Green building is facing a number of changes, according to “The Godfather of Green,” Jerry Yudelson. A LEED fellow and former president of the Green Globes rating system, Yudelson has recently written a book, Reinventing Green Building, in which he identifies 10 "megatrends" he believes will impact certification systems, markets, government rules, and green building technologies through 2020 and beyond.
Those megatrends are as follows:
The growth rate of green building certification is slowing down
“Fundamentally, there is zero growth for certification in the US since 2011, including through 2015,” Yudelson said. “For existing buildings, the current certification rate for existing buildings is 0.05 per cent (that’s not a typo!) of the total commercial building stock each year. Residential certifications are even lower as a percentage of total units.”
Why has the rate of certification stagnated?
“The growth rate for certification is slowing down because all of the easy targets have adopted certification, e.g. large commercial offices in major cities, large universities, ‘progressive’ government agencies and large/global corporations,” Yudelson noted. “The bottom line is that existing certification schemes are too costly (by far) for the benefits they confer.”
The certification process has stalled without making much of a dent in improving the total stock of buildings.
“To date, LEED has certified fewer than one per cent of US nonresidential buildings (far less as a percentage of homes) by number and less than four per cent by area,” Yudelson said.
Energy efficiency leads the way
Energy-efficient green building retrofits have grown more robustly since 2012 than energy-efficient new construction. Yudelson points to corporate and commercial real estate, municipal, university, school, and hospital projects as the strongest part of this market. In addition, just 25 per cent of the building stock offers the most opportunities for increasing energy efficiency.
“The greatest opportunities for energy efficiency are in larger buildings, e.g. those with an Energy Star (US) score of 50-75, in other words, buildings that are reasonably efficient but not in the top 25 percent of all similar buildings,” he said.
Zero net energy buildings are on the rise
According to Yudelson, this trend results from some developers trying to differentiate their projects, such as speculative commercial buildings, and sometimes homes, from the competition. This trend has been growing since about 2011, and is poised to take off. However, this niche will remain small.
“ZNE buildings will NEVER be the majority,” Yudelson said, “and that’s OK. We can reach our carbon reduction goals (for buildings) by making existing buildings 50 per cent less energy using and new buildings 80 per cent-plus.”
Competition among green building rating systems will step up
As mentioned in the first point, the overall adoption rate of green building certifications has been dismal, and Yudelson calls for an alternative.
“We must cut costs for LEED, Green Star, BREEAM, etc. 90 per cent or more (especially for existing buildings) to get widespread adoption, and this is only possible by junking the entire current system and starting over with the goal of mass adoption,” he said.
A new rating system for existing buildings must be “smart, simple and sustainable,” with a focus solely on energy/carbon, water, waste, and sustainable purchasing. These elements, Yudelson said, “can easily be measured from vendor invoices and put on a cloud platform (like Australia’s Switch Automation), displayed, visualized, analyzed, normalized, compared with goals, and reported on without a person having to gather and interpret data.”
Look for a sharper focus on existing buildings
As new construction certification in the US has been basically flat since about 2011, existing buildings are getting more attention. Energy-efficiency retrofits, in particular, are becoming more popular.
“I do think energy issues are getting more focus now, because people realize that aiming at ‘full frontal green’ for buildings doesn’t make much sense if we don’t handle the global climate change issue first,” Yudelson said.
Cloud computing/big data will provide much-needed direction
Technology and the cloud are enabling much greater use of building automation, energy dashboards, cheap sensors, wireless controls, and building services information management. More government regulations, along with incentives for cutting energy use, will further this trend.
Cities and states will demand building performance disclosure
“We allow too many buildings to be certified at high levels without demanding (and documenting) ‘world class’ energy performance,” Yudelson said.
Performance disclosure appears to be the easiest way to monitor the performance of commercial and government buildings in reducing carbon emissions. Australia’s NABERS energy-rating system has required disclosure in commercial real estate transactions since 2010.
Currently, few buildings are tested after construction to verify their performance.
“We simply don’t know how our certified green buildings are performing as a whole, and therefore we may very well be building a ‘house of cards’ with certification, one that will collapse upon us, particularly as soon as building disclosures get more routine,” Yudelson noted.
More than 30 large and medium-sized US cities have mandated such disclosure, but the process is not easy.
“In the US, cities such as San Francisco, Washington DC, Seattle and a few others are handling building disclosure well, but this is a very tough program to promote politically, because the ‘pain’ of change is concentrated and the benefits are very diffuse, which by definition is always a tough political problem,” Yudelson said.
The debate over healthy materials will become even more vexatious
According to Yudelson, the battle over healthy products will intensify. Independent rating systems will face competition from industry-developed rating systems, leading to confusion for product specifiers.
Solar power will break through
In the US, 37 states now have a “renewable portfolio standard” mandating that a percentage of electricity be produced from renewable sources. That boosts the adoption of solar power, which will fall 50 per cent in price over the next 25 years, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET) was recently reduced from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh. According to the Clean Energy Council, the mandate will spark 30 to 50 major projects in the next five years to meet the 2020 deadline, creating more than 15,000 jobs and $40 billion in investment.
Expect heightened emphasis on water conservation
Building designers, owners, and managers, concerned over future droughts and the cost of water, are employing a host of techniques to reduce on-site water use. Rainwater and graywater recovery systems, water-conserving fixtures, and replacing lawns and inappropriate plants with native and drought-adapted vegetation will all grow more necessary.