2012is finally upon us and it's time to look at the sustainability trends for the new year. The last few years have been pretty challenging, with the financial crisis and the efforts by climate denialists to make it appear that it's all business as usual. But perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to sustainability is the "lack of consistent and comparable standards for defining and measuring sustainability," says Dan Probst, chairman of energy and sustainability services at Jones Lang LaSalle, an international financial and professional services firm specializing in real estate.
Probst has spotted four major trends that will shape sustainability-related actions in 2012. One of them is transparency. "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. Buildings in Europe are required to display energy performance certificates, and Australia is implementing similar requirements," he said.
Probst also believes global consistency will be a major sustainability trend in 2012. He says deeper sustainability reporting by cities and corporations has intensified the need for consistent ways to measure the effectiveness of energy, water and other sustainability strategies on a global basis. He mentions LEED as an example. The building sustainability rating system originated in the U.S. is now frequently used 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.
2012 will also see more public and private collaboration, Probst foresees. The Better Buildings Challenge, a $4 billion energy retrofit commitment announced in December by the U.S. federal government and 60 CEOs, mayors, university presidents, and labor leaders, is a clear example of the private/public nexus. 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.
Finally, there will be more focus on solar energy in 2012. Probst says the growth seen in 2011 will carry forward into 2012, albeit at a slower pace. Commercial properties have driven growth, although utility-based installations saw a 325 percent rise between the second and third quarters. He predicts several variables will determine the fate of solar in 2012, such as basic supply and demand economics, technological improvements, and the amount and type of available incentives.