Seven Green Trends to Watch in 2009

Seven Green Trends to Watch in 2009

Last year I talked about five green building trends and most of that, generally speaking, was spot on.  This year's going to be a little tougher nut to crack, however, because things are changing every day.  After a week or two of new information, it could be that everything below will not make sense any more.  I don't believe that will happen, but it could.  Anyway, to cut to the chase, all of this is informal and anecdotal.  I'm making these predictions based on approximately thirty years of seeing, studying, reading, working, and observing as a human being.  You will certainly have a different perspective, but hear me out.  When you're done, make sure to tell me what you think below. 

Non-Green Will Not Survive
We all know this.  The standard for building has changed.  We're talking about building science and improving the way things are done.  With a scarcity of capital for development projects and good workers looking to get paid, the best projects will get done by the best people.  We're in a shakeout and only the strong, smart, and innovative survive.  Which means this: Not only will non-green projects not survive, but the ones that do survive will be green or sustainable or natural or beyond platinum.  You and I are the entrepreneurs of this world, and we must find a way to build / renovate the buildings that people need in a sustainable way.  That's the future, and it's upon us.

Change Leadership Will Thrive
Things were so frothy going into 2008, it's not surprising we're experiencing a reset to reality.  But in this process, it should be remembered, if history bears repeating, that great businesses have their genesis in tough economic times.  With them, authentic and charismatic individuals, like a flock of phoenixes rising from the ashes, will shrug off reality and chase success — they'll become trusted leaders.  When things are good, everyone can find a modicum of success, but in this economy, the poseurs will be exposed for what they really are.  Although there will be some tough times, now is the time for leaders to stand up and effectively innovate, because "true opportunity appears at the market bottom, not at the top."  While everyone else is getting conservative and worried and immobile, change leaders will use available tools, find the important opportunities, and build necessary businesses. 

Policy Activity Will Accelerate
With all this talk about green collar jobs and stimulating the economy, the government is going to be extremely, if not overly, active in policy matters.  Never mind the fact that federal, state, and local governments have no money and didn't get their affairs in order when times were good, they'll all be involved with green incentives, regulations, and programs.  Again, though, they have no money!  To get money, they're going to talk about taxing weird things and probably won't take away tax breaks for other weird things.  But all this won't stop them from actively legislating and regulating.  The problem is, we've elected a bunch of hooligans — lawyers and losers that owe everyone a favor and who are susceptible to lobbyists and unhealthy interests.  I hope they stick with incentives (and not outright regulations); that way, the taxpayer has less risk in dealing with bad government policies. 

Everything Will Shift
Get ready for everything to be different.  New jobs will be different and skills will change.  It's time to shift everything.  Shift your mindset, shift your skills, shift your home — do whatever it takes to stay healthy and happy.  Take a scene out of Jim Carrey's movie and learn to say "yes!" to whatever you can.  Find a way to save money.  Find a way to sell the home and not incur a deficiency.  Find a way to move and retrain yourself with new knowledge and skills.  Find a way to be innovative.  Find a way to pay your debts and not incur any more.  Find a way to educate yourself and be nice.  Just find a way to shift when the necessary time comes.  It will come. 

Efficiency & Energy Comes Into Focus
Going forward, incremental investments need to produce measurable results with a positive impact on the bank statement.  If an investment has a long payback horizon or hard-to-quantify benefit, it may not be a priority for the short term future.  Which is why smart upgrades in terms of efficiencies and energy savings might be high on the to do list.  A penny saved is a penny earned.  Plus, some utility companies are willing to work with you to find cost-effective ways to save money.  Why not take them up on that opportunity?  If you can spend a hundred dollars today and know you will save a thousand over the year, won't you make that investment?  I think you will. You should. 

Legitimate Impact Labels May Develop
Third-party certifications are only the beginning of where we need to go.  Every house / project needs to have an impact label that tells you its energy efficiency, water efficiency, air quality, and carbon footprint.  You should be able to ascertain its actual performance as of *today*.  And with that information, you should be able to compare it, apples-to-apples style, with every other home / project in your neighborhood.  That would be awesome.  But who is going to pay to give every home or project an impact label?  Where is that going to start?  Green certification systems?  Maybe.  I'd like to see energy or eco-audits fill this role.  How about this.  States could (1) set the standard for the impact label, (2) mandate impact labels for every home / project sale, (3) train inspectors and pair impact audits with inspections, and (4) allow purchasers to deduct the cost of the impact audit from their state taxes (or grant some other reimbursement).  Put the database in the public domain, and in time, you'd create an information-rich resource.  Jobs would be created and states could even use the database to incentivize problem areas. 

Beware of Green Fatigue and Words
In the middle of 2008, we wrote an article providing five suggestions for businesses to combat green fatigue and green noise.  This is seriously something to pay attention to.  As evidence of this, did you notice that Lake Superior State University's 2009 List of Banished Words included "green," "going green," "carbon footprint," and "carbon offsetting?"  All for good reason, I might add.  We should probably throw "carbon neutral" and "double carbon neutral" on the list, too, because no one is neutral.  And Generation E is another one — the thought of it makes me queasy.  Just, could we all be cognizant of the fact that dialogue must be open, honest, and authentic using regular words and language?  No b.s. or you're on the Black List — a list that we're going to name the Eco-Black List.  And then we're going to rename it back to Black List because someone should also ban adding "eco-" to perfectly normal words.  Just think about it. 

So this is it … this is our list of Seven Green Trends to Watch in 2009:

  1. Non-Green Will Not Survive
  2. Change Leadership Will Thrive
  3. Policy Activity Will Accelerate
  4. Everything Will Shift
  5. Efficiency & Energy Comes Into Focus
  6. Legitimate Impact Labels May Develop
  7. Beware of Green Fatigue and Words

Did we miss something?  Let us know below …

  • sally

    AMAZING list!

  • jessica

    Spot on for carbon footprints and carbon offsetting. I dont agree with any of them.

  • Stacy Gulick

    “Everything will Shift” – I love that paragraph because it’s so true. In my business we’re all about shifting and changing. Simple habats like the kind of soap you use could all be changing. And with it of course, a big piece of ourselves. Those that can accept change and find the good with thrive. Those that see change as something to F E A R…will be left behind.

    Stacy Gulick

  • Andrew Stone


    I think you are right on with everything. I couldn’t agree more, but the green fatigue bit really hit home. When I wrote a post on removing green from things I caused a bit of an uproar.

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  • david

    interesting list and for the most part, i’d agree with it. the only two that i don’t agree with is the non-green will not survive. while it sounds good and i wish it would be true, our country and the world is just too huge for everyone to jump on the bandwagon. the truth is, a small part of projects being built today are green, but they have been capturing the headlines, which is a very good thing.

    the second one, green fatigue, i don’t think is an issue. the naysayers may write about or complain about the idea of “green fatigue” but i think people working in the fields of green will become more energized and excited and thus energize and excite those around them and the people they work for. i’d prefer to think of it as “i’m tired of my house leaking, offgassing, and creating mold fatigue”.

  • Noel Quinn

    You may be interested to know that in the E.U. we have started down the road of providing energy ratings for buildings. In Ireland the Building Energy Rating (BER) is the consumer label that appears on the energy performance certificates issued under the European Directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings. The BER is based on the estimated annual primary energy use per square meter of floor space. It is expressed on an A to G scale where A is very energy efficient and G is inefficient. The Buildings Carbon Dioxide Emission Rate (CDER) is also estimated. This is required in order to comply with Building Rgulations which require that all new buildings reduce their CDER over a period leading to zero carbon emmissions by about 2016.

  • urban trekker

    great list!

    • Rich

      “The BER is based on the estimated annual primary energy use per square meter of floor space.” I think this is great, cuts right to the heart of energy waste. Here in US, we have energy star ratings etc, homes using the wrong insulation for example easily get high ratings. Sell more this way. I bring up one additional point, natural gas produces co2 and lots of it. So it is highly worth insulating properly, using geothermal instead of fossil fuels, solar, wind, etc.

  • Katie

    Referred to this post here. I always appreciate when people take the time to write prediction posts or stories as they’re much more difficult than most people imagine. Thanks for the time and effort!

  • Green Deen

    This is an amazing treatise, and intellectually genuine. I meet soooo many in the “green” industry that are just lemings and idealogues, You can sort out the real from the regurgitation in any of their conversations. I like green, but it has to work. Functionality has to be job 1.

  • ckstevenson

    Halfway through the year, it’d be great to get an update on the status of all the trends and maybe learn what factors have impacted them.

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