Paradigm Shifts: Internalizing the Externalities

In the fields of energy and environment, I have seen paradigm shifts take place on several important occasions during my career. Paradigm shifts dramatically change the conversation about how to deal with problems. For example, economists have recognized the concept of externalities since the 19th century…

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Paradigm Shifts - The Origins

Where did our current thinking about paradigm shifts originate? In the 1960s, MIT Professor Jay Forrester created a field called system dynamics by modeling how industrial production systems behaved in response to fluctuating demand. He wrote Urban Dynamics, which attempted for the first time to describe how more complex systems like cities behaved and could be modeled. He and his team created models used by the Club of Rome to research its highly influential 1972 book, The Limits to Growth.

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Paradigm Shifts: The Noosphere

In 1927 the Jesuit scholar Pierre Teilhard de Chardin postulated the existence of a global “mind,” a noösphere, connecting everyone and everything in the world. By 2017 there were about two billion Facebook users, more than a quarter of earth’s population. The paradigm shift that connects everyone on Earth, all the time, everywhere, less than one generation ago a fanciful dream, is now our daily experience.

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Paradigm Shifts and Green Building

Mental models are the primary tools we use to think about creating a more sustainable future, for example, but are they accurate or even useful? For example, will replacing gasoline-powered cars with electric cars lead to a truly sustainable future, if there are still a billion cars in the world and the electricity to charge them comes from fossil fuels? What are the paradigm shifts that created green building as we know it today?

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The U.S. Green Building Movement Plateaued (and Why That's Important)

At the beginning, LEED certification met a market need and grew dramatically. Within a half-decade after its introduction, by 2006 LEED was a well recognized brand and globally known “eco-label,” a remarkable achievement. But LEED could never guarantee that buildings it certified were among the top 25 percent of all performers, its stated goal, as measured against key criteria for reducing environmental impact.

Here is a critical dilemma for the environmental movement. If we want to preserve this beautiful planet from the ravages of global climate change, we must insist that every “solution” offered by well meaning organizations agrees to real-world independent testing.

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World Green Building Week: How Good Are the Numbers?

Green building has a significant credibility problem. While the world is awash in green building "eco-labels" and while these have significant credibility in the commercial building marketplace, conspicuously missing are any serious studies of the actual performance of green buildings. This issue has been highlighted since at least 2010, but none of the leading green building councils has yet to commission such a study.

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Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: How Important are LEED Buildings in Reducing US Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

What is the real contribution of LEED buildings to reducing US greenhouse gas emissions? Some recent tweets cite a 2011 study that estimates nearly a 2% reduction by 2020. In my analysis, the actual number is more like 0.3%, only about one-sixth of the projection from six years ago. This makes LEED (and to some degree green building) far less important than many of us had assumed. Take a look, decide for yourself and let me know what you think!

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How Feasible Are Zero Net Energy Buildings?

Are Zero Net Energy (ZNE) buildings technically feasible in the United States? A recent article by Charles Eley casts doubt on the goal of making all new buildings "zero net" with onsite solar by 2030 and all buildings, new and old, by 2050. Our best bet for the buildings sector is utility-scale solar and wind power, coupled with "ultra low energy" new buildings AND massive retrofits of existing buildings.

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LEED US Project Certifications Fall 9% in 2017 First Half

New LEED project certifications in the US fell 9% in the first half of 2017 compared with 2016, showing once again that the system is in dire trouble, as more project teams see no reason to put up with the cost and hassle of LEED, unless clients demand the certification plaque. Is this the beginning of the end for widespread use of LEED in the US?

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LEED Project Registrations Fall 75% in 2017 First Half

New LEED project registrations in the US fell 75% in the first half of 2017 compared with 2016, showing once again that the system is in dire trouble, as more project teams see no reason to put up with the cost and hassle of LEED, unless the clients demand the certification plaque. Is this the beginning of the end for widespread use of LEED in the US?

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LEEDv4: Panacea or More Headache?

In its first three years on the market, LEEDv4 registered less than 5% of all new LEED projects, with the balance going to the cheaper and easier-to-understand LEED 2009. This does not bode well for the future of new project registrations, now that LEEDv4 is the only LEED system available for project registrations.

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2016: LEED in (Slow) Motion - Part 4

LEED project certifications in commercial interiors increased in 2016 after falling in 2014 and 2015. Retail project certifications also increased. Still, both totals are very small compared to the huge size of both 86 billion sq.ft. of nonresidential floor space and 1.1 million retail buildings.

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LEED, Trump, the #Resistance, and Alternative Facts

LEED, Trump, Alternative Facts, and the Resistance: The truth behind LEED's propaganda piece from last week is something quite different than what the US Green Building Council says, in these very expensive ads running in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Of course, in the new political climate anyone can claim anything with very little in the way of response. But I do think some of the claims are so preposterous that they warrant a little response. Take a look!

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2016: LEED in (Reverse) Motion - Part 2

While the trend in US certifications of existing nonresidential buildings is up quite modestly the past three years, the numbers are still shockingly low: less than 700 projects certified annually since 2010. This number represents each year only slightly more than one in 10,000 (0.01%) of the 5.8 million US nonresidential buildings.

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2016: LEED in (Reverse) Motion - Part 1

In 2016 LEED use in US higher education projects fell precipitously, declining more than 50% from 2015 levels. Talking to one higher education facility manager last month, he indicated that while the campus was going to continue to build to green building standards embodied in LEED, he saw no benefit to further certifications on future construction projects. He also said it had become a "hard sell" to campus administrators. So in one sense, LEED has succeeded in having its standards used; in another sense, it has failed to communicate enough value for the cost to get campus officials to use it.

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What is a Zero Net Energy Building?

Everyone's talking about zero net energy buildings as the next frontier in green building. But what does "zero" really mean? What about retrofits - is it even possible to renovate existing buildings to be "Zero Net" energy? For example, Alphabet/Google reports that in 2017 they will be a zero net energy/100% renewable energy company, for all of their buildings and data centers, using purchased green power. But shouldn't we hold them to a more stringent definition.

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