Four Sustainability Trends to Watch in 2012

By Dan Probst

The worldwide movement toward sustainability has made significant progress over the past half-dozen years as companies and cities have pursued strategies that balance future and current societal needs.

Now, sustainable development is entering a new phase, characterized by greater alignment within and between the public and private sectors.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle has been the lack of consistent and comparable standards for defining and measuring sustainability. Although these issues have yet to be fully resolved, many well-coordinated initiatives in recent years have pointed the way forward for companies and cities.

In 2012, major trends shaping the sustainable development movement include:

Transparency – Buildings, companies and cities are measuring and disclosing energy usage, carbon emissions and other information relating to sustainability.Corporations don’t require legal mandates to encourage disclosure. In 2011, more than 3,000 companies, including 404 Global 500 firms, voluntarily reported their carbon emissions, water management and climate change policies to Carbon Disclosure Project in 2011, perhaps swayed by CDP’s 551 investor members, who use the information in deciding where to place more than $71 trillion in investment capital.

Global Consistency– Deeper sustainability reporting by cities and multi-national corporations has intensified the need for consistent ways to measure the effectiveness of energy, water and other sustainability strategies on a worldwide basis. Given the wide regional variation in environmental priorities around the world, the end goal may not be a single global standard, but a way to translate local government and business practices into a common global vocabulary for measuring effectiveness and recognizing achievement.

Public/Private Collaboration – 2011 stood out as a year when government and business organizations explored their shared green goals and realized that public-private partnerships and collaborative initiatives are often the best way to overcome obstacles to sustainability. Some of these joint efforts will start to bear fruit in 2012. As just one of many examples, airports and other government entities often have surplus land that’s unsuitable for commercial property development but could be leased to private companies for development as large solar energy installations.

Focus on Solar Energy – Solar energy installations at commercial properties drove much of the market growth in 2011, but the pace of new installations dropped significantly in the third quarter, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported.

The strength of the solar market in 2012 and beyond will be affected by several variables, including basic supply and demand economics, technological improvements, and the amount and type of available incentives. It is clear, however, that interest in solar energy continues to grow as payback periods grow shorter and fossil fuel costs continue to rise.

2012: Taking Sustainability to the Next Level

The common theme to all these trends is of an industry poised to break through to the next level. The industry has moved swiftly through initial phases of understanding the basic costs and benefits, implementing low-cost initiatives, exploring more sophisticated strategies, and navigating around roadblocks.

Today, it is easier to see the opportunity for dynamic progress by cities, property owners and corporate tenants that have laid the groundwork for growth and success.

This article originally appeared on Globe-Net. Dan Probst is Chairman of Energy and Sustainability Services at Jones Lang LaSalle.

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