Happy new year everyone!Though 2013 went by in a flash, we here at Inhabitat are raising our glasses in excitement for what the new year holds. We've turned to some of the world's leading environmental experts and design luminaries to get their predictions for 2014. Discussing hot topics ranging from climate change to global infrastructure to design resiliency, read on for what these 15 eco-minded pundits predict for 2014!
1. Bill McKibben — Environmentalist, President and Co-Founder of 350.org
2. Amanda Dameron — Editor-in-Chief at Dwell Magazine
3. Emily Pilloton — Founder + Executive Director at Project H Design
5. Rebecca Silver — Consultant at Clean by Design, the Natural Resources Defense Council; Adjunct Professor at the School of Visual Arts Products of Design
6. Nick Blitterswyk — CEO of Urban Green Energy
7. Ned Helme — President of Center for Clean Air Policy
8. Sheryl Connelly — Global Trend and Futuring Manager at Ford Motor Company
9. Billy Parish — President & Co-Founder of Mosaic, Co-Founder of Energy Action Coalition, Author of Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money, and Community in a Changing World
10. Minda Berbeco, PhD — Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education
12. Martin Beniston — Director of the Institute for Environmental Sciences of the University of Geneva; Project leader of the PlanetSolar DeepWater Expedition
13. Kevin Brownawell — Director of the Office of Infrastructure and Energy at USAID
Environmentalist, Green Journalist, President and Co-Founder of 350.org
I think it’s going to be the year when it finally hits home that we’ve got to keep most fossil fuel underground–that the business plans of the fossil fuel industry will tank the planet. At some point, physics wins.
Editor-in-Chief at Dwell Magazine
These are not so much “green predictions” as they are “green hopes” for 2014. This year I hope to see more cities in the United States embracing the revitalization of unused or otherwise derelict public space, as well as integrating more infrastructure to promote walking and biking over driving. In the commercial world, as this most recent holiday season has proven, more people are embracing the convenience of online shopping. With this in mind, I’d like to see product manufacturers and shipping powerhouses like Amazon thoughtfully considering their use of packaging materials to lesson waste. That being said, I also hope that more consumers will choose to support their local businesses whenever possible.
Founder + Executive Director at Project H Design
My 2014 resolution is one word in all caps: BUILD. Over the past 6 years, my organization, Project H Design, has been on an amazing adventure of using design and building projects to excite youth about their own future, and to build new, beautiful public infrastructure in communities. To BUILD means continuing this work, with a focus on laying incremental bricks towards progress. As creatives, designers, architects, makers, BUILD is a way of life. It means we are constantly creating with an eye on improvement: we always believe things can be better. My work with kids is the purest form of this BUILD mentality. To watch one of my 10-year-old girl campers pick up a welder to build a steel sculpture, she is also building confidence, critical thinking, and the belief that if she can fuse metal, what CAN’T she do? In 2014, let’s BUILD. Everyday. Something audacious. Step by step.
My hope for the coming year recalls Joel Makower’s lingering admonishment that though we have a very clear picture of “what happens when we get things wrong…no one has created a vision of what happens if we get things right.” I find this idea unbelievably powerful—I’ve quoted it many times—and I’d argue that there is an extraordinary opportunity for designers to create that vision. It has become so clear to me that a designer’s unique, absolute superpower is the ability to conjure possible futures—in prototypes, in campaigns, in interventions, in anything—so that we can look at them and talk about them and make decisions about whether to move forward with them.
The example I’ve been using lately is the movie industry. A studio will spend north of a hundred million dollars on a movie, when what they should really be doing is hiring a bunch of graphic designers to create movie posters. Then they can put the poster on the wall, and call a meeting. I imagine it going something like this: “Well, I’m looking at this poster, and there’s no WAY we should be making this movie. I mean, I’m looking at the fucking poster! But I know what movie we should make.” To me, that’s the power of design; we make things that don’t yet exist…but might.
Now, perhaps a blockbuster movie poster is a facile example (although it isn’t if you take the dollars into account). But we surely need more designers to be in the storytelling business. And perhaps telling hopeful stories that help us envision what Alex Steffen calls a “new prosperity. ” I’ve always loved that term.
So though Joel and Alex have been at it a very long while now, I want 2014 to be the year when those two ideas collide; when we turn the corner away from feeling helpless (and sometimes hopeless) to envisioning—and feeling—possible futures that aren’t utopian, perhaps, but aren’t Armageddon either. I want to feel that way in my own heart.
It’s a sanguine prediction, but maybe that’s what predictions are for.
Consultant at Clean by Design, the Natural Resources Defense Council; Adjunct Professor at the School of Visual Arts Products of Design
Designers working across diverse industries have embraced eco-design principles such as ‘dematerialization’ or ‘recyclability’ to reduce the environmental and social impacts caused by the production, consumption, and disposal of the goods and services they create. And yet at the end of 2013, it remains difficult for even the greenest of designs and designers to offer quantitative evidence that their solutions create relatively lower environmental and social impacts than those of their competitors. The reasons for this are, like the problems they seek to solve, complicated… but chief culprits include:
• Language barriers: What’s the ROI on green design? How does one translate environmental or social impact to financial impact?
• Technical feasibility: Product supply chains are global and dynamic. How does one measure the energy consumed to create a product across a changing system?
• Tools: Current tools which measure environmental impact of products such as LCA are prohibitively time consuming to implement and ignore non-environmental criteria (social, financial, technical performance, aesthetic, etc.).
• Transparency: The indirect suppliers to brands are often unknown (those deeper in a supply chain), and thus brands have limited ability to measure the environmental and social practices of these suppliers.
However, the imperative to quantify, report, and reduce impacts is increasing, fueled by consumer demand following tragedies such as the factory collapse at Rana Plaza, legislation requiring companies to take responsibility for social impacts in their supply chains, NGO pressure such as Greenpeace’s campaign for companies to detox their supply chains, and by for-profit corporations. Last year industry-led coalitions of stakeholders from the apparel and footwear industries, to over 200 categories of suppliers to Walmart, began to test, scale, and implement measurement and reporting systems they’ve been developing over the past several years. Further implementation of these systems will create the impetus for designers across these categories to understand not just the qualitative principles of eco-design, but also the quantitative metrics and means to calculate the social and environmental impacts of the products they create.
2014 will mark a shift where scientific rigor will begin to become a design requirement, as measurement systems are scaled and priorities aligned. And this will mean design, science, and business communities will need to work together like never before in order to move beyond the greening of single products to meaningfully reduce impact.
The marriage of design and scientific communities has already begun, as this past year unlikely partners NIKE, NASA, the US Agency for International Development, and the US Department of State jointly created LAUNCH, a challenge platform to crowd-source innovative systems solutions to the largest environmental and social issues. Nike also publicly released their Making App, providing quantitative, scientifically validated information on the environmental impacts of materials, in a designer-friendly use interface. Nike has become a leading voice in putting ‘ecology’ back in eco-design, and it’s my hope that in 2014 other companies and designers will do the same.
President of Center for Clean Air Policy
Next year will determine whether serious money will finally be deployed to address the problem of climate change. Three key meetings – the Green Climate Fund board meetings in February and May and a United Nations gathering of heads of state in September – will be the stepping stones to success or failure in the mobilization of billions of dollars starting in 2015. I prefer to be upbeat about the prospect that policies will be put in place during those meetings to finally allow the dollars flow. The US and China are more or less on the same page at last when it comes to combating climate change, which means that 2014 can truly be a breakthrough year.
Global Trend and Futuring Manager at Ford Motor Company
It will be fascinating to watch a culture of reflection emerge in 2014. In this era of rapid change, we are seeing a consumer culture that is increasingly mindful of the need to nurture society’s valuable and irreplaceable resources. Water is one such resource that is essential to every element of existence. The need for clean water is a critical global sustainability issue that cuts across all social, economic, environmental and political boundaries. We believe Ford can play a role in developing and implementing solutions to the global water challenge.
Consumers will also begin to reevaluate their relationships with technology, balancing the need to be constantly plugged in with a new appreciation for spending quality time off-line. For Ford, understanding our customers and their evolving needs is key to our accelerated growth plan and new vehicle development. Consumer insights and trends help guide our product strategies and the development of vehicles that not only exceed customer expectations, but also connect with the rapidly changing landscape of our society.
CEO of Urban Green Energy
2013 saw distributed renewable energy (DRE) continue to become mainstream in the US, to the point that it is now a legitimate competitor to the utility model in several states—just as it has become in Germany, Australia, and a handful of other countries. 2014 is going to see the same happen in much of the developing world. DRE has the ability to provide more reliable and affordable, not to mention sustainable energy, and can make the biggest impact in developing countries with poor infrastructure, vastly accelerating the deployment of energy where it is needed most.
President & Co-Founder of Mosaic, Co-Founder of Energy Action Coalition, Author of Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money, and Community in a Changing World
We’re going to see an increasing number of people participating in the clean energy economy. When I dropped out of Yale to start building the clean energy movement in 2002, a lot of people thought I was crazy. Now, 94% of Democrats, 89% of independents and 75% of Republicans support solar.
A lot of this has to do with the growth of the solar economy. The cost of watt for solar has dropped 80% in the last five years. In 2013, a solar installation went up, on average, every four minutes in the US. In October, 99% of new electricity generation put online was solar. In November, 100% of new electricity was clean energy. Nationwide, the solar industry created 13% more jobs in 2012 than 2011—4x greater than the economy as a whole and one of the fastest growth rates for any industry.
Celebrities are taking a lead to bring more people on board to the solar movement. Among them are Brad Pitt whose organization Make It Right Solar is rebuilding communities with solar in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. Mark Ruffalo has just made his 2014 New Years Resolution to take his kids’ school solar, and he is bringing others on board to Put Solar On It.
Solar is a new and high-performing asset class–as shown by Warren Buffett who’s invested $7 billion in solar. In January 2013, the company I founded, Mosaic, launched the first platform to enable Americans to invest in solar projects and sold out over $300,000 of solar projects in 24 hours. We’ve done this again throughout the year to bring on 3,000 investors and loan $6M to solar projects across the nation.
Among Mosaic’s 2013 investment offerings were solar installations on the nations’ first joint Airforce, Army & Navy military base in New Jersey, US Foods Distribution Center in New Mexico, and University of Florida student housing— all large, mainstream institutions. None of our solar project loans have defaulted and our investors have received 100% on-time payments at 4.5-7% annually.
Solar is now a mainstream part of the economy and more and more people are seeing strong economic returns by funding and going solar. This participation will continue to grow exponentially in 2014.
Minda Berbeco, PhD
Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education
The year 2014 will bring about the rise of the young student science activist. With the severe impacts of climate change becoming clear to a younger population, it has become impossible for parents to deny to their children what is happening. The release of National Climate Assessment this coming year, which demonstrates the toll climate change has already taken on the United States, will only make this issue more salient. Simultaneously, states across the country will be adopting the Next Generation Science Standards, which emphasizes engineering solutions to environmental challenges allowing for an educated and empowered student body under the age of 18. With student-targeted programs like the Alliance for Climate Education highlighting both the science of climate change and the potential for technology to mitigate these challenges, children will become more empowered in the next year to address climate change. The simultaneous educating and empowering of these students will create an impressive change in how children both perceive and respond to climate change. The push for lifestyle changes, technological solutions, and policy changes (from energy efficient buildings to divestment from carbon-intensive fuel sources) will come not from politicians or industry in the next year, but directly from the K-12 classroom.
I spent a good part of 2013 collaborating with cities around the country, through our Sustainable Neighborhood Assessments, to create the greatest benefit from investments being made in affordable housing, stormwater quality, transit upgrades. The degree to which this activity is occurring at the neighborhood level makes it clear to me that 2014 will be the year when sustainable design locks focus on neighborhood sustainability.
Already, there is a solid and rapidly growing body of work on the environmental, social, health, and economic benefits of engaging at the neighborhood scale. Rating systems and frameworks like LEED for Neighborhood Development and Eco Districts can reveal the breadth and depth of opportunity inherent in urban neighborhoods. But so far the portfolio of completed built examples is slight. With real estate markets continue to solidify, sustainable neighborhood projects that were kept on ice over the past five years will be reignited. I expect to see a rapid increase in the number of neighborhood scale developments that achieve LEED ND certification as completed projects and that the number of communities that embrace the Eco Districts framework will grow quickly.
I also spent part of 2013 in Sweden studying sustainable urban development projects through a Fulbright Fellowship with the Royal Institute of Technology. It didn’t take long to see that the Swedes are highly advanced in integrating innovative technologies like district heating and cooling, on-site water treatment, and waste to energy, concurrent with restoration ecology and transit-oriented, mixed-use planning. What was even more impressive, though, is how the Swedes have created a collaborative, trust-based development process that leads to the implementation of these innovation approaches in a consistent and replicable way.
The Eco Districts Summit this past November became a lively and optimistic exchange of ideas combined with a let’s-get-to-work attitude. As this energy carries over into 2014, new opportunities for urban sustainability that haven’t yet been considered in the US—in approach, governance, systems, and technology—will be explored and tested. There was Swedish contingent at Eco Districts to both share and learn. Folding the Swedish trust-based approach into the Eco Districts framework, combined with the technical rigor of LEED ND, will be a powerful way to foster sustainability and increase resiliency. Strong and sustainable neighborhoods are the building blocks of urban sustainability—2014 has a lot in store.
Director of the Institute for Environmental Sciences of the University of Geneva; Project leader of the PlanetSolar DeepWater Expedition
Despite significant improvements over the past two decades in the state of knowledge of the climate system and its functioning, in particular to address the issue of human-induced climate change, climate science nevertheless has a range of uncertainties that need to be addressed by the research community. Reducing these uncertainties are sometimes referred to as “grand challenges”, and include inter alia issues such as sea-level rise, the role of clouds in the climate system, changes in the hydrological cycle, and linking extreme events to climate change. These topics are likely to be at the forefront of climate science for at least the coming decade.
In 2014, consumers will become better educated, and sustainability will become foremost in how we think about good food. Enlightened eaters will turn from long-distance organic produce to food grown and raised by foodmakers who are transparent about their production methods. Cooperative resources for distribution will empower family farmers and foodmakers to continue to raise the bar and further distinguish the real food they are making from mass-produced supermarket fare.
Director of the Office of Infrastructure and Energy at USAID
Expanding access to clean energy services is key to achieving USAID’s development goals. In the coming years, we expect to further our efforts in clean energy innovation by, for example, expanding the Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge program which finds and supports market-based, clean energy innovations for agriculture in developing countries. Last week, we announced our twelve winners—from an applicant pool of 475 applications from 80 countries. Clearly, there is tremendous interest in using clean energy to transform agriculture in developing countries, and we only see this interest growing as we move forward.
The recent growth of the electric car (EV) market and the US solar photovoltaics (PV) market has been tremendous, but I think this has still been off of most people’s radars, even many green bloggers. I think greater and greater awareness of this is going to be one of the big themes in 2014. Actually, just within the past month or so, we’ve seen the New York Times and Washington Post linking to analyses on our sites about this tremendous growth. It is really starting to get some attention, but I think 2014 will be a break-out year.
Part of a stimulus for that will certainly be an increasing number of electric cars from major brands, clearing out of bottlenecks in the supply chain of some EV manufacturers, further dropping prices, and even greater sales than any year prior. More and more people and bloggers are also sure to connect the dots between solar PV and electric cars, realizing that it’s now possible to run cars on sunshine for mere pennies.
The global warming and pollution crises are still far from being adequately addressed, but I am hopeful that steep clean tech adoption curves will give us a big boost in the coming few years.
Beyond the electric vehicle and rooftop revolutions, I also think that bicycling for transportation in North America will continue to see strong growth, partially stimulated by the growth of bike-sharing programs, colored bike lanes, and separated bike paths — and partially stimulated by the fact that bicycling is super fun and a pleasure.
I’m also hopeful we’ll see some breakout energy efficiency startups making a difference, but we’ll have to wait to see.