It's tempting to write of a diminished green building future after the presidential election, with a reduced focus on climate change and a reset by the US Government in implementing the global warming accord. But with a Congress and White House both held by Republicans, it's clear that the action on responding to climate change now shifts to the state and local levels of government. More importantly, the strong corporate and institutional support for sustainability and for green building is not going to go away, but only to strengthen.
There are still 16 large (and small) states led by Democratic governors and hundreds of urban mayors who will continue to work on climate action plans, implement green building policies, push for disclosure of energy use from commercial buildings, build and own solar and wind power systems, etc. Perhaps for the next four years it's time to shift our focus to acting where we live and making our communities stronger and more resilient in the face of climate change and to reduce our focus on having some far-off government agency or Presidential administration do the job for us.
When preparing my book, Reinventing Green Building, I read the 2014 book, Smaller, Faster, Lighter, Denser, Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong, by Robert Bryce. While you don't have to agree with everything he says, you will be impressed with the depth of research he undertook to understand how multiple technological and economic changes are making obsolete most of our current energy technologies, building management systems, and even most current approaches to climate change.
Economics trumps policy and politics in the long run and often also in the short run. For example, ethanol and biofuels represent stupid policies and dumb economics from the 1980s that only politics have kept alive for the past 10 years. It's hard to see them lasting another 10 years. But solar and wind power have now achieved grid-parity economics, and the entrenchment of state-level and local-level renewable portfolio standards will ensure their growth in the years ahead.
The same holds true with green building and sustainable development: green buildings have proven their economic value in the world of commercial real estate, regardless of the costs of stupid certification programs. As we start to move toward more technologically-based certification programs, as I outlined in Reinventing Green Building and as affirmed even by the USGBC with the announced bundling of a software platform, arc, with every LEEDv4 project, we will see the costs of certification coming down and benefits increasing, as long as we don't cling to the unintelligent approaches developed during the last years of the Bill Clinton presidency and basically unchanged since then.
My proposal for focusing only on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of sustainability, with a laser focus on climate change, carbon emissions and energy use, and moving away from "hands-on" project-by-project, credit-by-credit review of green building projects is the way to move forward to get half of all existing buildings certified green by 2025.
The Presidential election results make it clear that those who care about climate change need to start thinking differently, get more informed about technology options, and begin acting locally to make a difference. I hope that you will read my book Reinventing Green Building and use the information, data and arguments in that book as a way to stimulate your own thinking about new directions for positive change.