Five Scenarios for the Future of Green Building

Scenario building is a well-established approach to dealing with the future, as I describe in the final chapter of Reinventing Green Building. Considering new ways to develop and analyze alternative near-term futures, I will put forward five basic scenarios for green building’s future. After reading this chapter, you may be moved to come up with your own scenarios for further analysis.

Five Scenarios for the Future of Green Building Rating & Certification

Five Scenarios for the Future of Green Building Rating & Certification

Five Scenarios

  1. Business as Usual. In this scenario, nothing much changes. USGBC decides to go with LEEDv4 (perhaps with incremental changes) and ignore the naysayers. This is currently the most likely scenario. However, the analyses in this book and thousands of professionals’ practical experience say that it won’t generate measurable gains, let alone massive transformation. In this scenario, other rating systems continue to compete with LEED for market share in the nonresidential market. The residential market continues to show a preference for multiple green home rating systems, with LEED making up 25 percent, the somewhat weaker NGBS (from the National Association of Home Builders) 25 percent, and the balance divided among regional systems at varying levels of rigor and results. In this scenario, the LEED label in the residential market would continue to represent only one “best in class” view, primarily for the multifamily market.
  2. Reform—An Internal Revolution (Revolt) at USGBC to Adopt the BREEAM Model. In this scenario, USGBC decides to stick with LEEDv4 or some more realistic, slimmed-down rating system, but dramatically reforms both the content and delivery model. It decides to quit relying on “more than 300 full-time GBCI technical experts and consultants” and move toward the BREEAM model of independent assessors who can deliver a valid independent certification at a total cost 50 to 90 percent below today’s costs. In this scenario, USGBC also creates a separate system to address cost/complexity issues and creates a new brand that addresses especially those market segments that have resisted going “all in” for LEED.
  3. Internet 3.0—An Entirely New Approach that Focuses on Great User Experience. In this scenario, the focus is on the user experience, and the system lets users contribute to a significant degree to developing credits and certification protocols. To get this done, a major organization, one without USGBC’s institutional inertia, would need to deliver a technologically-enabled product development and delivery model, one that works on a smartphone and sits on a cloud-based platform. (Google/Alphabet may be a logical candidate for this assignment.) This scenario incorporates Key Performance Indicators for sustainability and lets users assess energy use, water use, waste recycling, purchasing and Scope 3 carbon emissions on a platform that easily enables third-party app developers to create ratings for each building industry segment.
  4. Save the Planet—Net Zero Carbon. In our fourth scenario, we abandon all efforts to load up green building’s definition with anything other than reducing buildings’ carbon impact; we reconstruct all rating systems to reflect the carbon life-cycle, in direct energy use and indirect use in transportation, building services and building products, using Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) analyses for building materials, water use, etc. The system would consider Scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon emissions, along with “Scope 4” carbon emissions that include life-cycle carbon impacts stemming from all sources related to building construction and operations.
  5. Easy Entry—Reward Continuous Improvement. There should be a place to recognize committed and prolonged efforts (especially by government agencies and large institutions) to deliver annual improvements that cumulatively, over a 10-year period, create meaningful total reductions in carbon emissions, without requiring participants to meet minimum performance standards. Like the mythical Hotel California, you could check in easily, but once you made a public commitment there would be no way to check out, to return to your old way of doing business.

These are my five scenarios - there are of course many more possibilities. What do you think/recommend/envision?