pay higher rents for workplace productivity gains.

 New Building Air Quality Technologies

  • Materials originally designed to protect exterior surfaces from pollution damage (commercially know as TxActive) can also absorb pollution from the atmosphere and improve outside air quality through a photocatalytic process that utilizes UV waves in sunlight to breakdown and oxidize nitrogen and sulfur oxides as well as particulates and volatile organic compounds. Accordingly, the building coating improves ambient air quality in its surrounding neighborhood.

  • French researchers mimicked materials found in nature, such as the Spruce cone, that open and close according to humidity changes, thus enhancing mechanical sensing for controlling ventilation within office buildings.

Reducing GHG Emissions

However, It is not just cutting-edge innovation that catches our imagination for the coming decade.  At present, 59 percent of Fortune 100 companies and nearly two-thirds of the Global 100 have set GHG emissions reduction commitments, renewable energy commitments, or both, including plans to have clean energy sources by 2020 meet thirty percent of demand.

Microgrid with Solar PV at Camp Pendleton, CA

Microgrid with Solar PV at Camp Pendleton, CA

Microgrids. As described in earlier chapters, one increasingly attractive goal is net zero onsite energy use. Moreover, several connected buildings can become an energy-self-sufficient microgrid, exchanging power among its members from diverse power sources with the ability to sell excess energy to a local electric utility.[1] In Germany, where renewable energy already powers thirty percent of electric-generating capacity, locally generated power upended the previous system. Important questions of electric-grid reliability still need to be worked out, but it’s clear that decentralized power generation has many practical, economic and strategic advantages and will come into its own during the next decade. There is an operational microgrid at Camp Pendleton Marine Base in San Diego County, California. Obviously, military installations are prime customers for future microgrids, as they need power 24/7.

[1] Paul Barter and E.T. Borer, “Implementing Microgrids: Controlling Campus, Community Power Generation,”, accessed July 10, 2015.