Energy trends in the green building industry are heading towards less reliance on the grid, and more reliance on self-sufficiency.
Even as buildings have increased in their environmental efficiency over the past few decades, there are even more methods on the horizon that will continue to improve the green building industry.
Indeed, building projects are now being developed that will be first occupied and used in the next decade… As such,keeping an eye on future progress in the field is essential for success and effectively incorporating green principles into your design(s).
This article looks at trends in the green building industry.
Some of the most prominent concepts include fostering a greater understanding of how building occupants interact with the built environment in a holistic manner, and emphasizing how green building can engage with the outside environment.
Not only is it important to look inside the building by increasing the well-being of the occupants, but it’s also important to look at how the building can efficiently use external resources required to both initially build it, and maintain usage throughout the project’s lifespan.
Maggie Pipek is a LEED AP and WELL AP who is very passionate about preserving natural resources. She works with clients to find unique solutions that are cost effective and environmentally friendly.
“I think the biggest trend for the next few years,” Maggie says, “is focusing on how a building can support the well-being of its occupants and contribute to health, productivity and job satisfaction. Studies that show enhanced indoor environments create more productive, happier and healthier inhabitants.”
In addition to a more holistic way of designing buildings to comfortably serve occupants, sustainable building design needs to look outwards as well.
Douglas Pierce is a LEED Fellow and an architect with global architecture firm Perkins+Will. Doug also helped lead the development of the RELi resilient building and design standard adopted by the U.S. Green Building Council.
“There are two major trends unfolding,” Doug says. “One trend is doubling down on climate mitigation and bio-diversity protection.”
In addition to protecting diversity, he says that the second trend is resilience and climate adaptation.
“Resilience and climate adaptation are poised to become mega-trends and a central feature of the green building dialogue for the next one or two decades. We’ve let climate change and the loss of biodiversity get out of hand over the past 30 years. Now we must not only mitigate those issues, but we must also adapt to the emerging climate disruption, and rebuild the wildlife population all across the globe.”
A large part of mitigating these environmental issues involves energy: not only generation, but the efficient production and effective management of that energy as it’s delivered to the end consumer.
Brandon Weiss, a LEED AP certified master builder, works for Dvele, a company that manufactures smart luxury homes in California. He says the biggest new trend is battery technology.
“Solar or wind alone,” Brandon says, “can cause problems of their own, but when coupled with battery storage systems they provide self resilience, and can help stabilize and power the grid itself. As all buildings change to net zero over the next couple decades, the
utility grids will forever be changed with it.”
Decentralization is a massive wave that is not only changing the worlds of finance and technology, but building and energy norms as well.
Renewable energy and energy storage technologies not only allow energy solutions to be developed more affordably, but also in a more geographically distributed way.
Microgrids that leverage renewable energy, for example, reduce the risk of reliance on a single utility based energy grid with one point of failure.
Alternative energy can now be produced locally rather than relying on an aging power grid and environmentally harmful methods of electricity generation like coal or oil.
“Energy production will become decentralized,” says Weiss, “and a new economy of sharing energy will be born. Look for energy storage systems with smart inverters and remote switching that can be controlled remotely for the most versatility, flexibility, and functionality. Every home can be a virtual power plant when combining a good building with renewable energy production, and energy storage systems.”
What are the benefits of gaining LEED certification for building projects?
There are many benefits to earning a LEED certification for a building, but a few important factors stand out.
Maggie Pipek says verification by a third-party “gives credibility to the claim of creating a sustainable project.
"Anyone can claim to use sustainable features, but LEED forces accountability through its points-based system. Additionally, LEED certification guides the material selection process to encourage the use of materials that create a healthy indoor environment while minimizing impact to the natural environment. LEED also sets the building up for savings on operational costs by encouraging energy use reduction, and in some cases, generating on-site renewable energy.”
Building codes are a bare minimum, and steps must be taken to go beyond mere codes.
“Any green, sustainable, or performance building certification is a great achievement,” says Brandon Weiss, but “a voluntary certification that requires a higher level of documentation and third party ratings ensures true quality. A builder or building can not claim to be sustainable if it only meets code, but if it has gone above and beyond doing the bare minimum and gets inspected and rated by a third party to a higher level of quality, that is where a sustainability claim has validity.”
One of the most important reasons to pursue a LEED certification for a building can include creating a cohesive team goal that helps keep a project team focused and accountable.
“Project teams,” says Pierce, “are much more likely to accomplish the sustainability goals they’ve established when someone is monitoring progress and checking up on the outcomes. Compared to an average building, LEED projects can be much more energy and water efficient, provide healthier work environments, and be notably better for the environment. The actual LEED Certification, which documents that the building has achieved its green design goals, is a great public relations and marketing tool. In many locations around North America, a LEED certification is becoming expected.”
A LEED certification for a building can also show an organization’s priorities. “LEED certification shows an organization's commitment to sustainability,” says Jason Fierko, a principal at EwingCole, an architecture & engineering firm in Philadelphia, “and can build goodwill with occupants, stakeholders and the wider community.”
Who should be interested in passing the LEED exam to get a personal accreditation?
Beyond a building-specific certification, there are numerous reasons for professionals involved in the green building industry to obtain a professional LEED accreditation.
Holding both a LEED AP and WELL AP accreditations, Maggie Pipek thinks it’s important for design professionals to have accreditation in order to develop and maintain their knowledge of sustainable practices, and work with clients to make the best decisions. She also thinks “it would be advantageous for building operators and facility management professionals to earn accreditation as it’s important knowledge to have to run the building, particularly if the building is LEED certified.”
Any builder, designer, engineer, manufacturer’s representative, or developer who wants a higher level of green building knowledge can benefit from a LEED accreditation, but Weiss adds that having a LEED AP on a project team is recommended for those that want to get a building certified.
The LEED Accredited Professional (AP) status is quite intense to study for and obtain, says Douglas Pierce, making it a good choice for architects and engineers or other design professionals. However, he thinks that journalists or green marketing professionals can also benefit from an accreditation.
“Others should consider pursuing a LEED Green Associates accreditation,” he says. “It is much less intense than pursuing LEED AP status and it provides a good overview of LEED and green building practices.”