Ask the Expert: Biggest green trends of the year

| by Teena Hammond
Ask the Expert: Biggest green trends of the year

Green news is increasing at an incredibly fast pace. New trends are constantly surfacing, with an onslaught of news resulting.

ProudGreenHome turned to its ACE's, which stands for Approved Contributing Experts, to ask them what they consider the biggest green trends of the year:

Scott Flynn, principal of Flynner Building Co.

At Flynner, we find homeowners interested in green construction are thinking about investing in other practices to sustain their lives and health, not just energy efficiency. Things likes growing their own food, raising their own chickens and creating their own renewable energy sources are becoming more important, too. Chickens are trending, with increasing numbers of people raising poultry in their backyards.

Raising chickens is becoming more popular as Americans seek a direct connection to their food.

Why raise chickens? Here are a few of the most frequently expressed reasons people raise chickens:

  • Easy and inexpensive to maintain (when compared to most other pets)
  • Eggs that are fresh, great-tasting and nutritious
  • Chemical-free, as well as offering bug and weed control
  • Manufacture the world's best fertilizer
  • Fun and friendly pets with personality (yes, you read that right.)


Melissa Rappaport Schifman, founder and principal of Green Intention LLC

As a LEED AP and one who works with a firm that certifies existing buildings under LEED-EBOM (EBOM = Existing Buildings, Operations, and Maintenance), I am particularly excited about a green building trend that may have gone unnoticed.

According to a USGBC announcement:

As of this month, cumulative square footage of LEED-certified existing buildings surpassed LEED-certified new construction for the first time. As the U.S. is home to more than 60 billion square feet of existing commercial buildings, most of which are energy guzzlers and water sieves, this trend serves as a promising indicator of our progress.

This is very encouraging news! It is one thing to embark on a new construction project and decide to go ahead with LEED certification. The incremental costs, if there are any, are pretty easy to justify. For example, a dual-flush toilet does not cost more than an inefficient toilet, so it's an easy decision to reduce water usage. For an existing building, however, there is an incremental cost to upgrading to efficient water fixtures, because the building already has toilets.

For this very reason, when LEED for Existing Buildings was first introduced, I was a little skeptical that it would be easily adopted in the marketplace. I thought it would be a tough sell to commercial property owners to make the required investment.

I am thrilled to see that this is not the case, because I believe retrofitting existing biggest is one of the biggest opportunities to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. While renewable energy is on a great growth streak, it is still a very small piece of the pie, and it will not get big enough soon enough. We have to reduce our energy and water consumption and improve the health of our buildings. Conservation, while not that sexy or interesting, really is one of the most important keys to both improving our environment and jump-starting the economy. And the growth of LEED-EB certified buildings goes a long way toward that vision.

I also believe that investing in LEED-EBOM does pay back financially; indeed, several buildings in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area that were recently certified have seen significant reductions in their utility, maintenance, grounds, and cleaning expenses. Enough, I have found, to show an impressive return on their investment.

The other huge benefit of LEED-EBOM is on the operations and maintenance side of the equation. While LEED for New Construction is laudable, how people occupy and use the building can have a much bigger and longer-lasting impact on the environment. So, as a person who cares about the long-term, I think LEED-EBOM is by far the best rating system to come out of the USGBC. Let's keep that trend going!


Jessica Reilly, marketing and client services manager at Closed Loop Recycling and Green Stream Chemicals

The biggest green trend of the year is reduction of waste. Remember — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Approximately 267 people are born every minute; in turn our world grows larger every day. The bad news is, so does our waste! With that many people, our waste has risen significantly over the past 25 years.

Good thing businesses and consumers have taken notice to this and have started to Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle. The first step in gaining control of our waste is to reduce the amount needed to produce these materials. Reusing containers, parts, items, etc. is a great way to keep the demand for materials down and to keep items out of our trash receptacles. Recycling is another great way to limit our waste. Trash, paper, glass, electronic, and oil recycling have generously impacted our environment in a positive way by eliminating trips to the landfill. This also prevents our rivers, lakes, oceans, and streams from being impacted from hazardous material contaminating our water.

People are living longer than ever in today's world. In order for us all to live comfortably and cleanly, we need everyone to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Plus recycling sets a great example for our younger generations!


Farah Ahmed, fifth year architecture student at City College of New York

The biggest news trend of the year was the Solar Decathlon 2011 competition. It brought together 19 collegiate teams from around the world, and challenged them to design, build, and operate a solar-powered home!

Thousands of visitors came to Washington DC to see the houses on exhibit, and learned how to apply sustainable design, construction, and interior work to their own homes. It was a unique event which allowed college students to engage in all aspects of professional-level work. Countless hours were spent researching the best ways to go green. Check out to see photos, construction documents, and project manuals so that you can become more educated and engaged in green design! Learn more about the ways in which energy efficient housing can become affordable and easily applicable to meet your needs. Whether you're looking for a way to incorporate sustainable flooring, how to integrate green décor inside your home, or how to install innovative technologies (solar panels!) into your home, you'll find a way to save the planet through these homes!


Heather Ferrier Laminack, marketing manager for Ferrier Custom Homes

I think that the Solar Decathlon held this year really brought into the spotlight efficient, smart design of high performance homes. Although this wasn't the first year of the competition, it was the first time that affordability was thrown into the mix. I saw so many more media outlets cover the event this year. I think it seemed more "doable" this time around than in previous years.

The competition was a representation of the growing trend for thoughtful, efficient homes. We are seeing more & more people interested in downsizing square footage while making their homes more efficient, and I think that this demand will only continue to increase.


Tom Smith, director of operations and marketing at Anua

The biggest trend of the year was municipalities using sustainable shell-based media to clean treat hydrogen sulfide in waste air streams without using any chemicals. This technology will become more important as cities continue to grow and they need to manage odors from once remote wastewater treatment plants and pump stations.


Eric Corey Freed, founding principal of organicARCHITECT

Several clear memes were present this year:

Living Buildings: The idea of simply being "less bad" with our buildings is not enough. We need regenerative buildings to restore the environment from the damage we cause. The idea of "living" buildings, and more specifically the Living Building Challenge rating system (, was all the rage this year.

Biomimicry: Popularized by the 2002 book by Janine Benyus, Biomimicry seeks to study Nature to learn her design secrets. A longtime favorite among design students, Biomimicry is finally being applied to real-world applications in our built environment. Remember, human beings are not the first to build things. Nature has 3.8 billion years of research and development on us and knows how to build sustainably.

Green Schools: With more than 1 in 5 people working in a school building every day, the idea of green schools has emerged as one of the best places to start changing how we design our buildings. The USGBC's 2010 spin off, The Center for Green Schools (, was grabbing some attention this year, as was the great work of Brian Dunbar from the Institute for the Built Environment, Colorado State University (, among others.

Eco Districts: Appropriately launched in Portland, Eco Districts ( are a new strategy to develop livable, walkable, sustainable neighborhoods. As an example, take a look at Pringle Creek (, a growing sustainable community in Salem, Oregon. The ideas have taken hold and are starting to spread across the country. The EcoDistricts Summit ( was just held at the end of this past year.

Benchmarking and Metrics: The modern idea of green building is now over 20 years old, so it is fitting that many are taking a decades' worth of valuable data and putting it to good use. Many of the newest products and services announced this year offered various forms of benchmarking tools. Building dashboards are becoming more commonplace, with dozens of different providers now available. My two favorite systems come from Lucid Design Group ( and Schneider Electric ( Such systems will be standard issue in a few years.

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs): Ushering in a new wave of manufacturer transparency, an EPD is a complete lifecycle assessment (LCA) of any material, product or even a system. It goes beyond a mere Material Safety and Data Sheet (MSDS) and provides the full picture of the impacts, risks and environmental responsibility. It is no surprise that carpet maker InterfaceFLOR ( would be leading the charge on the EPD movement given their long history and commitment to sustainability. Expect most other manufacturers to follow suit, if only out of fear of being left behind. In 2009, UL (the safety company famous for ensuring our electrical devices won't start a fire) spun off a subsidiary called UL Environment, who is pioneering an EPD program for manufacturers. Much of the buzz this past year was about the possibilities of manufacturers embracing these EPD's.

Topics: Certification / LEED, Solar Power, Trends / Statistics

Companies: Anua

Teena Hammond
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.

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