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Top Ten Green Building Trends In 2012

Jerry Yudelson is about as green as they come. In his more than 25 years of work in sustainability, he has been a member of the U.S. Green Building Council’s board of directors, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) national faculty member, and is the co-founder and director of the Green Building Service consulting unit at Portland General Electric. Last year, Wired magazine dubbed him “the godfather of green.”

So what does the industry insider have to say about where things are going? “The construction industry is going to have modest growth this year,” Yudelson said Tuesday in a webinar on GreenExpo365. “It seems that most people have figured out that the sky isn’t going to fall in and they are going to get back to doing business … but with an emphasis on what I call ‘frugal green.’

“In the past there was a feeling that you could spend money to add green features. I think today the real challenge for construction and design professionals is ‘How do I do this on the same budget?’ and I think that’s the core trend.”

Yudelson unveiled a list of 10 other green megatrends destined for growth in 2012, both in the U.S. and abroad. And while, like the rest of the homebuilding industry, green building will certainly face headwinds in coming days — such as squeezed budgets among families and governments — the market is poised for growth, he says. “You make money if you go green. If you don’t go green, you’re at a marketplace disadvantage.”

U.S. Ten Green Megatrends for 2012

1. Green building growth to rebound

LEED project growth was slow in 2011, only gaining 3 percent for the year. But while LEED certification on new projects may take longer to gain much steam, the program’s retrofitting arm, LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (LEED-EBOM), is quickly gaining traction.

EBOM project registrations were up 18 percent last year, and the EBOM project area exceeded the cumulative LEED-NC (New Construction) area for the first time, with 675 million square feet of EBOM vs. 649 million square feet of NC.

“That trend will continue this year,” Yudelson says, as more property owners realize that retrofitting to LEED standards is fairly painless when starting with a building that is already Energy Star-rated.

2. Federal momentum has slowed

The Department of Defense recently stipulated that projects can’t spend any extra money on energy program certification, and while “that’s not necessarily a killer,” Yudelson says, “it is an indication that there is some backlash for spending extra money on anything.”

Getting federal funding for green projects will be harder going forward, he says, especially given the recent Solandra scandal and the federal budget crunch. But while state and local governments aren’t faring much better, that’s where the action will be, he says, as existing buildings will need to be upgraded, projects in the pipeline will move forward, and schools — which are funded by bonds — will need to be built.

3. LEED-EBOM will gain momentum

“We’re going to see this move to other sectors,” he says, particularly among hotels with strong convention and meeting businesses who want to be able to market their eco-friendliness. Grocery stores, hospitals and retail centers are moving in the same direction, with features such as solar panels on top of Wal-Marts or department stores.

“Last month, President Obama and former President Clinton announced the Better Buildings Initiative. It’s only $4 billion, so it’s not huge. But still, this is stuff that moves markets. When you have two presidents pushing something, it does get people’s attention. More and more building owners are realizing that they don’t want to be late to the party.”

4. Water issues grow in importance

“Even the water-wet areas have water problems brought on by infrastructure problems and population growth,” Yudelson says. “Florida doesn’t have a place for a reservoir in the entire state, so even if you have a slight drought, you have big problems.”

He predicts rainwater capture systems, as well as gray water and black water on-site treatment capabilities, will become more pervasive. “Instead of toilet to tap, we’re going toilet to toilet.”

5. Zero-net-energy to gain traction

“Zero-net-energy needs to be in your future,” Yudelson says, adding that it works best on two- to four-story buildings that use only between 30,000 and 35,000 British thermal units per square foot per year.

“If you do a good job with integrated design, you can reach that (thermal units) goal,” he says, adding that getting to net-zero should add only between 3 percent and 5 percent to building costs.
Global Trends

6. Green building movement will continue to grow

There are now more than 90 national Green Building Councils throughout the world, and LEED projects have been registered in 161 countries, Yudelson says. Last year, 44 percent of total LEED registrations were outside the U.S.

“This is a movement that you have to pay attention to,” he says, adding that the “Big Three” energy rating systems — LEED, BREEAM and Green Star — are already converging toward common carbon metrics and common rating concerns.

7. Performance disclosure

Already popular in the European Union and Australia, requirements for buildings to disclose their energy use are gaining traction in the U.S. Beginning April 1, Seattle will require buildings of more than 10,000 square feet to disclose energy usage, and California will begin requiring disclosures starting next year, which Yudelson says will have a market impact, as prospective tenants will be able to compare what their energy costs will be between buildings.

“This is going to happen everywhere, particularly in big cities, because it’s the easiest move to take politically. It doesn’t say you have to retrofit the building. It just says you have to disclose,” he says.

8. Global carbon ratings

Carbon ratings that remain standard across countries are of particular interest to global property management companies. “If your company is committed to sustainability, you’re going to have to report this,” he says.

It’s also an issue for property investments tied to pension funds. “Anyone that has sustainable interests and wants access to capital will have to deal with this,” he says.

9. Solar power stalls

“Solar power is kind of slowing down,” mostly due to the costs involved, Yudelson says, adding that the focus is shifting instead to energy efficiency. “Solar is still happening. Lots of people like solar … because it’s visible and people want to see something for their money.”

However, for those building new construction today, he suggests that the most responsible move would be to make it “PV ready,” so that as solar becomes more cost-effective it will be cheap and easy to install.

10. Building management goes into the cloud

As buildings get more complex, Yudelson says, “we’re seeing the need for software that allows us to manage buildings out of the cloud.” Thanks to wireless sensors and controls, it’s getting increasingly easier to better direct building managers and maintenance people to locate and fix problems, and to do so remotely.