Happy New Year! The ball has dropped, the confetti has cleared, and we're looking forward to a great year for green design. But don't just take our word for it - we've rounded up predictions for the coming year from 9 of the biggest movers, makers, shakers and thought leaders in the fields of architecture, design, environmental journalism, smart cities, and beyond. Read on for a sneak peek at what the future holds according to:
Bill McKibben — Environmentalist, Green Journalist, President and Co-Founder of 350.org
Olle Lundberg — Design Principal, Lundberg Design
Horace Luke — Co-founder and CEO of Gogoro.com
Katie Fehrenbacher — Features Editor, Greentech Editor, Senior Writer at GigaOM
Phil Aroneanu — U.S. Managing Director and Co-Founder of 350.org
Emma Stewart, Ph.D — Head of Sustainability Solutions, Autodesk
Tamsin Woolley-Barker, Ph.D — Evolutionary Biologist, Writer, Biomimicry Professional
Peter Watts — Science Fiction Author and Marine-Mammal Biologist
Christine Datz-Romero — Executive Director of LES Ecology Center
2014 was the hottest year we’ve ever recorded on our home planet. Which means 2015 will have to be the hottest political year ever. We’ll march in ever larger numbers, and we will challenge ever more strongly the fossil fuel industry, which is the real power behind the greatest emergency the planet has ever faced.
With the world’s megacities at a tipping point in population density, pollution fallout and rapid expansion, it is essential that we reimagine the energy infrastructure and create a renewed mindset for change in tomorrow’s urban generation. As technologists, creators and inventors, it is our role to incite well-designed products that capture the hearts of the next generation and become a catalyst for more efficient, cleaner, and smarter energy choices in our cities.
Today’s always-on, ever-connected culture has bred wearable devices and connected home technologies, which are an easily-embraced first consumer step toward creating efficiencies in our daily lives. And the time is ripe to transition to municipal-level energy efficient choices. In 2015, I expect we’ll see further maturation of smart, connected technologies, particularly in the transportation industry. From personal and public transit options to vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, we should expect to see deeper innovation and adoption of electric vehicle technology as it moves from proof-of-concept to proven choice, especially for urban residents.
2015 will be an important year when it comes to batteries being plugged into the power grid, hooked up to solar farms, and maybe even connected to a building or home near you. While we most often encounter batteries in our laptops and cell phones, these same lithium ion batteries are becoming cheap enough to be able to provide important services for the power grid, like storing solar energy during the day to be used at night when the sun goes down.
Photo courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher/Gigaom
Electric carmaker Tesla, and Japanese battery giant Panasonic, are two companies that are working hard to turn lithium ion batteries into grid staples, and their battery factory outside of Reno, Nevada, could go a long way to doing that. At the same time, startups like Ambri and Aquion Energy have developed new battery chemistries customized to be used on the power grid, and these next-generation batteries are getting closer to being more widely commercialized.
Photo courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher/Gigaom
Finally, solar companies like SunPower and SolarCity are eager to pair batteries with their solar panel systems, as a way to sell new products and build smaller systems that can operate 24 hours a day. According to GTM Research, the annual market for solar panels combined with batteries in the U.S. will grow to more than $1 billion by 2018, up from $42 million in 2014.
In 2015 “repurposing” is going to become part of the design vocabulary. Reuse of reclaimed materials for either a new function or a new aesthetic is a very efficient way to eliminate waste, as well as often being very economical. In the hands of inventive designers I think we will see some very interesting solutions, far beyond the coffee bar paneled with old barnwood (the death of this look being the release of plastic laminate that imitates it). Companies like “Repurposed Materials” will become a go-to resource for cutting edge green design.
In 2015, the climate movement will join the broader movement for democracy and justice in demanding that increasingly out of touch political leaders take action on issues that matter to working families across the country and the world. Climate justice will be at the top of the list because mother nature, and our movement, will become too powerful to ignore.
In 2015, I predict we’ll experience three big tipping points:
1. Cities will be recognized as the political and economic nuclei of society, with mayors spurring environmental action at the regional level and goading national leaders to agree to a global climate treaty at COP Paris in December.
2. Sensors will become cheap and small enough to selectively measure the energy and water performance of infrastructure, building, and industrial assets, clearing the path for evidence-based design.
Tamsin Woolley-Barker, Ph.D
Evolutionary Biologist, Writer, Biomimicry Professional
2015 will be the year scientists confirm that all kinds of vibrant ecosystems are evolving around carbon “waste.” New species of fungi and bacteria will be discovered that live on marine plastic. People will create industries around carbon negative manufacture (building with excess atmospheric carbon), and “waste” of all kinds will become the hot new raw resource as we learn to build the way nature always has.
2015 will also be the year that global decentralization hits critical mass, triggering fundamental changes in how we live and do business. Sluggish, system-bound hierarchies of all kinds will be replaced by locally-responsive networks of individuals, as we discover how much more adaptive and resilient they are.
Photo by Maria Nygård
Science Fiction Author and Marine-Mammal Biologist
2015 will be the year that legislation from the US House of Representatives forbids scientists from advising the EPA on matters of scien– oh wait, that was this year.
Okay, 2015 will be the year the House passes legislation forbidding the EPA from passing new laws without first breaking other laws that protect the medical confidentiality of private citize– oh, that was this year too.
2015 will be the year that the Canadian government guts a hundred environmental monitoring programs and literally throws thousands of scientific documents (containing invaluable historical data on wild ecosystems) into the garbage. Federal scientists will be forbidden from talking to journalists except in rare cases during which the PMO’s office sits on the line with its finger on a kill switch in case the scientist moves off-script. It will become an offense subject to official reprimand to use the phrase “tar sands” in casual conversation, as opposed to the officially approved “oil sands” or “ethical oil”. In two dozen of the United States, 2015 will be the year in which it became a criminal offense to document instances of animal abuse in the agricultural industry, with penalties ranging from…
Oh. Never mind. All that happened over the past four years.
You know, it’s kind of hard to take a pessimistic view of the future when the present has already exceeded your worst forebodings. But extrapolating from these and other recent events, I’ll give it a shot. Just keep in mind that, given my limited imagination, the reality is likely to be more extreme.
2015 will be the year in which:
Ag-gag laws are expanded to include bans on the documentation of fracking, oil/chemical spills, smokestack emissions, habitat loss, and species extinction rates. Following the lead of such august bodies as the American Legislative Exchange Council, activists who engage in such activities are now defined as “terrorists”, subject to the measures of the Patriot Act.
The Human population of Tuvalu is decimated by a previously-unknown strain of equine encephalitis, rendering that nation functionally extinct. The fact that this preempts embarrassing political entanglements that would have otherwise occurred several decades down the road, when rising sea levels would have inundated the island nation anyway, does not begin to mitigate the horror of this unexpected and entirely natural tragedy.
The Ecuadoran government denies rumors of a massive geoengineering facility, designed for stratospheric sulphate injection, said to be taking shape in the jungles of Manabi. The government of Brazil also insists that it knows nothing of any such project, and certainly would not be providing financial and in-kind support even if it did.
Toxicologists employed by Greenpeace publish a paper in Nature establishing a minimum four-digit human death toll directly attributable to runoff and groundwater contamination from the Alberta Tar Sands (P<0.0005). Most of the victims are aboriginal. Within forty-eight hours of publication, the authors of the paper, along with their lab staff, are arrested by the RCMP and held incommunicado on charges of violating the privacy rights of the deceased.
The “Исправьте Чернобыль” (“Reclaim Chernobyl”) movement rises to prominence in the Ukraine, advocating for rehabilitation of the suburbs of Chernobyl, which– thank to decades of human absence– has now become one of the most environmentally unspoiled areas in the country.
On a positive note, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals topple the long-standing Harper administration in the Canadian federal election of October 2015. Upon assuming the mantle of Prime Minister, Trudeau promises to enact the stringent and science-based environmental legislation he promised while campaigning, “assuming of course that we can do so without hampering economic growth.”
Photo by Lucid Food
We watch and are motivated by the evolution of resource management here in New York City, and 2015 will see continuing action in the world of recycling and materials recovery. From electronics, to food scraps, to storm water, the city is adopting transformative policies and development plans to improve the ways in which our discarded materials are recycled and reused.
We are excited to see the impact that the eWaste Disposal Ban, coming into effect in New York State on January 1st 2015, will have on the way that New Yorkers view electronics, and hope to see a burgeoning reuse economy. The City’s organics recovery program will continue to grow in every borough, with residential food scrap collection alongside more commuter drop-off locations sprouting up with increasing demand.
Beyond opportunities for residents to dispose of materials in an environmentally responsible and conscious way, larger green infrastructure plans on the horizon are a lens through which we can see our more resilient future city. The Rebuild by Design award-winning “BIG U” proposal for the lower Manhattan waterfront demonstrates intelligent green engineering projects to protect vulnerable, low-lying areas from flooding that double as public space.
In 2015, plans will come together for a constructed wetland here in East River Park, which will absorb storm surge, filter storm water, act as a habitat for native plants and migratory birds, while also providing optimal space for the Lower East Side Ecology Center’s composting operations.