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In 1970, Kermit the Frog (voiced by Jim Henson) crooned, "It's not that easy being green, having to spend each day the color of the leaves."
Welcome to the 21st century, Kermit, a time when you could be the mascot for an entire movement. Green is now synonymous with sustainability and environmentally friendly practices. Green, as everyone knows, is the hottest thing going, so it's much easier to be green today than it was 40 (or fewer) years ago.
But how far will it go? What are the most important green trends likely to occur between now and 2020? To answer those questions, Battelle assembled an expert focus group populated with energy and environmental scientists and engineers from Battelle worldwide and three national laboratories. Their thoughts were supplemented by an e-survey of many other Battelle scientists and engineers.
The topic question for the exercise in expert judgment was "What will likely be the most important green trends worldwide from 2008 to the year 2020?" "Green" was broadly defined as environmentally neutral or beneficial and included air and water quality, waste management, and global climate change. "Trends" included any patterns existing or expected to exist in the future in science, technology, economics, demographics, social behaviors, public policy and regulation.
The panel identified and ranked the 10 most important trends, reflecting the judgment of Battelle's participating scientists and engineers. It should be noted that Battelle's opinion of future global green trends is only one of many possible points of view.
At Battelle, we have people with world-class minds working on a wide variety of research projects. Since the mid 1990s, we've tapped this resource to make forecasts about future trends using scientific knowledge. The past 13 Top Ten lists are available on Battelle's Web site, www.battelle.org. The 14th such effort listed here, in order of importance, is the current forecast of green trends.
1) Increased Use of Renewable and Sustainable Fuels for Electric Power Generation.
In the future, population growth and economic expansion, particularly in China and India, will mean an increased use of electricity. While electricity is a clean form of energy, the fuels often used to generate it are not, especially burning coal that has numerous emissions, including carbon dioxide, a principal greenhouse gas.
That's why our panel anticipates a dramatic increase in such green fuels as wind power, solar power, fuel cells, biofuel, and clean coal technologies. Renewable and sustainable fuels for electric power generation could greatly reduce carbon emissions and other greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the current reliance on coal-burning central station power plants. Such fuels also offer an alternative to nuclear power.
2) Water Resource Management, Including Reuse and Recycling of Water.
Efforts to conserve water will become more important, as will new technologies addressing desalination. Clean water technologies will improve the quality and supply of fresh water to people around the world and help limit the expansion of deserts and waste areas.
Graywater is neither fresh (potable) nor heavily contaminated -- it comes from our houses, such as showers and baths, laundry, sinks, and dishwashers. It may still, however, contain micro-organisms that must be treated, but it may be possible in the future to treat graywater at the points of use rather than in municipal water treatment plants.
3) Carbon Regulations and Policy.
It is highly likely that the U.S. will join with other countries in the future to limit and reduce carbon use. States and regions across America are adopting climate policies such as the development of regional greenhouse gas reduction markets, the creation of state and local climate action and adaptation plans, as well as increasing renewable energy generation. These are ways of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the growing threat of global climate change.
In the next 12 years, there may be regulations on vehicle carbon emissions, taxes on carbon emissions, and credits given to those who meet their carbon emission standards, and these credits can be sold on commodity markets that already exist. These regulations will require the development and large-scale adoption of cleaner, advanced energy systems.
4) Green is Good Business.
It's happening already -- doing some good for the environment while still making money. Green technologies can reduce industrial waste and energy use and make it cheaper to manufacture a product, which benefits everyone. Many companies may show greater concern about their environmental practices in response to their concerns about the well being of their customers and the sustainability of their processes and products for long-term corporate growth.
Additionally, there is a movement toward green labeling of products in Europe that will likely come to the U.S. in the future, such as our current nutritional labeling for food products. It is probable that product labels will increasingly provide information about environmental impacts of the product.
5) The Greening of Transportation.
At least a third of greenhouse gas emissions come from vehicles, and more cars and trucks are being built every day. The development of renewable and sustainable fuels for automobiles and trucks, including ethanol and many other types of biofuels now being explored, will have importance in the future.
The Battelle panel expects the further deployment of hybrid cars, the development of the "plug-in" electric vehicle and fuel cell cars. It also sees an increased use of fuel cells and advanced batteries as auxiliary power units for automobiles and trucks, reducing the consumption of fuels for cooling and electronics. On the back end, new technologies will emerge to reduce carbon emissions from cars and trucks -- perhaps even the capture and storage of carbon.
6) Increasing Availability of Green Products and Services.
While the panel noted in its fourth entry the importance of green being good business, that's only the supply side point of view. There is another trend that dovetails with it -- consumers will want to buy Green products and services in the future.
Consumers will become better educated and more informed about the environmental attributes of what they buy, and they will clamor for variety. Because there will be more information available to them, especially through the Internet, they also will have more choices and are likely to prefer green products and services. More products will be designed for eventual disposal, with each product having a disposability plan.
More products will be designed for reduced greenhouse gas emissions and other types of waste effluents and packaging will be reduced to avoid more solid waste.
7) A Systems Approach to Environmental Analysis.
At first glance, this one has a high hurdle of understanding. But think of it this way -- the trend in the past has been to evaluate the environmental qualities of products, processes, and plants at the local level, without looking at the broader ecology of production, distribution, and consumption.
In the future, we will evaluate products, services, and processes at the macro-system level. When we look at the advantages of biofuels, such as ethanol from corn, we also will have to consider the entire system that includes the chemicals used for pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, the water consumption and the energy needed to grow corn, let alone the impacts of ethanol on corn prices going into the food chain.
As computing capabilities increase, so will our ability to understand holistic systems.
8) Increasing Impact of the World's Growing Urban Population on Resources.
An increase in people throughout the world will mean more consumers, wasters, and polluters -- therefore, an expanding global population and its implications are a green trend.
The global population hit 6 billion in the year 2000; it is projected to increase to 7.6 billion by 2020. Levels of population that took thousands of years to create are now multiplying at an exponential rate. And the fact that a vastly increasing fraction of people live in urban areas, both in the United States and worldwide, places extra stress on basic services such as electricity and water. This shift in the locations of population has given rise to super cities such as Mexico City, Mumbai and Shanghai. Increasing urban populations require more public infrastructure and services, placing greater strains on ecosystems.
In addition to high birth rates in the developing world, the life expectancy of people is increasing due to better health care and public hygiene around the world.
9) Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Used in Place of Traveling.
In the 1968 Stanley Kubrick movie "2001: A Space Odyssey," Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) calls his young daughter on Earth from a space station videophone to wish her a happy birthday. This is what we're talking about with our No. 9 entry.
Today there are at least 16.5 million telecommuters or e-lancers in the U.S. -- people who work from home or other locations by computer, the Internet, and telephone. These people are assumed to be consuming less gasoline by not having to physically commute into a central workplace five times a week.
It has been estimated that at least 33 million Americans today could telecommute to work, saving 67 million metric tons per year of potential greenhouse gas emissions and reducing gasoline consumption to a point where U.S. imports of oil could decline.
In addition to telecommuting to work, an increasing number of people around the world are using the Internet for shopping, recreation, and socialization, thereby avoiding physical transportation and reducing energy costs and pollution.
10) Green Buildings.
In the future, architects and other designers will give much greater consideration to how a building operates. New construction methods will be developed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Designs for green buildings will integrate and optimize the heating, cooling, lighting, and water systems.
Large urban building programs in countries such as China are increasingly sensitive to environmental impacts on the land and surrounding water and air. There also is emerging a new concept of Eco-cities planned to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions.
Planned communities in the future may offer smaller office buildings and stores with smaller environmental footprints and more green spaces for recreation and socialization based on fewer people doing work at offices and shopping at stores.
Green building codes will likely be in force in the future and green buildings will increasingly incorporate alternative energy systems, especially solar power, fuel cells, geothermal energy, and possibly wind power.
Battelle is the world's largest non-profit independent research and development organization, providing innovative solutions to the world's most pressing needs through its four global businesses: Laboratory Management, National Security, Energy Technology, and Health and Life Sciences. It advances scientific discovery and application by conducting $4 billion in global R&D annually through contract research, laboratory management and technology commercialization. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Battelle oversees 20,400 employees in more than 120 locations worldwide, including seven national laboratories which Battelle manages or co-manages for the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Battelle also is one of the nation's leading charitable trusts focusing on societal and economic impact and actively supporting and promoting science and math education.