There’s a growing demand for high performance buildings. According to a study by UL, in the next 5-10 years, it’s likely that it will no longer be viable to have low-performing buildings.  The study indicates that the industry is shifting from an isolated focus on aesthetics to looking at operational metrics and resource management. Building technologies such as sensors and dashboards are giving rich feedback to users. These “smart building” features are setting the stage for user access to real-time data on how resources are used. 

Along with the improvements in technology is a changing workforce, with Millennials at the forefront.  The study explains that technologically empowered Millennials are gaining more influence in the industry. And, they are interested in sustainability.  At the same time, more building managers are reaching retirement age, making room for Millennials to push new technologies forward.

UL recognized that the market has been particularly slow to adapt. Although standards such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) are helpful, they represent only about 1% of the entire supply of buildings in the U.S. Changing the entire industry is a tremendous challenge because it involves organizing so many people with many different skills. 

Sustainability is moving the industry forward, but UL also focused on the risks of surface level “greening.” This is when benchmarks are reduced to mere checklists required for recognition in the form of a plaque or certification. They warn that unless the building management staff and the occupant behaviors are changed, sustainability will fall flat and fail. There’s a big question whether or not sustainability can gain ground with an early majority. It appears that many are still skeptical about the movement waiting to see if green buildings are more expensive or if the materials they use are less durable. They’re waiting to verify the benefits. 

Yet, the building industry is slowly shifting with more required reporting on sustainability and a greater demand for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Cautious owners are looking for the best returns on their investments. UL said that high performing buildings offer the best opportunities in larger systems such as heating/air conditioning (energy), ventilation (air quality), and plumbing (water).  Special attention was given to indoor air quality because it often goes unnoticed and its human health impacts are often under-appreciated.

The UL study highlighted that there are over 80,000 chemicals used in businesses, but only 3% of them have been fully tested.  Millennials are described as the game changers since they are one of the largest, most influential generations in the US.  The marriage of technology and sustainability in the hands of tech-savvy Millennials will continue to drive change in the building industry. High performing buildings are the way of the future and according to the UL, a lot of what we see as cutting edge will become commonplace.

Read the full report here.