Gallery: Green Design Predictions for 2012

Happy new year everyone! The ball has dropped, the confetti has cleared, and we're excited to embark upon a brand new year! As we ring in 2012 we've turned to environmental experts and design luminaries from around the world to give us their for The

Happy new year everyone!

The ball has dropped, the confetti has cleared, and we're excited to embark upon a brand new year! As we ring in 2012 we've turned to environmental experts and design luminaries from around the world to give us their predictions for 2012. The past year was filled with groundbreaking design innovations, and we can't wait to see what the future holds - read on for 2012 predictions from some of the brightest minds in green design.

1. Peter Ward, Ph.D – Paleontologist, Author of On Methuselah’s Trail: Living Fossils and the Great Extinctions, Professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle

2. Cameron Sinclair – Founder, Architecture for Humanity

3. Katie Fehrenbacher – Editor, and Writer,

4. Bob VilaHome Improvement, Home Remodeling, and Home Repair Expert, Host of This Old House

5. Zem Joaquin – Founder & Editor-in-chief,

6. Piers Fawkes – Trend Expert, Founder & Editor-in-chief,

7. Jennifer Schwab – Chief Sustainability Officer, Sierra Club Green Home

8. Tafline Laylin – Managing Editor, Green Prophet; Inhabitat Contributor

9. Mike Chino – Managing Editor, Inhabitat

10. Yuka Yoneda – Senior Editor, Inhabitat

11. Jill Fehrenbacher – Editor in Chief and Founder, Inhabitat

Did our experts’ predictions for 2011 hit or miss the mark? Read what they had to say about last year here…

Cameron Sinclair – Founder, Architecture for Humanity

1. The rhetoric of the 2012 election will force US-based sustainability advocates to decouple themselves from the political process and seek support elsewhere.

2. The price of solar lows to a tipping point to create huge opportunity for off-grid living both in the US and abroad.

3. The decision over Keystone XL will be one of the main deciders for independents and could swing the election.

4. Architecture for Humanity will be part of a coalition of the willing to implement a 100 sustainable classrooms in North and South America.

Four projects we are excited about at Architecture for Humanity:

1. Completing our ten school building program in Haiti in 2012

2. Designing new Football for Hope centers in South Africa, DR Congo, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

3. Starting a Green Schools Program to build one hundred sustainable classrooms.

4. See all the entries for the Unrestricted Access Competition, transforming military spaces to civic places.

Katie FehrenbacherGreentech Editor, Senior Writer & Features Editor,

2011 was a rough year for a lot of companies in the U.S. in cleantech and clean power. Because the price of solar panels dropped dramatically last year a bunch of solar companies have struggled and gone bankrupt. Electric car companies, from GM and its Volt to Fisker and its Karma, didn’t meet expectations either in 2011.

I think in 2012 a lot of cleantech and clean power companies will continue to struggle if they continue to target markets in the U.S. It will be the companies that can sell into the rapidly growing cleantech markets in India and China that will thrive. As I wrote after a recent trip to India in December, India will be a massive market for clean power, as the country is adding on any kind of power – fossil fuel or clean – at a rapid rate. China, too, of course, is investing heavily in solar, wind, energy storage, electric 2-wheelers, the smart grid – and along with that spending billions on a lot of other sources of dirty power.

What will continue to grow in the U.S. is an extension of what I wrote about last year: using the web and mobile to share stuff more efficiently like peer-to-peer car sharing. Airbnb, with its apartment sharing, and Getaround, with its neighborhood car sharing, will continue to see substantial growth in 2012. Other aspects of the so-called Clean Web, will do well, too, like energy efficiency software and using the web to sell solar to consumers.

Finally, with rock bottom prices of solar panels, solar rooftops and utility-scale solar panel projects, will maintain momentum in 2012. It’s the cheapest time in history to buy solar panels – so buy ‘em up while they’re hot now.

For more predictions about green from GigaOM check out:

10 things I want from cleantech in 2012
12 smart grid companies to watch in 2012
10 solar trends to watch for in 2012

Peter Ward, Ph.D – Paleontologist, Author of On Methuselah’s Trail: Living Fossils and the Great Extinctions, Professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle

First, I believe that the tragic weather upheavals that marked 2011 will continue.
Secondly, I hope that world citizenry does not continue to equate “connected-ness” with conservation in any way. It is currently fashionable to be green. And it is fashionable to own every new device that Steve Jobs conceived of so as to be plugged into at all times. We may find the two to be mutually exclusive by the end of this century. Our total immersion and merging of entertainment and communication comes at a high price in terms of the global atmosphere – every electronic music, video player, telephone, computer and automobile requires ever more electricity, which pumps ever larger amounts of greenhouse gases into the global atmosphere. Being online 24/7 could very well bring a total off-line by 2047. We do NOT want to go forward into the past – into global carbon dioxide levels that occurred more than 60 million years ago, a state we are but 50 to 75 years away from.  Those conditions were such that no ice could exist on the planet.  Melting the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets is not a way to keep stable real estate prices in the world’s coastal cities.

For my part, I have been asked to determine whether the 500 million year old living fossil Nautilus (see photo) is disappearing faster than we scientists can study them, due to overfishing.  I suspect we as a species could learn a thing or two from a survivor of the last half billion years – if we do not wipe them out first for cheap trinkets and jewelry made from the iconic, spiraled shells.

Bob VilaHome Improvement, Home Remodeling, and Home Repair Expert, Host of This Old House

For my part, I predict home construction will begin to rebound with a focus on downsizing and energy-conserving green standards. Look for cluster housing and co-housing projects to gain momentum.

Inhabitat’s interview with Bob Vila here >

Zem Joaquin – Founder & Editor-in-chief,

With all of the uncertainty and anxiety that dominated the last few years, I hope we will see a rebirth and a renewed confidence. There is an opportunity to do more with less and celebrate organizations and individuals who are making those choices.
In 2012 I also think you will see more companies, like Levi’s, who are finding ways to reduce their water consumption and work directly with farmers to help them become stewards of the land that they grow cotton on, while improving the lives of those workers. In 2012 you will see Cradle to Cradle products and innovations developing internationally.

We have had some major challenges defending the clean air act during the past few years, but thanks to the EPA and groups like Mom’s Clean Air Force we are holding ground and it is my hope that, with grassroots persistence, we will find protection in 2012. I predict, despite immense political pressure, we will prioritize the air we breathe and consequentially our health.

Finally, in 2012, I predict that the obsession with hyper-local will continue to spread and we will chose to source things that are grown, manufactured and/or embellished close to home.

Piers Fawkes – Trend Forecaster, Founder & Editor-in-chief of Trend Agency & website

In 2012 I think we’re going to see a lot more ‘Social Pairing’. This will be through existing or new social networks where the systems mine members’ profiles and updates and then matches people up based on interests, needs, location. Examples are Crush + Lovely that finds similar people to do activities together or the Swedish farmers co-operative that formed Restdejting to get single people to dine together to eat food that would otherwise be thrown away. Social Pairing won’t only drive green behavior but this trend seems to be creating hyper-efficiencies – where people can connect in a way that would have taken forever before – and also allows the optimized use of products – people can share or use unwanted products. This in turn fosters a feeling of community (geographic or activity based) and further collaboration could follow as a result.

Tafline Laylin – Managing Editor of Green Prophet

All kinds of exciting green things are happening in the Middle East – especially in the Gulf countries. Abu Dhabi in particular is taking enormous strides towards a more sustainable future and I think we can expect to see even more progress throughout 2012. Although Masdar had to scale back its plans for a zero-energy, zero-carbon city, they continue to form crucial partnerships with influential players in the international renewable sector, most recently with the German research institute Fraunhoefer Gesellschaft. As a result of this partnership, Masdar will be re-positioned as the MENA region’s guru of sustainable building materials. Egypt continues to struggle with the aftershocks of revolution, but the American Univeristy of Cairo’s Solar Decathlon team is producing extraordinary work that can easily compete with European colleges – provided they are able to generate the necessary funds to make their way to Spain for the competition later this year. Desertec continues to generate serious waves in Mediterranean countries that have high solarity and wind potential, including Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. I’m expecting a whole host of new partnerships and projects to emerge from this consortium’s concerted efforts to generate clean energy that Europe will eventually buy. Lebanon’s green design scene has grown leaps and bounds, as has that of Saudi Arabia and Israel, but we really ought to keep an eye on the latter country, which is growing a formidable clean tech sector that is now pressing against the borders of New York City. The recently announced collaboration between the Technion – Israeli Institute of Technology and Cornell University – which result in the NYCTech Campus hub on Roosevelt Island – is very likely to produce Silicon Valley’s first genuine competitor from the United States’ east coast. Finally, as Southern Africa’s most progressive city, it’s no surprise that Cape Town was named the 2014 Design Capital. A source of great pride for increasingly green-minded residents, this status is likely to drive even more green initiatives such as public transportation, green roofs, and sustainable building. All in all, despite turmoil and setbacks, 2012 promises to be a very exciting year for the Middle East and North and South Africa, and we look forward to keeping our fingers on the eco-pulse!

Jennifer Schwab – Chief Sustainability Officer, Sierra Club Green Home

The Economy
Americans will continue to be frugal as our country is in a state of crisis with high unemployment, market volatility, and the threat of the euro zone collapsing. This could thrust us back into the worst grips of recession. Unfortunately, this does not fare well for green consumer products. However, I believe the best of America will rise to the occasion to help out their fellow man. Thus in 2012 the social equity piece of sustainability will be more prominent relative to past years. I’m witnessing this abroad right now as restauranteurs, hoteliers, and other service oriented businesses are including local sustainability goals and policies into their models. This includes educating and employing locals to help lift them out of poverty while teaching them a new skill set.

Social Trends
I also believe that as the millenials come of age, they can set an example for the rest of us. For example, experiences are considered more valuable than status driven purchases. Being green isn’t an inconvenience, it’s a way of life. Car ownership is so 2005, renting transportation on an as-needed basis is the present. These trends will continue on an upward trajectory in 2012.

Building and Construction
As credit markets ease, we will see more commercial buildings constructed and the energy integrity of these structures will be a priority. Projects such as hospitals, hotels, corporate headquarters, schools, and federal buildings will have more green attributes than ever and LEED certification will continue to be the bellweather in green building certifications.

In 2011, Sierra Club Green Home ( witnessed a number of green home improvement professionals close their doors. This is particularly true of energy auditors. The physical inspection, energy audit model may be eclipsed by technology such as Eye-R systems ( which utilizes infrared imaging, predictive analysis, and artificial intelligence to identify and model energy leaks in the built environment. Data deduced from these “drive by,” infrared energy audits will reduce the amount of time required to perform an audit by 70%. This drastically improves the viability of the energy audit business model. We will see more technology-driven, energy solutions deployed at scale in 2012.

In 2012, the solar industry will continue to consolidate — due to the panel supply glut, dissipating incentives, excessive loans coming due from the boom years, unfavorable balance sheets, and the accompanying negative P.R. On the upside, solar panel prices have dropped significantly which has permitted more accessibility than ever to the residential consumer. With favorable leasing terms and electricity prices rising, we will continue to see more rooftop adoption in 2012. Sierra Club Green Home ( even foresees some markets approaching grid parity in 2012.

Mike Chino – Managing Editor, Inhabitat

There are a lot of things that I’m looking forward to in the coming year – but above all else, I think that 2012 will be the year of the electric car. The road to mainstream EVs was paved this past year by the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt, and now that the technology and market have been proven, automakers are gearing up to launch EV’s around the world in the coming months – from the Ford Focus Electric to the Honda Fit EV, the Smart ForTwo Electric, and the Tesla S. We’ll be taking a first-hand look at several of these electric cars at the Detroit Auto Show next week, so stay tuned!

Yuka Yoneda – Senior Editor, Inhabitat

My green design prediction for MMXII is that it’s going to be all about DIY. Okay, so the DIY phenomenon isn’t exactly new (just ask Bob Vila), but with money tight and the internet making it easier than ever to find how-tos on anything and everything, I think more people than ever will venture out of their comfort zones and pick up their hammers, paintbrushes, glue guns and sewing machines. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be spending money. An argument my friends often confront me with when I talk up the make-it-yourself movement is “Isn’t that anti-capitalist?” (a sentiment that might originate from the the DIY movement’s ties to punk culture). My answer, of course, is no, but we will see a shift in what people spend money on. Just as many of us are moving away from purchasing pre-made and processed foods and towards picking up more raw ingredients, I think we’ll see more registers ringing at salvage yards, thrift shops, and home improvement and craft stores. Aside from just being a useful and fun way to get the hell away from your computer for a moment, I hope crafting things with our own two hands gives us a newfound appreciation of the fact that while things may seem like they just magically appear on store shelves, a lot of materials and energy go into them before they get there.

They say that if you want something done right, you have to Do It Yourself. So let’s roll up our sleeves this year and do 2012 right!

Jill Fehrenbacher – Founder & Editor-in-chief,

I am cautiously optimistic about 2012. I feel like we’ve started to round the bend in terms of the economic recession, and I see a lot of reason for hope and excitement about new innovations and opportunities in 2012. One thing I am hugely excited about is the emergence of the mass-market electric vehicle. I also think that the recession-based-frugality that we have seen in the past few years will continue to inspire growing creativity in terms of DIY & craft culture. People are rediscovering the joy of making things and fixing what they have. I think this ethos will gather momentum for many more years, and will (hopefully) leave an indelible imprint on the generations that are soldiering through this recession right now. We’ll all emerge from the recession with more skills, more ingenuity, and the pride and unique satisfaction that comes from knowing how to knit a scarf, mend your own clothes, or turn anything into a terrarium (terrarium Christmas ornament how to here >)

Since I believe in frugality and reuse, (and also because I think 2012 is going to see a continuation of many of the trends we saw in 2011), I’m going to recycle and resurrect some of my predictions from 2011. Let’s take a look down memory lane, shall we…

For too many years, the relentless marketing push around “newness”, along with race-to-the-bottom consumer prices (and corresponding labor/manufacturing costs) has elevated fast consumption to an unsustainable level. Thanks in part to the economic downturn, consumers are finally beginning to feel nauseous from stuffing their faces and houses with too many unneeded products — and are becoming pickier about the things they bring into their lives. While economists and politics bemoan the current state of the economy, it has so far been great for weeding out stupid products and companies that have no good reason to exist. I predict that in 2012 we will see increasing skepticism, comparison shopping and research on the part of consumers in deciding what they want to purchase, which will hopefully lead to better and more thoughtful products. We’ll continue to see consumers foregoing thoughtless impulse buys in order to invest more in quality products that will stand the test of time.

2. RESTORE & REPAIR – & with it, the rise of service design industry
When consumers value the things they have more, they’ll invest more time and money in maintaining their things. Companies that help maintain, repair and restore products, such as Denim Therapy (which helps people repair their fraying blue jeans), cobblers and bike repair shops, will continue to see growth.

In 2012 we will see a growing demand for ideas over physical objects. This means there will be a growing demand for experience/interaction design skills rather than traditional product design skills. More attention will be paid to how something works and how it makes a user feel rather than how it looks.

Finally, I predict 2012 to be a year where more and more average consumers and hobbyists get intp the world of design by learning how to create, craft and engineer their own products. The rise of Etsy and Instructables have shown that interest in DIY and craft is growing by leaps and bounds. Not only have creative tools such as software, publishing platforms and DIY instructions become increasingly available and easy to find online, but there is an innate satisfaction that individuals derive from making things, and in our post-industrial society (where we’re increasingly distanced from the process of making pretty much everything) many people are craving a closer connection with the process of creation. This means that there will be more and more stuff available out there and more “noise” as increasing numbers of individuals get into every possible niche, but also there will be more interesting things for consumers to choose from as both supply and demand grow. I think it also means we’ll all start to get more creative and become more fulfilled in our personal lives as more and more of us turn to crafts and DIY projects.


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