Yogi Berra was Right

Yogi Berra was Right

Yogi Berra warned that "It's tough to make predictions, particularly about the future," but this week Leanne Tobias goes out on a limb with her own top 10 predictions for the green market in 2010.  Myself, I'm particularly fond of trends in predictions, they uncover lots of interesting things about people's perceptions and biases.

My personal favorite is looking at trends of U.S. energy consumption forecasts from the '70s and even the '80s, where energy use in the 21st century was forecast to be in the 160-200 quad range (a quad, 1 quadrillion Btus, is a unit of energy -- used only, as far as I know, by our own U.S. Department of Energy -- that is equivalent to 8 billion gallons of gasoline) would be consumed by the U.S. The actual number turned out to be below 100 quads for 2000 and in the intervening decade, energy use has stayed pretty much flat in the 99-100 quad range. 

Of course, anyone predicting energy use anywhere near even 120 quads was considered heretical and some, like Amory Lovins, who were using numbers like 100 quads were just plain crazy, if not dangerous. 

{related_content}Still, knowing what we know now, even 100 quads is about 50 percent higher than it needs to be using today's cost-effective technology, if only we could get out of our own way. I saw an interesting graph from retired California Energy Commissioner Art Rosenfeld that indicated only five years would be needed to cut California's emissions back to 1990 levels, simply by doing more of what they were already doing: increasing cost-effective mandatory standards and complementary beyond-minimum incentive programs, coupled with implementing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's 20 percent renewable energy goal.

In buildings, I'm convinced that we could get huge chunks of what's possible simply by providing clear incentives to the operators, such as a share of the savings they generate. Thanks to the work of the Thomas Shortman Training fund, SEIU Local 32BJ, and the Urban Green Building Council, New York City got a American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, grant to more than double the "1,000 Green Supers" program. With Local 32BJ's national reach, I can only hope that the reach of this program can extend to the rest of its 120,000 members.

I look at the projects I've done, which are in the 30 kBtu/sf range of site energy use, and know that there are a dozen extra things I could do now or coulda/shoulda/woulda done then to knock another 10-20 kBtu/sf off that final number and I've seen some knockout solar technologies from Israel that could polish off the rest of it pretty soon.

One thing that makes me hopeful is that in forecasts of the green building market we're seeing something of a reverse of how badly we missed the energy forecasts.

In its 2006 Smartmarket report on Green Buildings, McGraw Hill Construction (MHC) forecast that the

then-$2 billion to $4 billion 2005 green building market would "explode" to be as large as $10 billion to $20 billion by 2010. What actually has happened in the interim is an estimate of $12 billion in 2008 and $36 billion to $49 billion in 2009, with forecasts up to $140 billion by 2013. 

In terms of market potential, MHC forecast up to $240 billion in 2007, but a recent study by Pike Research is estimating up to $400 billion in the retrofit market alone.  

Here's hoping that these forecasting efforts continue to be wrong (in the right direction, of course).  I'm fairly confident that this will be the case. There has been an explosion of green auditing firms, such as UL Environment, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), NSF International, LGA, Intertek and Bureau Veritas that ensure compliance with various standards, such as BIFMA's Level green furniture certification. This gives standards-setting groups the ability to greatly expand their reach by out-sourcing the verification and certification aspects of their programs.

Another case in point is Green Globes. It continues to penetrate its mid-market target -- as evidenced by the 15 Veterans Affairs Medical Centers recently rated by the system with the bulk receiving three of four possible Green Globes. I think that we will increasingly see green becoming mainstream, which means we can finally start thinking about junking the term and go with more accurate "good building," "bad building" monikers.  The VA's accomplishments are keeping them ahead of the curve as they implement George Bush's 2007 Executive Order 13423 that requires all U.S. agencies to green at least 15 percent of their portfolio by 2015.

This week's Look-Grandpa-I-picked-up-the-$20-bill-you-said-was-fake-but-it's-real! award goes to the Minnesota Twins for developing an innovative partnership with Pentair to reduce their water bill by 50 percent or more by capturing and reusing the rainwater that falls on the stadium. Natural flows, such as rainfall, are free, and tons of mutual marketing benefit partnerships are out there to help mitigate or eliminate first-cost barriers. 

After all, the only renewable resource that might be larger than the amount of sunlight and rain that falls on our beautiful earth is human creativity, no?

Rob Watson is the executive editor of GreenerBuildings.com. You can reach Rob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @KilrWat.