Five Green Trends to Watch in 2008


Happy New Year!  This year is unlike any in the history of our country.  We’re seeing this crazy whirlwind of issues coming together.  The economy is entering a slight lull and the average American is losing width in the real estate pocketbook.  The next presidential election is on the cusp and we’re seeing indicators of a brewing culture war.  And to add to that, the topic of climate change is everywhere.  The sister topic of pollution pops up fairly frequently also.  So with this backdrop, I’ve been thinking about the green movement and what’s in store for next year.  Here’s what I think:

Green Rehabs
This one is pretty obvious, I think.  With new house permits down and sales going slow, real estate transactions will involve already built structures.  People with money will meet their needs with existing stock.  And with a slew of green products in the market (or well on the way), green renovators will use  (or have the option to use) eco-friendly materials in lieu of non-green materials.  People will want to do this, too, what with all the attention the media gives to the environment.  Let’s look for people to do more with what we have already.  We may even see some cool examples of adaptive reuse. 

Affordable Green
Similar to the first trend is the notion that green needs to be affordable.  Again, the economy will be a little slow and people won’t be able to tap the negative equity of their homes.  Nevertheless, people are cognizant of the environment and will look for affordable ways to live/work comfortably.  Everywhere you go, the conversation is the environment.  Regardless of the economic demographic, rich or poor, everyone will make important changes.  Executive jets can be expensive because rich people buy them (money is no object), but green stuff is different.  Watch for people in the lower economic bracket to scream for more affordable, meaningful, eco-friendly products. 

Green Skepticism

We’ve seen a lot of this with greenwashing talk in the second half of 2007, but watch for this to heat up.  Consumers are getting tired of hearing their favorite celebrity say something like "if every person would change just one light bulb…"  People are smarter now.  They will force businesses to quit dumbing down the message.  People want all the information.  And businesses that are looking for a green angle should be wary.  There is no green angle. 

LEED Criticism

Everyone is doing it, as if it’s the new black.  Look for this to elevate and continue.  Higher profile, relevant individuals will start to call out the program.  LEED is the standard for green building certification, and that’s good, but issues remain.  Point mongering.  Gaming.  Monster Homes.  Bicycle racks.  Parking lots.  Materials.  Checklists.  Sprawl.  Administration.  Etc.  Projects that are LEED registered may not get certified (although they will be built green anyway).  The money involved in certification may become an issue in the future, too.  Third party certification is valuable, but it shouldn’t break the bank on a project.  I’m hearing developers say they would rather invest the money they would spend for certification in more green amenities.  Stated otherwise, certification itself, when a developer can build the project green anyway, is losing in the opportunity cost evaluation.  If the USGBC can find a way to increase quality and diminish costs/administrative burdens, people will be happier.  But, all said, it’s the best option available right now. 

Product Competition

I’m seeing tons of green building products these days.  Many of them are excellent.  Businesses that are early to market will have pricing power, but that power will be subject to substitution by non-green products.  With new green product competitors and product availability growing on both the east and west coasts, watch for some pricing competition.  To the extent that products become popular, brands will be able to drop prices and sell more, too.  The strong will survive in this economy, and this will be good for the consumer.   

Some other trends I’ve been thinking about, but that I think may be early include the following: (1) clean tech on the micro level – at home, work, and for everyone in any geographic location, (2) LED lighting retrofits – it’s expensive, but it’s high quality and we’ll need to watch the real estate market for this one, and (3) the all important energy audit – subject to the future of the real estate market, experts will be able to use audits to arbitrage waste and save money for owners. 

  • Phil Clark

    Really interesting post Preston.
    It’s spooky but I’m seeing very similar trends over here in the UK. I see a risk of some kind of backlash, or green fatigue as one newspaper labelled it at the weekend.
    Your point on LEED is also valid. I think we might see moves to create one global green standard which might incoporate the best bits of the many standards that are already out there.
    Green rehabs, or the existing estate, remains the single biggest challenge for everyone. It’s one of those issues that’s being talked about a lot but there’s precious few instances where authorities, states, councils or companies are really tackling it in a comprehensive or systematic fashion.
    Keep up the good work.

  • Preston

    Thanks for dropping by Phil, good to hear from you again. We’ll keep an eye out and see how the economy, trends, etc., all come together. Enjoy the weekend …

  • Cat Laine

    Affordable green?! Bring it on. I tire of environmentally friendly products only being within the purview of the rich and well-heeled. Grumble grumble.

  • Preston

    @cat laine

    :), me too! It could just be that the rich people purchasing green products makes them more popular and affordable to everyone else. Let’s just hope these products move along in the product purchasing cycle.

  • TTF

    I think a nuance on affordable green is “incremental green”. I believe there will be s focus on lowering the barriers to entry for enviromental home improvements. At this point, there seems to be two ranges of products: high-end, expensive upgrades (i.e. solar arrays, geo heat pumps, …) or do-nothing, green-washed stuff (if you really want to be green, don’t buy anything you don’t have to). I think there is a huge space where poeple want to have improvement options, but on a budget and over time. CFL’s really filled this space in 2008 – but I am looking to see if really expands out.

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