HAPPY NEW YEAR!As we kick off 2011, there's no better time to reflect on the past year and to make some predictions as to what the coming year may hold. In what's become a bit of a tradition here at Inhabitat, we asked some of our favorite movers and shakers in the green design space to share their forecasts for what 2011 may mean for sustainable design, architecture and the natural and social environment. From the proliferation of share programs and bike culture, to eco-innovations in technology to make building and energy management easier — read on for what some of the most eminent minds in the green design world have to say about 2011.
1. William McDonough (Eco Designer & Thought Leader, Founder Cradle To Cradle, MBDC, and William McDonough + Partners)
2. Graham Hill (Founder, Treehugger.com and Vice President, Interactive Media, Planet Green)
4. Michelle Kaufmann (Architect and Founder, Michelle Kaufmann Studio)
5. Emily Pilloton (Green Designer and Founder/Executive Director, Project H)
6. Lloyd Alter (Architecture and Design Writer, Treehugger.com)
7. Zem Joaquin (Founder, Ecofabulous)
8. Sarah Rich (Founder, Longshot Magazine and Co-Founder, The Foodprint Project)
10. Katie Fehrenbacher (Editor, Earth2Tech.com and Writer, GigaOM.com)
11. David Johnson (Architect and Partner, William McDonough + Partners)
Did our experts’ predictions for 2010 hit or miss the mark? Read what they had to say about last year.
William McDonough – Designer/Thought Leader, Founder McDonough Consulting, MBDC, and William McDonough + Partners
For more than 30 years, I have been lucky to learn a great deal. As I continue to collaborate with German chemist Dr. Michael Braungart, with whom I co-developed the Cradle to Cradle philosophy, we are seeing broader and deeper understanding that less bad will never be enough. Moving forward, I predict that the pace of change will quicken and that Cradle to Cradle ripples will widen. What a delightful journey—toward abundance for all—we are on together.
Graham Hill – Founder, Treehugger.com and Vice President, Interactive Media, Planet Green
I’ve been bullish on sharing programs for years and am very excited to see them finally all coming around. My hopeful prediction for 2011 is that we’ll see a ton of companies, large, medium and small, jump on the bandwagon to share programs. We need nothing less than the zip-car-ification of the world, and it’s time to move from ownership to access for the environmental, financial and overall well-being of the population. At this point in time we need companies to nail the details on these systems. While it goes without saying there will be a lot of trial and error in the attempt to get this up and running efficiently, I truly hope that we see a lot of this “experimentation” in 2011, and that some big successes that propel progress and will spur further competition.
I predict that despite the backlash against all the bike lanes, bike sharing systems, and so on, that the pure fun, convenience, and health benefits related to bikes will give way to an even bigger spike in urban areas.
Another hopeful prediction I have is that we will continue to re-evaluate our culture of excess and move towards a “less but better” approach for benefits that impact the environment, economy and our overall happiness in a positive way. I think that the incredible submissions I’ve received for my LifeEdited.org contest are testament to the underlying interest in having a big ol’ reset regarding excess consumerism.
Michelle Kaufmann – Architect and Founder, Michelle Kaufmann Studio
1. Big builders going green: The perfect storm for sustainable building (housing crisis/financial crisis/environmental crisis) has been lasting long enough that the big builders are finally seeing the marketing and sales value of green building and shifting to more energy efficient and water conserving practices. This is a huge development in making green homes accessible, similar to Costco offering organic foods with no price premium.
2. Cradle to Cradle becomes mainstream: While C2C enthusiasts have been working hard for years to offer innovations in building and product designs that follow the core principles outlined in William McDonough’s book Cradle to Cradle, 2011 is going to be a big year for those ideas to become reality for the masses. With the recent launch of
the C2Cinstitute in California, backing these smart ideas with government policies are going to be huge.
3. Greenwashing Backlash: As more people are serving lawsuits to companies for greenwashing, we are going to be seeing better and more thorough practices. Over the past few years there have been increasing amounts of exaggerated claims of green-ness (e.g. Companies who claim non-offgassing healthy interiors that will be long-lasting, but use cabinets and countertops from IKEA, etc.). Those companies will have to change their practices or they will be paying out for their greenwashing.
4. Net Goals: While it is super exciting to see “Net Zero” (homes that produce their own energy) becoming more mainstream (it is measured in data and performance which resonates with many), we will be seeing more “Net Positive” (homes that produce more energy than they need) as the aspirational goal in projects. I have been living in a Net Positive home for 6 years now, where we receive a bill from PG+E at the end of the year for -$650, we haven’t actually received any financial benefit from producing twice as much energy as we use, but we do feel productive even when we are just sitting back and drinking coctails. However, 2011 is the year PG+E will start paying back to customers who produce energy — getting a check each year from PG+E for $650, now that is a game changer for us.
5. Prefab in urban infill: As the housing market begins to inch back, less expensive lots (including substandard in size) with urban locations that are maintaining high appraisal values are going to be some of the first to be built upon. Urban living is becoming more enticing for more people as they evaluate their overall quality of life as well as overall financial budgets. Building in these urban infill lots can be difficult with traffic congestion and lack of space for construction. Prefab, especially modular can make so much sense for these types of projects. Less time, less on-site labor, and the modules can fit the substandard lot sizes perfectly.
6. New IP questions and strategies for architects: As our new economy of sharing is becoming more prevalent, this raises interesting questions about intellectual property for architects and designers. Much like recent shifts in the music, photography, and journalism industries now being freely shared online, ownership of building designs and systems come into question. The more we see shared floorplans and images online, the more “borrowing” of spatial strategies we will be seeing. Architects are beginning to share details freely, which makes so much sense. If we do not have to spend time reninventing the wheel everytime, but rather, making the wheel BETTER and more efficient each time, the more we are going to make thoughtful, sustainable design accessible. Imagine the iTunes version for architectural details where you can download a smart wall detail for $.99, and then spend the 20 hours coming up with a smart overhang strategy rather than spending it on that detail. The possibilities are thrilling, and I am more hopeful than ever.
Jill Fehrenbacher – green designer and Founder/Editor-in-chief of Inhabitat
2010 seemed like a weirdly stagnant year compared to years past, didn’t it? Despite a lack of flash and excitement, 2010 was a year where measured consideration and thoughtful design ideas were bubbling beneath the surface, and I believe that this year we’ll see a resurgence of excitement about new approaches to design in 2011:
1. THE SLOW DEATH OF FAST CONSUMPTION
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 2011 we will see increasing skepticism. comparison and research on the part of consumers in deciding what they want to purchase, which will lead to better and more thoughtful products. We’ll see consumers foregoing thoughtless impulse buys in order to invest more in quality products that will stand the test of time.
2. RESTORE / REPAIR / NURTURING – the rise of service design
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.
3. SHARE & SHARE ALIKE
As many of my green design comrades-in-arms have mentioned in this article, sharing services like Zipcar and Netflix are exploding right now and that’s because consumers like the idea of being able to try, use and enjoy something without the commitment and costs associated with ownership. (When space is at a premium, they also like to cut the clutter and forgo trying to find storage for objects.) I foresee that in 2011 more and more consumers will warm up to the idea of ‘sharing’ and will sign up for car sharing, bike sharing and even pet sharing services. As a result companies which are skilled at designing great systems and services will flourish, while many traditional ‘object designers’ will need to turn their focus towards systems design and user interaction design in order to find a market for their skills.
4. THE RISE OF DESIGN IDEAS
Related to the above point – in 2011 elevation of ideas over objects will continue to grow. 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.
5. THE RISE OF THE AMATEUR
I predict 2011 to be a year where more and more average consumers and hobbyists get involved in the world of “design” by creating, crafting and engineering their own products. The rapid growth 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 be more creative and fulfilled in our personal lives as more and more of us turn to crafts and DIY projects.
Finally, I’m really really excited about the emergence of consumer-friendly electric vehicles in 2010. In 2011 I believe that these pop electric cars will completely revolutionize our society and make huge strides in reducing carbon emissions. All hail the Volt & Leaf!
Emily Pilloton – Green Designer and Founder/Executive Director, Project H
In 2010, I was happy to see more and more designers working within the realm of social impact and environmental responsibility. In 2011, however, I hope to see not only the volume of such designers increase, but the quality of such work continually improve. This will be the year for us to all to be critical, brave, sharply idealistic, and allergic to mediocrity – design “for the greater good” doesn’t automatically make it “good design”. In short, design can change the world… but only if it’s excellent.
Lloyd Alter – Architecture and Design Writer, Treehugger.com
I used to be a modernist; it is what I tried to do as an architect and a builder. Then I became an environmentalist, being appalled at how badly all our new glass towers perform. Now I am a heritage activist, convinced that our older buildings, towns and cities can teach us how to live a low energy lifestyle, like everybody did before there was cheap oil, cheap electricity and an automobile based culture.
This year, I finally think the message will get through that transportation efficiency trumps building efficiency; that where you live and work affects your carbon footprint a lot more than what you live and work in. That simple, resilient and flexible systems are better than green gizmos. That bikes will save us, not Teslas and Leafs.
Jane Jacobs said “Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.” This year I hope to see a lot of great renovation, restoration, repurposing and reuse. I am not certain that we need a lot of new shiny baubles right now.
Zem Joaquin – Founder, Ecofabulous
Now that it is clear that green design is not just a passing trend, consumers will reward innovative companies and those companies will continue to expand their sustainable initiatives. Americans will continue to be more frugal than they were in the beginning of the Millennium, but I am hoping the trend of fast clothing will slow and people will invest in fewer pieces that are designed to be healthy and built to last. But as ‘flash sales’ keep spreading, sites like eBay will offer more vintage collections.
Yet, my most inspiring prediction for 2011 is that, thanks to Global Green and participating organizations, you will see more green schools and the recognition that these schools improve health, learning and attendance (graduating students will in turn be better environmental advocates). And since schools are just the first step, Global Green is now designing self-sustaining cities, starting with Youngstown, Ohio. Urban farming, water & energy conserving systems and local production are just the beginning. I predict that it will become a model that many cities will chose to follow. Lastly, I predict that ecofabulous.com and inhabitat.com will do some really cool work together in 2011.
Sarah Rich – Founder, Longshot Magazine and Co-Founder, The Foodprint Project
I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of innovation in mobile technology and apps that improve our efficiency at home, provide data to make us more informed consumers, and make it possible to further dematerialize our lives without sacrificing much. I also think we’re going to see more and more fruitful design collaborations (and collaborations of all kinds) leveraged through Twitter and other social media.
These things help us at an individual level. What we still need are systems changes, from governments and corporations, that automatically orient individual actions toward sustainability. We need leadership at the highest levels to establish structures within which our everyday choices naturally lead to better outcomes. Otherwise the insane weather and snarled air travel that we’ve all just suffered through will continue and worsen.
So here’s to construction collaboration and real leadership in 2011!
Kira Gould – Director of Communications, William McDonough + Partners, and co-author of Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design
The inspiring author and educator David Orr once reminded me that optimism is part of the recipe for hope in hard times. I believe that 2011 will bring many surprising developments as well as some that are not surprising at all. I anticipate that one unsurprising (and disappointing) reality will have a silver lining: Congress will demonstrate continuing lack of leadership on climate issues, even those with obvious domestic green jobs benefits. That will be a call to action for designers, citizens, businesses, and others, who will find other ways to create green paths toward thriving economies and communities.
Katie Fehrenbacher – Editor, Earth2Tech.com and Writer, GigaOM.com
Electric Car Crunch Time: Now that the first mainstream electric vehicles launched in late 2010 – the Nissan LEAF and GM’s Volt – 2011 will be the year that we will see if the demand for these cars remain high. I think in the short term, at least throughout 2011, the demand will be there, though it will take a good decade for EVs to make a dent in the mainstream vehicle market.
2011 will also be the year to examine how the Nissan LEAF and GM’s Volt perform in real conditions on the roads. Will LEAF owners be happy with a potentially fluctuating range, given a 100-mile range is advertised but the range could drop substantially depending on temperature and driving methods? I think the average owner will be satisfied, but some owners could be dissatisfied if they are not aware of the discrepancy before they buy the car.
Energy Software Innovation: At the end of 2010 the phone companies AT&T and Verizon made some significant moves into home energy management, and Verizon plans to launch a smart home and energy management pilot program in New Jersey in January. I think in 2011 there will be much more innovation in terms of software and web applications for home energy management. Intuitive UIs and well-designed gadgets in homes could make a real difference in terms of cutting energy consumption.
Using the Web to “Share Stuff” Will Explode: Car sharing, via companies like Zipcar, has taken off – Zipcar has 530,000 members and over 8,000 cars in its fleet. But the interesting thing is that research shows that people who join car sharing networks are more likely to join communities that share other stuff, like goods (Zilok.com), or apartments (Airbnb.com). 2011 will be a major year for sharing stuff via the web, as consumers get more comfortable with the idea and new startups begin to launch their websites.
David Johnson – Architect and Partner, William McDonough + Partners
I predict that in the coming months, we will see increasing activity in the sustainable development and design sector, which will ignite and support a robust economic recovery across many sectors. Why so optimistic? Our clients inspire us. We have been fortunate to work with teams at NASA, American University School of International Service, and Greenbridge Developments, to name just a few. Each one demonstrates that high aspirations and commitment to quality and well-being can yield powerful, catalytic results.
Bridgette Meinhold – Designer, Artist & Architecture Editor for Inhabitat.com
In this past year I have seen my own friends and family do more with less, spend their money on quality rather than quantity, fix and renovate instead of build new, and pair down their possessions in hopes of a simpler and more meaningful life. I believe that trend is only growing stronger and will apply even more in the fields of design and architecture.
As a writer who sees a hundred architecture projects pass my screen a day, I’m seeing more and more creative solutions with existing materials, and buildings. Reclaimed and recycled materials are all the rage, Craigslist and classified adds are where its at, and your local recycling or materials exchange program is the new community hot spot.
Cities like Detroit, which has been in a state of desperation for so long, is making a come back in a huge way and the renovations happening there now are an inspiration. We don’t need to tear down and start over fresh – we need to make use of what we already have and turn it into something great. Men like Dan Phillips of the Phoenix Commotion, are leading a revolution and rethinking architecture from the foundation up by using discarded materials to build beautiful homes.
I’m predicting 2011 to the be the year of the green renovation, where people and businesses will rehabilitate and improve upon what they already have, with a strong focus on preservation for history, materials and for outdoor space.