Steven Winter
Steven Winter

A true pioneer of the green building movement, Steven Winter has seen it all. Whether as a young architect starting a firm aimed at improving the built environment or as four-year chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council during the launch of LEED, Winter has been an integral part of the sustainable building industry for almost 40 years. His consulting and research firm, Steven Winter Associates, has performed research that has literally changed the way buildings are constructed, including being the first to advocate the notion of designing all of the duct work inside of the building envelope. He was named “Hero of the Planet” by Builder magazine in December 2002 and earned the Evergreen Awards Perspective in 2009.

Even with his past successes, Winter remains focused on the future and knows the real work—the game-changing work—is ahead of us. Interestingly enough, he feels much of that work has nothing to do with the technical challenges. “At a certain point, we just can’t make the buildings too much better,” he says. “We’re getting down to the point where we’re making very minor, incremental improvements.”

And while he feels that the industry can—and should—continue to innovate and improve, Winter says that a real transformation will require much more than better insulation.

Measure and Verify

The first order of business, according to Winter, is to measure and verify that what we are “selling” is actually working. “There’s been so much greenwashing and claims and projections,” he says. “By going back and measuring what’s really happened as a result of green designs, green construction, green materials, checking to see what’s really happened—that will give us really good guidance for going forward.”

Carrots and Sticks

The next two ingredients, he says, is getting governing bodies to offer more carrots and sticks—both of which have proven track records. “People didn’t want to do green construction. Incentives were offered by outfits like NYSERDA and CEE and other entities. People went for the incentives, designed better buildings, and low and behold, it worked,” Winter says.

Although carrots tend to be a more welcome approach in the U.S. market, codes and standards are just as necessary, Winter says. “Builders kick and scream, owners scream, and yeah it’s more expensive, but all things considered, national energy consumption is down in cars and in houses because the sticks have worked, and they will continue to work,” he notes.

Smart Behavior Modification

Even with all of those things in place, Winter agrees with many Vision 2020 thought leaders that true transformation is going to come down to changing the way homeowners operate. Although there are many strategies to accomplishing that, Winter feels one way that builders can attack the issue is by building smart homes that compensate for the lack of motivation or action by the homeowner.

“We can educate. We can make people aware that they should shut their lights off. But if they don’t want to do it, then they won’t,” Winter says. “Having smart homes is part of that whole strategy—and it is a different strategy than coming up with better insulation and a better windows. It’s technology that enables the homeowner to have his or her behavior modified.”

Hitting the Target

Once these ideas are implemented, Winter feels the industry could foreseeably reach what he sees as very realistic goals—net-zero homes within 15 years and energy-positive homes within 25 years. “The technology is there,” Winter says. “The behavior modification needs to take place, and the carrots and sticks need to be put in place. I think that’s where the primary change needs to take place—to get a community and a government that is committed, realizing that this important, and just doing it.”