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Reinventing the Green Movement

2019 State of the Industry Report

Mc Lennan Jason

At the beginning of each year I like to take stock on the progress of the green building movement and identify where I can make the most difference in the near future. The invitation from Metal Construction News and Metal Architecture to write a summary for its State of the Industry Report was therefore timely. 2018 has been a challenging year in many regards as federal support for green building and renewable energy was victim to political posturing, and continued denial of unprecedented scientific consensus on the emerging global threat of climate change to our health, safety and economies.

All of this was made more real to many with unprecedented devastation from fires and other extreme weather events and storms. Our industry’s response—producing more efficient buildings with lower environmental footprints—is admirable but continues to be wholly inadequate to the enormity of the task at hand. It is clear that we have to find a way to scale and push the movement beyond the proverbial “choir,” to developers, companies and communities that still only see the initial economic first costs and short-term profit as values to pursue. In short, we have to become better at what we do.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” John Muir

All of this was made more real to many with unprecedented devastation from fires and other extreme weather events and storms. Our industry’s response—producing more efficient buildings with lower environmental footprints—is admirable but continues to be wholly inadequate to the enormity of the task at hand. It is clear that we have to find a way to scale and push the movement beyond the proverbial “choir,” to developers, companies and communities that still only see the initial economic first costs and short-term profit as values to pursue. In short, we have to become better at what we do.

This is no longer about piecing together missing knowledge or the need to prove unproven technologies, materials or systems. LEED buildings are everywhere and even my program, the Living Building Challenge (LBC)—the world’s most stringent green building protocol—is reaching a critical mass of projects, showing what is possible in nearly every climate zone and building type possible. This summer, my own home became the world’s 100th LBC-certified project amongst a roster of several hundred more in hot pursuit. We don’t need to become technologically better or invent new things; we’ve done that. We need to somehow tell our stories differently and become more convincing beyond our current sphere of influence. Green building has to become a household discussion topic and break out of partisan molds to become a tool for all to use—whether remodeling or building new.

Our goal in 2019 is ambitious but quite simple: to reinvent our movement, thinking through new ways of communicating unifying values and benefits that are of vital importance to all demographics and political persuasions.

All of us deserve healthier air, water and soil. We deserve a stable climate and more jobs nearby that are productive, solutions oriented and resource respectful. To get there will require new strategies and framings that don’t yet exist in our industry. It will require a breakthrough of collective consciousness that I don’t yet know how to create.

My take on the state of the industry is that we are all a bit stuck. I hope this serves as a call to action not in the usual activist spirit of creating sides and reinforcing differences that has dead-ended in acrimony and stagnation, but a call for ideas that generate a breakthrough into truly transformative practices.

The green building movement needs an infusion of the kind of lifeblood that views our neighbors—both human and nonhuman—not as our antagonists on the other side of artificially derived divisions, but as co-protagonists and crucial allies in our quest to thrive on Earth. In short, the green building movement needs an infusion of love.


Jason F. McLennan, considered one of the world’s most influential individuals in the architecture and green building movement today, is a highly sought-out designer, consultant and thought leader around the planet. He serves as the chairman of the International Living Future Institute and is the CEO of McLennan Design—his own architectural and planning practice designing some of the world’s most advanced green buildings. McLennan’s work has been published in dozens of journals, magazines and newspapers around the world.