By JERRY YUDELSON, PE, MS, MBA, LEED FELLOW—“Godfather of Green” (WIRED Magazine), Sustainability Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Author of 14 Books on Green Building and Related Topics

In my latest book, “Reinventing Green Building: Why Certification Systems Aren’t Working and What We Can Do About It,” I identify 10 megatrends I believe will shape green-building technologies, markets, government rules, and certification systems through 2020 and beyond. The thing about a megatrend is it can’t be wished away; it’s here to stay. The question is how will we take advantage of it.

Incidentally, I don’t think the election of Donald Trump will in any way disturb these trends.

Green-Building-Certification Growth Has Stopped

Since 2012, the United States has experienced a slowdown in green-building certification. As a result, projects outside the United States now make up nearly 35 percent of annual total LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifications. New and more costly requirements for using LEED v4 indicate nothing is going to change this picture.

At the end of 2015, total U.S. LEED-certified space remained abysmally low: about 3.4 billion sq ft, or about 4 percent of the 86-billion-sq-ft total area of existing commercial buildings. This doesn’t mean important elements of sustainable design are being ignored; it just means certification as a practice is falling by the wayside.

Carbon Reduction From Energy Efficiency Is Moving to the Fore

Opportunities in energy efficiency remain significant, with most concentrated in just 25 percent of the building stock, according to FirstFuel Software Inc. A cost-effective approach to upgrading existing buildings should first attempt to take advantage of this concentration. For example, over the past few years, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) audited 180 buildings remotely using FirstFuel software and identified more than $13 million in annual savings.

Zero-Net-Energy Buildings Are Drawing Greater Interest

To be newsworthy, a project needs to incorporate something new. Increasingly, that something new is zero net energy (ZNE). Developers of speculative commercial buildings have begun to showcase ZNE designs to differentiate their projects. This trend has been developing slowly since about 2011 and now seems ready for more rapid growth. Of course, the key to net zero is first to get building energy demand as low as possible—below an estimated energy-use intensity of 30 on most new-building projects.

Competition Among Rating Systems Is Intensifying

In the United States, LEED may see heightened competition in new-construction rating from Green Globes and possibly new entrants in specialized niches, such as retail and office interiors. In 2016, the federal government once again put LEED and Green Globes on equal footing for government projects, while the BREEAM In-Use rating system emerged as a competitor to LEED for existing buildings. The biggest competitor for certification systems, however, is the DIY (do-it-yourself) approach favored by many owners or the “LEED-certifiable” approach, whereby LEED is used for design and operations guidance, but certification is not pursued.

Building Owners Are Sharpening Their Focus on Efficiency Gains

With new-construction certification basically flat, the existing-building market is getting more attention, particularly with energy-efficiency retrofits and a renewed focus on the ENERGY STAR system. However, LEED for Existing Buildings: Operation & Maintenance (EBOM) accounted for fewer than 600 building certifications—about 0.01 percent of the total U.S. nonresidential-building stock of 5.6 million buildings—in 2015. This means that as more owners of existing buildings implement energy-efficiency retrofits, they are quite likely to pass on LEED EBOM certification.

Cloud Computing and Big-Data Analytics Are Growing in Power and Application

Increasingly, building owners and third-party service companies are managing large buildings remotely, using software platforms providing performance monitoring, data analytics, visualization, fault detection and diagnostics, portfolio energy management, and text messaging, all using the cloud.

Cities and States Are Demanding Building-Performance Disclosure

Major U.S. cities are on board with climate-change policies stemming from the U.N. climate agreement that went into effect in 2016. That the Trump administration may withdraw the United States as a signatory will not affect actions many cities and states plan to take. Among those actions is requiring commercial-building owners to disclose building performance to tenants, buyers, and, in some cases, the public. Expect this to become increasingly common, putting pressure on owners to invest in energy-efficiency retrofits and renovations.

Interest in Healthy Buildings and Green-Building Products Is Increasing

There is little doubt interest in healthy buildings and green-building products will continue to rise. The move of U.S. Green Building Council founding chair Rick Fedrizzi to the International WELL Building Institute puts a top green-building salesman in front of this movement. Software from companies such as ecomedes and Sustainable Minds makes it easy to sort through and select from thousands of building products.

Solar Power Has Gone Mainstream

A number of states are expected to implement aggressive renewable-portfolio standards. Solar accounts for an increasing percentage of new electric-capacity additions each year, reaching 26 percent in the first half of 2016. Solar has the potential to radically alter how buildings are designed, built, and operated over the next five to 10 years.

Water Conservation Continues to Gather Steam

Awareness of the coming crisis in fresh-water supply in many parts of the world will increase, as global climate change continues to affect rainfall and water-supply systems worldwide. The 2014-2016 drought in California, which saw more than 70 percent of the state experience extreme drought conditions and led to a 25-percent reduction in water use, brought national attention to water concerns.

 

These 10 megatrends will accelerate the proliferation of low-carbon green buildings, the adoption of renewable energy in buildings, and the promotion of water-conserving architectural design over the next 10 years.