2012 was a momentous year and we saw many significant changes, of both triumphs and failures. But as we embark upon this brand new year, we do so with optimism and hope that 2013 wil give rise to a better, more sustainable future. So now that the toasts have been made and Auld Lang Syne has come to a stop, we're turning to some of the world's leading environmental experts and design luminaries to offer us their predictions for 2013. Touching upon everything from climate change to technology to automotive, design and more, read on for what our eleven pundits envision for the coming year.
1. Bill McKibben — Environmentalist, President and Co-Founder of 350.org
2. David Assael & David Basulto — Co-founders of ArchDaily.com/The Plataforma Networks
3. Peter Weijmarshausen — CEO of Shapeways, 3D printing pioneer
5. Todd J. Sanford, Ph.D. — Climate Scientist, Climate & Energy Program, Union of Concerned Scientists
6. Lloyd Alter — Designer, Editor at Treehugger
8. Jean Lin — Editor-in-Chief at Designer Pages Media
10. Eric Corey Freed — Author, Founding Principal of organicARCHITECT
11. J Mays — Group Vice President of Global Design, Chief Creative Officer at Ford Motors
Environmentalist, Green Journalist, President and Co-Founder of 350.org
I think there’s actually a chance 2013 will be a significant year in climate history — the year when the planet’s leaders actually ran out of excuses for their inaction. We’re seeing record temperatures, record melting, record storms, record everything: it’s clearly not the same world we thought it was even a few years ago. But we’re also finally seeing record dissent. In the U.S. for instance, students on more than 190 campuses are fighting to demand the divestment of stocks in fossil fuel companies. They’ve peeled back the layers of the onion — they’re not demanding new lightbulbs, they’re demanding systemic changes in the balance of power, trying to weaken the forces of the radical status quo, the ones systematically altering the chemistry of the atmosphere.
It’s a hard fight, of course, because those forces are led by the richest industry on earth — the oil, coal, and gas tycoons. So I don’t predict the outcome. Only that the choice for the powerful is going to get harder almost by the week, if we keep building the movements we need to build. We’re not as powerful as Exxon yet, but we’re closer than we used to be, which is the only good news I can think of.
David Assael & David Basulto
Co-founders of Arch Daily.com/The Plataforma Networks
During 2012 we had the opportunity to meet amazing people working on scalable solutions to the biggest problems of the world — this included the likes of Peter Diamandis and Cameron Sinclair. One person that really stood out to us was Andrew Hessel whose research on hacking genetics is opening the door for humanity to finally be able to “grow” parts of our cities. This idea is something that we really hope to see more of moving through 2013. The answers to questions such as “What about growing our own benches?” and “What about the trees turning into luminaries for our streets?”, these are just the start of what’s to come for real sustainable cities.
We are also very intrigued by how fast the promise made by King Abdullah from Saudi Arabia is moving: If the Saudis are finally able to export solar energy, it will completely change the future landscape of the electric car.
2012 was a mixed bag for technologies like clean energy, electric cars, biofuels, and energy efficiency. As I wrote in this GigaOM article, some of the best things to happen in 2012 for cleantech were that solar panels became really cheap, a few companies like Tesla and SolarCity ended the year strong, and companies developing energy analytics and software have done well. But at the same time, the term cleantech became very politicized in 2012, venture capitalist investors started to move away from investing in cleantech in 2012 (after losing money), and solar manufacturers, electric car makers and battery makers struggled – or even went bankrupt – in 2012 for a variety of reasons.
In 2013, the good and the bad will continue. The term cleantech will continue to go through a necessary rebranding, and will both be split into sectors – like solar or battery tech – and perhaps a new umbrella term will emerge. Now that President Obama will remain in office, U.S. support for clean energy will remain at the same level – and thankfully not go down – but won’t likely rise too much either.
Solar panel prices will remain low, which is great for companies and consumers buying solar panels for rooftops. The solar sector saw dramatic growth in 2012, and will continue to grow rapidly in 2012. But low solar prices will continue to make a difficult market for solar cell manufacturers. Expect to see more solar producers go bankrupt in 2013, as well as some difficult times for solar startups that have manufacturing innovations.
More than ever the world needs new technologies to manage global resources – like energy, water and food – for a growing population that will reach 9 billion people by 2050. The planet also needs new and better solutions for a changing climate. Expect to see new ideas for more efficient food production and agriculture in 2013. The trends that led to a rise in cleantech development over the past few years will only continue, they just might not be called “cleantech” in 2013 and they might not be funded by Silicon Valley.
Todd J. Sanford, Ph.D.
Climate Scientist, Climate & Energy Program, Union of Concerned Scientists
The spate of extreme weather that the US and other parts of the world faced in 2012 brought the global climate change issue to people’s backyards. I feel that 2013 will move the discussion from not only increased awareness of the issue, but to greater investment and ownership in solutions at the individual and community scales. 2012 (and many years previous to that) have also highlighted that climate is not an issue for tomorrow, but one for today. The challenges have moved beyond simply finding solutions to mitigate the problem, but now how to adapt to impacts already being felt and those already locked in over the coming years.
I’m looking for 2013 to provide an increase in creative, innovative solutions originating at local scales to inform the broader conversation. Two major climate reports are due to be released in 2013. The next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment report will be released starting this fall, which undoubtedly will confirm our increased understanding of and confidence in what is driving climate change and likely impacts. Perhaps more importantly for those of us in the United States, the US National Climate Assessment (NCA) will release its latest report this year. The NCA process directly engages stakeholders and decision-makers and attempts to provide climate information that can be utilized across sectors and regions to make informed decisions not only on mitigation options, but also on adaptation solutions and how to minimize climate risk. To that end, Union of Concerned Scientists has begun working to connect the public, policymakers, and scientists at local levels to local and regional climate impacts and solutions. We have efforts underway around sea-level rise in Florida and wildfire risk in the Rockies.
Climate solutions is no longer a conversation to be had only by international diplomats or in the halls of Congress and Parliament houses around the world. Now it is one in which virtually everyone has a stake in. I think 2013 will broaden the suite of solutions by including a much larger group in the discussion. Not only does that prospect hold exciting possibilities, but it is of critical importance at this point.
Eric Corey Freed
Founding Principal of organicARCHITECT, Author of “Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies”
My hope for 2013 is that we come to our senses. After a bitterly divided presidential cycle, partisan gridlock and threats of secession, I think we are all ready for a little civility and level-headedness. Frankly, the change is overdue and will be exciting!
This coming year is about three things: transparency, resiliency and carbon.
TRANSPARENCY: Manufacturers will be forced, either by consumer demand or regulation, to disclose the environmental impact of their products. New approaches, such as the Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) from UL Environment or SCS Certified, and new open standards, such as the Healthy Product Declaration (HPD) from the Healthy Building Network, have paved the way for a transparent future.
EVIDENCE: One of the biggest announcements from the recent Greenbuild Conference in San Francisco was the $3 million grant from Google to support the US Green Building Council’s work on healthier building materials.
RESILIENCY: Hurricane Sandy, the storm that crippled New York and Philadelphia, (and leveled Atlantic City), highlighted the extreme vulnerability of our transportation and electricity infrastructure. To millions this past November, climate change suddenly just became very real and very expensive. When the Governor of New York suggested we build walls around Lower Manhattan, you know resilient design is an important topic for the year. In fact, BuildingGreen’s Top 10 Products for the year focused on resiliency.
CARBON: The profession of design is about to change drastically. If you’re an architect, engineer, planner or builder, the way you build is about to undergo some radical new transformations. 2012 is on track to be the warmest year on record, with some 40,000 temperature records broken in the US alone. We can no longer ignore or procrastinate about how carbon is treated.
EVIDENCE: The State of California’s recent carbon cap and trade program is not perfect, but the start of a wave of change how carbon is treated. Work by organizations such as the Post Carbon Institute highlight this change in attitude toward carbon.
Group Vice President of Global Design, Chief Creative Officer at Ford Motors
Customers today look for great design. From fashion and electronics, to housewares and automobiles, customers have come to expect products that not only deliver the functionality and quality but also the style, personalization and in most cases, a designer label – without the designer price tag. Customers look for a sense of premium that is attainable. That’s true for automotive design as well: customers develop an emotional bond with their vehicle and the design inspires that bond. Everyone wants to feel like they are doing the right thing when they make a purchase. Being eco-friendly doesn’t mean you have to compromise on good looks, and that will be evident across all industries, including automotive.
CEO of Shapeways, 3D printing pioneer
In 2013 we’ll see an increased emphasis on localized production. 3D printing enables manufacturing to go local again, making things closer to where they’re used. This is cheaper and better for the environment than alternatives.
3D printing will also continue to disrupt the dominance of mass manufacturing. It allows you to make products as people order them and avoid the risk of building inventory that you can’t sell.
With the consequences of 2012’s severe weather events fresh in our collective memory, and yet having survived the momentous transition to the next Mayan b’ak’tun, we will begin 2013 with renewed focus on the real climate change threat to the stability of our planet. Designers will respond ever more directly to the challenges (opportunities) of the fossil fuel divestment and environmental justice movements, and show the world that it is possible to keep 4/5 of our proven reserves in the ground and further decouple GDP from fossil fuel consumption.
The expansion of the WindMade™ eco-label into other renewables will help to bring about a universal consumer awareness movement, making low-carbon retail goods as ubiquitous as certified organic foods. Cradle to Cradle® and similar certifications will make serious inroads into consumer goods at big box stores (such as pet products and kids’ toys), and integrated solar chargers will appear on many more items that would otherwise rely on disposable batteries.
Contemporary design manifestations on pre-industrial (low-energy) ideas will surface. For example, features like root cellars (a natural progression of the local food movement), yakhchal (ancient passive cooling system), and winter gardens (fresh food year-round) may become more prevalent in sleek new residential architecture.
Concentrated photovoltaic multijunction cells will leap past the 50% threshold of efficiency in the lab, and low carbon organic thin films will see groundbreaking efficiency gains and production cost savings, bringing the price per installed watt and payback periods down to levels that will create an historic tipping point.
Based on our experience this past year with LAGI 2012, we can safely predict that university art and design programs will more and more utilize interdisciplinary curricula that combine design with low-carbon engineering innovation.
Crowd-source funding and amortized purchase of renewable energy will continue to grow and we will see an outbreak of renewable energy cooperatives springing up to power neighborhoods. New innovative design solutions will emerge for the aesthetic integration of renewable energy infrastructure into the city and agricultural landscape.
In general, we are very optimistic about the trends for green design. We are encouraged every day by our interactions with innovative designers who are thinking holistically about permaculture and living solutions that can continue to raise our standard of living smartly and in harmony with our natural environment.
Designer, Editor at Treehugger
Cue up your favorite version of “We’re All In This Together”, because we really are now. Young people are moving in with parents who are taking care of older parents, and the old idea of the nuclear family is blown up. Events like Superstorm Sandy show that our homes and communities have to be resilient, flexible and adaptable.
This will change the way we think about green design as we look for simpler systems that keep going under all kinds of conditions. More bikes and walk-up apartments; I sincerely hope fewer glass towers by starchitects.
I anticipate that product and material manufacturers in the architecture and design industries will stop printing catalogs. That design professionals will stop printing cut sheets and specification documents. That we will collectively as an industry engage in more environmentally-friendly behavior that reduces our dependency on paper, thereby increasing our adoption of technology solutions.
Editor-in-Chief at Designer Pages Media
My greatest hope for the future is that the environmental movement continues to grow to address the many socio-economic issues that plague our world today. I hope that as design culture continues to permeate into the collective consumer conscious, those companies at the crossroads of design and the mass market are able to educate consumers about the impact that their choices have on the direction of business and manufacturing practices around the world. Green is a powerful word that encompasses elements that go beyond recycling and energy efficiency. The human life on this earth should be cared for as much as the earth itself. These are not solely environmental, social, religious or political issues, they are issues of humanity in its most basic and pure form.