Watch for These Trends in Sustainability

The green building movement has changed. There’s an ongoing focus on energy efficiency and green building certification and more recent emerging trends around water, health and wellness, productivity, and resilience. Here’s my take on the most interesting 2016 sustainability trends.

Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency remains the biggest factor in assessing a building’s performance. Energy codes are becoming stricter and driving the market toward energy-efficient and passive energy systems. The growth of the passive house (PH) movement is of great interest. The PH movement came from Europe and is known for a particular style of building that encourages super-insulating walls, among other requirements, and has been shown to contribute to a significant reduction in energy consumption for heating and cooling. The movement is big in Europe and while it required updating to work for the majority of climate zones in the U.S., we are predicting a great deal of interest in passive energy systems moving forward. Additionally, with the pace of retrofitting only increasing, this is a trend applicable to commercial structures as well as single-family residences.

Water Efficiency
Federal agencies and municipalities are increasing requirements for water efficient equipment. An EPA labeling program called WaterSense, which is similar to EnergyStar, has emerged and expanded options for the purchase and installation of EPA-approved low-flow water efficient fixtures and appliances. According to the EPA, if all households installed water-efficient fixtures and appliances, the country could save 3 trillion gallons of water. The shift is already underway with 30% of the nation’s population living in areas with laws or codes that require fixtures with flow rates at least equivalent to WaterSense.

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Many of these same cities have municipal requirements that require some building owners to report out energy and water use annually. Knowing where your market is on both energy and water efficiency will help you support your local builders and developers.

Healthy and Productive Buildings
It used to be the big buzz in green building came from a building achieving certification under Green Globes® or LEED®. This meant that a building’s design and construction addressed environmental objectives, including achieving energy and water efficiency, reducing impacts from building material choices, and creating indoor environments that are free from harmful emissions.

Buildings are being looked at in a bigger context today than ever before. Is the building designed and located to encourage ‘walkability’ or the ability to meet immediate needs without getting into a vehicle? Can employees (or residents or teachers) control the warmth or cooling levels of their workspaces? Is there proper soundproofing to help diminish distractions? Are the spaces optimized to support individual tasks as well as group interactions?

Suppliers aware that these questions are increasing in the building community can better support their customers as they explore innovative ways to create buildings that support health and productivity.

From “Green” to “Resilient”
Today, we’re hearing much more about the need to consider factors that will make a building more “resilient.” Addressing resilience is high on the list of concerns cited by leading federal agency representatives, state and local governments, and many private building owners. The prediction of increased frequency of high-impact regional climatic issues, e.g. Katrina, Irene, etc., is only one of the factors included as a concern. GBI is a signatory on an Industry Statement on Resilience, which defines resilience as “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.” In fact, on May 11, 2016, the White House sponsored a resilience focused discussion with leaders throughout government and the buildings and infrastructure communities.

It’s a strange new world, and we’re already seeing new rating system criteria that helps owners to consider issues of health, productivity, and resilience as well as the more traditional sustainability issues of energy and water efficiency.

In the meantime, GBI and Green Globes® are alive and well and we look forward to the opportunity to partner with those in the LBM community working to stay ahead of trends and improve the long-term sustainability of our nation’s built environment.