Sustainability: Yesterday Versus Tomorrow
Sustainability leaders share post-COVID-19 transformation, powerful innovations, and how companies are becoming more socially responsible. Get the answers
Sustainability: Yesterday Versus Tomorrow
The sustainability movement has been accelerating rapidly over the past decade and continues to evolve, as public awareness of global warming and the circular economy has grown.
The focus on the design and development of building products, the creation of new solutions from architects, developers, and community planners, and collaborations between corporations, consultants, manufacturers, and policymakers have resulted in breakthrough innovations. Technology has enabled communities and countries to share results, eliminate waste, and track the effectiveness of LEED adoption and energy-saving solutions.
Today’s business leaders are stepping up to solve problems, partnering with sustainability leaders, and bringing competencies in-house. Consumers are more aware than ever of where they live, work, and shop. Fueling the greenbuilding movement today and tomorrow are the realities of COVID-19 and the need for decision-makers to create safer and healthier environments for humans.
We reached out to the movers and shakers of the green building movement and gathered their perspectives on where the world is heading over the next decade. This report includes their insights and predictions.
Written by Nancy A. Shenker, CEO, Innovator & Brand Storyteller, theONswitch
A Brief History of Sustainable Building
A Brief History of Sustainable Building
Green building is hardly a new concept. The sustainability movement emerged in the 1960s and has evolved from a grassroots effort to a global imperative. LEED building was first introduced in 2000 and has been growing steadily since then.
Over the past 20 years, green business has gone mainstream. A diverse range of consumers, businesses, advocates, and policymakers have contributed to the growth of environments -- structures, infrastructures, design concepts, technologies, and communities -- that minimize waste and ensure the health and prosperity of the people who live and work in them.
The green economy has the potential to become an equalizer. Neighborhoods of all sizes and demographic compositions can unite in one common mission -- preserving the planet. Sustainable building creates jobs, which grows local economies. This powerful interview with George Bandy Jr., Global Leader for CSR & Sustainability, delves into the role of green building in social responsibility.
A Sustainability Timeline
Pre-2000: A fragmented concept
- US Green Building Council (USGBC) formed in 1993
- EPA launched ENERGY STAR program
- BREEAM, the UK LEED equivalent was established
2000’s: The Formative Years
- LEED standards established in U.S.
- First-ever Greenbuild Conference
- Architects, developers & manufacturers get on board
2020 & Beyond: The Circular Economy Becomes Mainstream
- Global focus on the environment
- Technology enables data sharing and automated solutions
- COVID-19 spurs new concerns about health
The term “future-proofing” first came into use in 2007. Originally applied to technology security, it was embraced rapidly by the sustainability community. Natural disasters and the damage to the planet caused by irresponsible human decision-making prompted the building industry to look at how the choices they make can result in irreparable damage to individuals, neighborhoods, and the planet. Today (and tomorrow) everyone involved in the design, development, and building process is held to a higher standard.
Now we recognize that sustainability is more holistic and we are talking about social responsibility, social justice, equality, diversity, philanthropy, health and wellness, and climate change.” - Jennifer Taranto, Director of Sustainability, Structure Tone
Change across the board can’t happen without diverse representation in positions of power and influence. Social inclusion on a large scale is necessary if this change is going to be sufficiently accelerated.” - George Bandy, Global Leader for CSR and Sustainability
We reached out to professionals who are changing the trajectory of green building and sustainability. This “green dream team” represents a broad and diverse cross-section of sustainability and business leaders, including architecture, manufacturing, design, consulting, and real estate.
They spoke to us about the post-COVID-19 transformation, how innovation will need powerful new solutions, and how companies and brands are expanding their knowledge and commitment to social responsibility.
Key Themes for the Future of Sustainability
- The need for true collaboration and sharing of best practices across industries
- Automation as a lever in creating solutions and in data reporting
- An expanded role of socially-responsible corporations in facilitating change and innovation
- Emphasis on health and well-being of individuals and communities in the post-COVID-19 environment
- The ongoing need to track and report the short- and long-term financial benefits of sustainable building
Powerful Insights for the Next Decade
Along with the continued move toward collaboration, I am excited to see the impact institutional investors can have on effecting change. I look forward to the changes future generations will dream up that are unimaginable today.” - Todd Sims, Director of Sustainability, American Chemistry Council
“There will be a huge focus on people and the impacts of all actions that affect people’s lives, quality, accessibility, equality, health, etc.….We will see a major shift in how all stakeholders approach corporate sustainability. In the long-term, there really needs to be a better plan for infrastructure in cities and overall public transportation.” - Rami Vagal, Senior Manager of Sustainability, Mohawk Industries
In 10 years, I believe we will improve reporting and move the needle on social impact. There is no better time to redesign the new normal.” - Lisa Conway, VP of Sustainability, Interface
“Solar photovoltaic technology, battery storage, and the use of electric vehicles will be at the forefront of commercial energy storage. National energy codes and local state financial incentives will recognize and mandate the implementation of solar-ready infrastructure and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.” - Farah Ahmad, Architect, Sustainable Design
“In three years, automated sustainability will take hold as the wave of IoT (Internet of Things) and 5G spread across the nation. I expect to see many smart devices that help homeowners and building operators monitor electricity, water use, and potentially trash and recycling volumes. Automation will pave the way towards inherent building sustainability. Within 10 years, I expect to see huge strides towards carbon neutrality nationwide. The major changes will be around energy use rates and grid mix transactions to renewables. I would also expect a higher responsibility of action placed on major manufacturers.” - Maria Agazio, Sustainability and Energy Efficiency Lead, Motili
In the short-term, I think environmental sustainability will take a back seat to health and wellness in the built environment. I think we’ll see larger strides in the electrification of buildings, renewable energy, and energy efficiency as more new buildings move toward net zero goals and have carbon neutrality goals.” - Jennifer Taranto, Director of Sustainability, Structure Tone
“We’ll see materials advances – especially nanotechnology based advances in areas like insulation and super windows. 3D printing will be applied to affordable housing using sustainable materials and reducing construction times. AI tools will lead to the expansion of generative design and integrative design.” - Roger Duncan, Author, former Research Fellow at the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, and former General Manager of Austin Energy. Co-author with Michael E. Webber of the upcoming book, The Future of Buildings, Transportation and Power (August 2020)
There will be an increasing focus on understanding physical climate risk, and disclosing that financial impact to investors.” - Sara Neff, SVP Sustainability, Kilroy Realty Corporation
“In the near future, sustainability will be better focused on our independence and interconnectedness. Stakeholders are starting to align their contributions to the broader interrelated system to achieve better results. An excellent example is how utilities, solar companies, and builders all impact the sustainability and monthly cost of buildings -- the largest segment of energy consumption globally...Sustainable energy doesn’t result unless these separate groups coordinate the results and support each other’s initiatives.” - C.R. Herro, VP of Innovation, Meritage Homes
How Will COVID-19 Shape the Future?
Working from home has become the “new normal” for many businesses. As people return to offices, social distancing and healthier workplaces are imperative. Attracting and retaining the best employees is no longer just a function of corporate culture but also the environments in which they work.
Air and water quality and ventilation, building systems that encourage social distancing, and other solutions will continue to evolve. The willingness of many companies to allow employees to work remotely will ultimately have an impact on air quality, as commuters establish new at-home routines.
“The CDC now wants us to highly increase building energy use through ventilating in off-hours, turning off demand-controlled ventilation, etc. Spaces will need to accommodate both collaborating and social distance.” - Neff, Kilroy Realty
COVID-19 has reframed the way we think about building use and occupation comfort. The conversation also includes efficiency upgrades because many new HVAC systems allow for several accessories, like UV sanitizing lights.” - Agazio, Motili
“We’ll see automated technology that seamlessly integrates into our workspaces -- like automated doorways and fixtures. A phased reduction in density will be evident via people and spaces.” - Ahmad, Sustainable Architect
While we use floor design for aesthetics, branding, and wayfinding, it will also become more prominent in terms of safety -- especially to provide visual cues to keep occupants connected but at a safe distance.” - Conway, Interface
“I believe that the circular economy will ebb and flow, based on needs and demands...the innovative mindset of the new entrepreneur will help accelerate the movement and steer it in a great direction.” - George Bandy, Global Leader for CSR and Sustainability
I’ve become more cognizant of the need to design and build for the challenges of the next decades...not just today.” - Sims, American Chemistry Council
What Will Sustainable Communities Look Like?
Over the past decade, more emphasis has been placed on the connection between sustainable development and health and well-being (financial and personal) of communities, cities, and states. From structures to transportation systems, government leaders are being held to task on how and where they are creating more sustainable regions.
The ideal community of the future is one where all of us -- real estate investors, ratings agencies, utilities, tenants, janitors, engineers, and everyone else is laser-focused on reducing climate change impacts.” - Neff, Kilroy Realty
“Buildings will fully harvest local energy flows. Intelligent buildings will be responsive to environmental changes and we’ll see a convergence of buildings with transportation and power sectors.” - Duncan, Author
“This community will transcend traditional political, demographic, and classical boundaries to ensure an inclusive perspective is taken when creating housing and workspaces, so that all humans, animals, ecosystems, and biospheres are bettered.” - Agazio, Motili
Choose handprints over footprints...think about the social impact of decisions and make climate change relevant to people who may not know how they can make change, starting in childhood.” - Bandy, CSR and Sustainability Leader
Cities and states should be designed in a manner that economic opportunities, access to resources, and educational institutions are planned within walking/biking distances or accessible by public transportation.” - Vagal, Mohawk
People would overwhelmingly believe in science and act based on facts, not misinformation. Furthermore, we would all be accountable; people would understand the consequences of their actions, big or small.” - Taranto, Structure Tone
With all due respect to Elon Musk, I’d prefer the community of the future to be right here on Earth rather than Mars. For now, we have one planet and we’ve got to take better care of it.” - Sims, American Chemistry Council
Leading the Sustainability Movement
Transformation and accountability require leadership and innovation. Product and service innovations will only be adopted if the people involved in the sustainability movement are committed, credible, engaging, and collaborative.
The green building community is unique in that collaboration is in our DNA. Sustainable living is only possible if corporate leaders, policymakers, designers, developers, and manufacturers are bought into the mission. We asked our experts who will shape our green building future.
The leaders in sustainability will be design engineers and municipal planners who embed sustainability in the function of products and cities to promote quality of life and also systematically remove waste that has been historically embedded into the daily activities of our communities.” - Herro, Meritage Homes
“Social media disruptors (like Greta Thunberg), product disruptors, and industry disruptors will all play a role. The common thread is authenticity. People want to connect with the individuals, brands, and leaders that offer honesty and transparency.” - Conway, Interface
10 Attributes of the Sustainability Leader of Tomorrow
- Open to Innovation
- Committed to Cultural and Community Change
- Curious and Engaged
“Architects, industry trade associations, the construction industry, regulators and policymakers, and educational institutions will all play a role in leadership. Manufacturers and technology leaders, as well as start-up organizations, will innovate.” - Vagal, Mohawk
Leadership and innovations will come from corporations and brands. The federal government and many municipalities move too slowly and even backward in some cases.” - Taranto, Structure Tone
Consulting and engineering groups will be the major leaders...they provide concentrated expertise that gives tremendous value to the general public. They can assist businesses in transitioning their operations to a reduced environmental impact, without requiring owners to form their own teams of experts to solve issues from within.” - Agazio, Motili
Generation Z will raise the bar on the expectations of companies. They will choose to do business with companies that are ‘raising the bar’ on sustainability.” - Bandy, CSR and Sustainability Leader
Everyone can lead. We need to reach a point where individuals’ actions are inherently leading to sustainability in every facet.” - Sims, American Chemistry Council
Tomorrow Starts Now: What You Can Do
Although we’ve seen tremendous progress over the past decades, we can't wait another 10 years to make the change we need. Here's what you can do right now:
Collaborate with other green building professionals. Build a team that offers integrated solutions and freely shares their expertise and solutions.
Track, measure & communicate successes within and outside your organization. Reliable and comprehensive data can help you build a case for sustainable building and development.
Stay engaged in the Greenbuild community. Through our insight-packed Greenbuild 2020 Virtual Experience and year-round webinars, you’ll have access to world-class thought leaders around-the-clock from wherever you are.
Need to anticipate, respond to and develop the sustainability work moving our industry forward?
Visit the Greenbuild website to learn more about our Greenbuild Virtual Experience this fall where we cover all the insights you need to succeed.
Add your voice to the green building & sustainability community. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thought leadership for our webinars, podcasts and white paper.
Stay connected with us to continue this conversation. Join our social media community of more than 75,000 greenbuilding and sustainability professionals!