Top trends of the year
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 (http://www.ilbi.org), 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 (http://www.centerforgreenschools.org), was grabbing some attention this year, as was the great work of Brian Dunbar from the Institute for the Built Environment, Colorado State University (http://www.ibe.colostate.edu), among others.
Eco Districts: Appropriately launched in Portland, Eco Districts (http://www.pdxinstitute.org/index.php/ecodistricts) are a new strategy to develop livable, walkable, sustainable neighborhoods. As an example, take a look at Pringle Creek (http://www.pringlecreek.com), a growing sustainable community in Salem, Oregon. The ideas have taken hold and are starting to spread across the country. The EcoDistricts Summit (http://www.ecodistrictssummit.com) 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 (http://www.luciddesigngroup.com) and Schneider Electric (http://www.schneider-electric.com). 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 (http://www.interfaceflor.com/epd/) 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.