During the last presidential election, the candidates talked a lot about “energy independence.” Behind the rhetoric and campaign promises, there is truth. Like never before, the United States is in the position to fully embrace sustainability and energy efficiency. Energy is a national security issue. We are sending money to parts of the world for oil when those countries have no long term interest in us. Less dependence on them will be a driver in identifying domestic sustainable energy resources. Truth is, we have “skimmed the cream off the milk” so now is the time to stand on our own whether we like it or not. There are four key influences that point to this alignment:
Social influences: Consumers are more educated about energy efficiency; in part due to added focus by the media. Television has Planet Green, news broadcasts focus on “Going Green” looking at what individuals and businesses are doing in this area. Baby boomers, who were children in the 1970’s, remember the gas lines and early public campaigns for energy efficiency and recycling. When energy became cheap and plentiful again, most of those efforts were cast aside and forgotten. Well here we are again. Since those Boomers are now making the economic decisions, they have greater influence. After all, who’s buying hybrid cars? Baby boomers!
Economic influences: There is a great amount of venture capital and government grant money available for the development of alternative energy and energy efficient products. Solar and wind have never totally caught on before because they were cost prohibitive. Now, as demand grows, they will be more affordable and, therefore, embraced. Programs like Cash for Clunkers was successful partially because it motivated the consumer to move into a more energy-efficient car, keeping car manufacturers and dealers in business by creating demand and reducing the carbon footprint of poor performing vehicles.
Technology influences: This is fueled by the economic influences. Research and development around wind, solar and ethanol as alternative energies are being funded. Ethanol is not viable as a resource alone because of a variety of issues including water. It could, however, be a part of the solution. For manufacturers, like us, continuing to improve the energy efficiency of insulation or solar roofing products as well as finding new ways to improve other building materials, is critical. When the housing industry is producing 2.2 million homes per year changes can’t be implemented easily. But now, in a slower market, changes can be made to the building envelope to improve energy efficiency while keeping the home affordable. Organizations like Oregon BEST and Cascadia’s Living Building Challenge, both of which we spoke about before, encourage the building community to take energy efficiency and net-zero building to the next level.
Educational influences: In the past, we didn’t have degreed programs around building science and sustainability. Now, this information is being incorporated into the curriculums for architects, engineers and other professionals who deal with construction. The professionals coming behind us will be prepared to take energy efficiency and sustainability to greater heights.
So, yes, the stars are aligned for lasting change with regard to lowering our carbon footprint both as individuals and corporations, embracing alternative sources of energy and leaving a legacy of innovation and sustainability for future generations.
Your thoughts are welcome!
Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation.
Stan Gatland, Manager, Building Science Technology at CertainTeed Corporation contributed to this blog.