Four Sustainability Trends to Watch in 2012

The worldwide movement toward sustainability has made significant progress over the past half-dozen years as companies and cities have pursued strategies that balance future and current societal needs. Now, sustainable development is entering a new phase, characterized by greater alignment within and between the public and private sectors.

Original article written by Dan Probst: The road to sustainability has been plagued with roadblocks, including an unprecedented global financial crisis and attempts by entrenched business and political interests to deny climate science. Perhaps the greatest obstacle has been the lack of consistent and comparable standards for defining and measuring sustainability. Although these issues have yet to be fully resolved, many well-coordinated initiatives in recent years have pointed the way forward for companies and cities.

In 2012, major trends shaping the sustainable development movement include:

Transparency – Buildings, companies and cities are measuring and disclosing energy usage, carbon emissions and other information relating to sustainability. Commercial building owners don’t always have a choice: Five major U.S. cities and two states have enacted energy performance measurement and disclosure policies to date, and nine more cities and states have bills under considerations, to help tenants and investors make better informed decisions.

Corporations don’t require legal mandates to encourage disclosure. In 2011, more than 3,000 companies, including 404 Global 500 firms, voluntarily reported their carbon emissions, water management and climate change policies to Carbon Disclosure Project in 2011.

Global Consistency –  Deeper sustainability  reporting by cities and multi-national corporations has intensified the need for consistent ways to measure the effectiveness of energy, water and other sustainability strategies on a worldwide basis. Given the wide regional variation in environmental priorities around the world, the end goal may not be a single global standard, but a way to translate local government and business practices into a common global vocabulary for measuring effectiveness and recognizing achievement.

LEED, the building sustainability rating system originated in the U.S., is now frequently pursued in many countries with their own systems, as owners seek to attract international tenants. ENERGY STAR, the U.S. EPA energy benchmarking standard, will soon be able to provide accurate ratings across North America, thanks to a new cooperative agreement with Canada. And in 2011 the International Organization for Standardization released the ISO 50001 standard for energy management systems, which includes specifications for measurement, documentation and reporting on energy consumption.

Public/Private Collaboration – 2011 stood out as a year when government and business organizations explored their shared green goals and realized that public-private partnerships and collaborative initiatives are often the best way to overcome obstacles to sustainability. Some of these joint efforts will start to bear fruit in 2012.

A clear  example is the December announcement of a $4 billion energy retrofit commitment by the U.S. federal government and 60 CEOs, mayors, university presidents, and labor leaders. Called the Better Buildings Challenge, the eight-year initiative includes $2 billion in energy upgrades of federal buildings and another $2 billion of private capital to improve energy by 20 percent in buildings totaling 1.5 billion square feet.

Focus on Solar Energy – 2011 was a breakthrough year for new installations in the U.S., and continued growth is seen for 2012, albeit at a slower pace.  More than 1 gigawatt of photovoltaic solar energy capacity was installed across the U.S. in the first three quarters of 2011, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). By comparison, 887 megawatts came online in all of 2010, which represented a doubling of the total installed base at the time.

Solar energy installations at commercial properties drove much of the market growth in 2011, SEIA reported. The big story going into 2012 is the unprecedented rise in utility-based installations, which jumped by 325 percent from the second to the third quarter. It is clear that interest in solar energy continues to grow as payback periods grow shorter and fossil fuel costs continue to rise.

2012: Taking Sustainability to the Next Level

The common theme to all these trends is of an industry poised to break through to the next level. The industry has moved swiftly through initial phases of understanding the basic costs and benefits, implementing low-cost initiatives, exploring more sophisticated strategies, and navigating around roadblocks. Today, it is easier to see the opportunity for dynamic progress by cities, property owners and corporate tenants that have laid the groundwork for growth and success.

Read the full article here.