Over the next ten years the green economy is going to change virtually every major aspect of our lives for the better. These changes are as sexy and irresistable as new technology. In fact, when we talk about designing scalable solutions for sustainable communities much of it IS new technology. But it’s also new business, better design, increased efficiency, stronger community, and old-fashioned common sense.
The green economy is unstoppable because sustainable solutions are also smart, effective solutions. It’s clear from our inability to pass climate legislation that we’re not going green because it’s the right thing to do. We’re going green because it’s simply the smart thing to do.
Here are 10 major areas of life that are inevitably getting better by going green:
1. Buildings –Cutting-edge firms like EHDD Architecture are now building Zero Net Energy (ZNE) buildings that produce as much energy as they use over a year, which lowers one of the largest costs of operating a building, and thus a business. The CA Public Utilities commission just launched a ZNE Action Plan to transform commercial buildings in California by 2030, saving billions of dollars. Buildings designed with healthy materials, natural lighting, and beautiful landscaping are more pleasant to be in, which increases health and productivity. From retrofitting existing buildings, to designing greener schools and hospitals - the built environment is getting smarter, greener, and more sustainable.
2. Technology – Beyond buildings, clean tech pioneers and major companies are making entire smart cities. Intel is developing embedded communication systems to measure traffic, water and power lines; as well as gadgets to control home electricity from your smartphone. It’s easy to see how this can save resources, lower costs, and improve safety. But we’re also using video game technology to solve real world challenges. Researchers at Stanford, Intel and the Institute for the Future are all designing multiplayer games that address real world challenges around water and energy. Technology is not going to stop advancing anytime soon. Organic components, better batteries, flexible screens, artificial photosynthesis – green tech is just a better form of smart tech.
3. Energy – We are reinventing electricity. Instead of digging coal to boil water to make steam to spin turbines to make electricity, we’re sucking it straight from the wind and sun. It’s simpler, cleaner, more efficient, and the fuel is free, unlimited, and harmless. Companies like Recurrent Energy – which just sold to Sharp for $300 million - are installing utility-scale distributed renewable energy, a blend between individual solar panels, and massive solar farms. Others, like Sungevity, are using satellite imagery to cut down the costs of installing solar and selling to homes in middle America for less than their utility. British bank HSBC says clean energy is worth $500 billion – larger than global aerospace and defense industries combined. It’s a sunny gold rush worth $2 Trillion in the next 10 years – the largest economic development opportunity every measured!
4. Transportation – Cars that run on clean electricity, and can be charged at any outlet are clearly better than cars run on toxic, combustible, expensive, dwindling resources like petroleum. With every major car company bringing Electric Vehicles to market in the next two years, now its just a question of building the charging network. In tandem with the smart grid, public charging, and Better Place’s battery-swapping stations, electric vehicles are poised to become a mainstream reality. Beyond cars, high-speed rail, and new multi-modal transit strategies are making cities more walkeable, bikeable, and livable.
5. Food - 90% of the energy that goes into our food come from petroleum in the form of fertilizers and pesticides; energy to deliver water for crops; and fuel to run tractors, trucks, and refrigerators. So local, organic food is not just healthier, it’s a food security strategy as well. Farmers markets and food festivals are the biggest thing since Iron Chef, and urban agriculture is fast becoming a nationwide trend. From microgardens to community gardens, we’re swapping factory farms for vertical farms, and building community in the process.
6. Water – While irrigation is the largest use of freshwater in the US, 48% of our water goes to power plants, and these are also our biggest sources of water pollution. So moving to clean energy, and smarter farming will save enormous amounts of water, which will save hundreds of billions of dollars spent on water and wastewater facilities. Using rainwater harvesting, graywater systems, stormwater gardens, and urban forests, innovative firms like Sherwood Design Engineers are using water to engineer ecological public spaces that improve the environment and boost the economy. Once again, green innovations are proving to be simply smarter, cheaper, cleaner, healthier and more beautiful.
7. Business – Old business models of profit at all cost are giving way to B-Corps, and Flexible Purpose Corporations which blend money and mission. The Presidio Graduate School’s Sustainable MBA program, and UC Berkeley’s professional certificates in Sustainable Design are just two examples of the dozens of schools training the next generation of creative business professionals. Social entrepreneurs and innovators around the planet are filing patents, making inventions and writing business plans every day, while organizations like the Green Chamber of Commerce are rewriting the rules of business to promote both purpose and prosperity.
8. Leadership & Communication – In our constant, interactive media environment, advertizing is giving way to corporate engagement and interaction. Recent developments in psychology are teaching us the science of inspiration, and how to shift worldviews through better communication. Constant media scrutiny is making governments and institutions more transparent. Old-school community activism has grown up into savvy global campaigns for social and environmental justice – see 350.org’s 10.10.10 campaign. Traditionally “feminine” leadership strategies like consensus building, collaboration, and long-term solutions are proving invaluable for sustainability, and increasing women’s impact in leadership.
9. Finance – The Wall St. collapse proved that even banks can create “toxic assets.” Now Socially Responsible Investors are demanding that their money create positive social impact, not just high quarterly returns. Firms like Adam Capital are finding better ways of financing the clean energy and innovative technologies we need; and ethical banking models are emerging to create a New Wall Street in Silicon Valley.
10. Urban planning – The cities of the future are linking all these systems together. Sustainability strategists like Jim Heid of Urban Green are taking the same principles that produce healthy ecosystems, including connectivity, diversity, resilience; and using them to guide urban revitalization. Josiah Cain of Design Ecology is exploring what he calls “ecological bionics,” combining natural infrastructure and high design to improve urban areas. By renovating public parks, plazas and waterfronts, designers like Hargreaves Associates are unpaving America, making urban spaces where people want to shop, eat and relax. This makes our cities healthier and more prosperous.
Each of these ten major aspects of life are getting better through green innovation. At West Coast Green we call this “The Power of 10!”, and we showcased each of these strategies at our annual conference Sept 30 – Oct 2 in San Francisco. Everything you just read, and many of the companies and designers mentioned, were at West Coast Green this year along with over 175 leading visionaries, like Van Jones and Bill McDonough, and a host of policymakers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders.
A better future is truly emerging all around us, and together these changes are creating exponential positive impact.