Green Building Megatrends: Part 3

THE FUTURE OF GREEN BUILDING: Top 10 Megatrends—Part 3


In my forthcoming book, Reinventing Green Building (RGB), I identify 10 megatrends that I believe will shape green building technologies, markets, government rules and certification systems through 2020 and beyond. The first post discussed the overall concept of megatrends and identified the first two, while the second post continued through the energy megatrends. Here are the final four.

Megatrend #7: Cities and states will demand building performance disclosure.

Since the 2007 adoption of the Architecture 2030 standard—which encourages existing buildings to cut energy use 50% compared with 2005 levels, and all new buildings to be net zero by 2030—and the introduction of the first “2030 District” in Seattle in 2010, group efforts to cut carbon emissions and encourage voluntary performance disclosure has emerged as a major trend in the U.S. Ten U.S. cities had functioning 2030 Districts by mid-2015. Both initiatives capitalize on concerns over climate change and incorporate measures of transparency favored by many government agencies.

In the U.S., this trend is highlighted by more than 30 large and medium-sized cities requiring—not just “encouraging”—commercial building owners to disclose actual green building performance to tenants, buyers, and, in some cases, the public. By mid-2015, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., had such ordinances.

This trend will spread rapidly as the easiest way to monitor reductions in carbon emissions from commercial and government-owned buildings. It will put pressure on owners to invest in energy-efficiency retrofits and renovations.

Megatrend #8: Debate over what constitutes healthy building materials will become even more vexatious.

There is little doubt that the debate about healthy building products, the value of environmental product declarations and health product declarations, and the composition of various “red lists” of chemicals of concern that designers should avoid in building products will doubtless expand and grow more contentious.

The problem with EPDs and HPDs is that there are few accepted national consensus standards for determining the information that should be in an EPD or HPD and how that information should be verified.

Nonetheless, it’s easy to predict that building product manufacturers will try harder and harder to compete for market share based on disclosure of various chemicals of concern. A June 2015 report by Building Green News found 1,852 HPDs available from 698 brands.

It’s also easy to foresee that industry-developed disclosure systems will compete with “verified” EPDs offered by independent rating organizations. This could lead to massive market confusion for product specifiers, who must choose between proven products that they know from experience are appropriate for a given use, and newer products that claim to be healthier because they meet certain criteria from one or more rating organizations.

Megatrend #9: Solar power will finally break through.

Solar use in buildings will continue to grow, primarily because a number of U. S. states are expected to implement aggressive renewable portfolio standards (RPS), even as the whole country moves toward zero-net-energy buildings

In mid-2015, 37 states, among them California, New York, and Texas, had some form of renewable portfolio standard, mandating a percent of total electric generation from renewables. California’s RPS is the most aggressive. It mandates one-third of total electric generation to come from renewables by 2020.

New tools will further encourage building owners to use solar power. Google’s new Project Sunroof, announced in August, combines aerial 3D models from Google Maps, historical weather data, utility prices, and the value of local incentives. From this information, anyone will be able to readily assess whether covering a rooftop with PVs would result in energy cost savings.

Solar power has one advantage over other forms of energy efficiency. It is highly visible. Photovoltaics on the roof of a building demonstrate to employees, customers, and the public that a firm or institution is committed to renewable energy and a greener future.

Of all the green building megatrends discussed here, solar power growth is the only one that is truly revolutionary and likely to radically alter how buildings are designed, built, and operated in the next 10 years. 

Megatrend #10: Expect heightened emphasis on water conservation.

Awareness of the coming crisis in fresh water supply in many regions of the world will increase as global climate change continues to affect rainfall and water supply systems worldwide. The 2014–2015 drought in California, with more than 70% of the state in extreme drought by summer 2015, brought water concerns to national attention.

Heightened concern about the impact of future droughts on water supply and cost is prompting many building designers, owners, and managers to consider ways to further reduce water consumption in buildings by using more water-conserving fixtures, installing rainwater and graywater recovery systems, planting native and adapted vegetation in place of lawns or ornamentals, investing in more efficient cooling towers, and other innovative approaches to reducing onsite water use. Case studies in my 2011 book, Dry Run: Preventing the Next Urban Water Crisis, show how this is being done in Germany, Australia, and other countries.