Google Trends Offers Insight into the Direction of Green Building

Google Trends has been on the radar of software techies, research junkies, Google aficionados, and the otherwise internet-obsessed since the summer of 2006.  It’s a tool for tracking the search popularity of high traffic terms.  For anyone wanting to keep their finger on the pulse of green building, this is a quick, although certainly not definitive source of information on where the curious live, who still needs to be clued in, when the tipping point occurred for various green ideas and products, and what – in general – is the direction of interest in green building.

The term ‘green building’ itself seems to be only slightly on the rise, if not at least remaining steady, just like a couple of other generic enviro-terms like ‘green’ and ‘eco’ and ‘energy efficient’ – nothing to write home about.  But, digging a little deeper, it is not hard to discover that certain specific, in-the-weeds green building parlance such as ‘low-voc,' ‘light pollution,' ‘dual flush,’ ‘water saving,' ‘greywater,’ and even ‘USGBC’ all saw a significant jump in activity starting somewhere between mid-2005 and early 2007 (the same is true for a number of climate change-related phrases like ‘carbon emissions’ and ‘sea levels’).

This backs up the oft-cited observation that environmental consciousness made a leap forward around 2006, and while people were previously just thinking about green building, in the past couple of years, they’ve started getting their hands dirty.  Not exactly a revelation, but it is useful to begin to understand what aspects of green building are creeping into the mainstream more quickly than others.  Some buzzwords, including ‘weatherize,' ‘storm water management,' ‘rapidly renewable,' and ‘open grid pavement’ haven’t even hit the critical mass necessary to be worth tracking (or so says Google).

Another point of interest: the lists of geographical hotbeds for green building searches, fodder for a zillion more questions: What’s fueling the apparent surge of curiosity in United Arab Emirates?  What can be done to engage more non-coastal regions of the US?  How closely correlated is the amount of Googling green building activity in a particular area to the amount of physical green building activity in the same area?  How can green building advocacy websites and organizations use this information to inform their efforts?

If you're going to give Google Trends a go, check out the about page that explains how the data works, and how it can be bent to your will.  It’s important to understand that the data is normalized, scaled, only available since 2004, and imperfect.  As they point out, this is a Google Labs product – it is still being worked on.  So, while it’s not exactly a quotable source, at the very least it provides some intriguing clues as to what’s going on out there, and it’s interesting to see the evidence of a rise in green building enthusiasm manifest itself in search engine data.  Not to mention, this marvelous little apparatus a source of endless and addictive entertainment for anyone with even the slightest touch of a nerd-ish imagination.