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Is Standard Design Practice Sustainable?

-Written by John Cribbs


“Design Isn’t Separate from Sustainability—It’s The Key to Sustainability.” – Lance Hosey

An interesting article was recently released by ArchDaily. The piece was entitled “When it Comes to Sustainable Design, Architects Still Don’t Get It.” The article discussed sustainability in the built environment and related the discussion to the AIA 2030 Commitment and progress towards carbon neutrality.

So what?

As sustainability has become mainstream over the last decade, various green rating systems and organizational initiatives have been put into place to attempt measurement of sustainable performance metrics. While this is seen as a good thing from a market standpoint, it seems to have muddied the waters on how to approach sustainable design. In light of this, it seems that greenwashing has now become mainstream. Everyone seems to be framing their approach to the built environment as “sustainable.”

But is it actually true?

Here in the U.S., the built environment, specifically residential and commercial buildings, is responsible for over 40% of total energy consumption. That’s an enormous number! Think about how much of that energy is wasted due to misalignment with building design goals and facilities operational goals.

How can we fix this issue?

A simple approach to combatting the issue of seemingly irresponsible building design is to begin utilizing data to inform design decisions. While designers are trained to intuitively think about sustainable building design through strategic programming and design detailing, many times this is where the quest for optimizing building performance ends…intuition. Could this be why only a small portion of the global architecture community is consistently sharing project data and outcomes within the AIA 2030 Commitment program? Or is it that adding one more component to the architect’s scope of work has created an impossible design schedule?

Where do we go from here?

Even the most optimistic of sustainable design goals and strategies for a project aren’t good enough if they remain just that…goals. Enter strategic planning and team integration. Translating project goals into reality is often as simple as efficiently planning the design process and allowing for more discovery and analysis. Technology is enabling expedited analysis for design decisions. Modeling early and often is now a possibility and will become more relevant with each passing day. If nothing else, this provides a roadmap for design decision-making and builds a portfolio of baseline results for future project benchmarking.

Responsible design, backed by data, is the key to the future and opens the door to innovation. We are entering an era where we can no longer think in fragmented ways. Integration of knowledge and specialized skills is essential to meeting the needs of tomorrow. Building design data is an architect’s friend, not foe. Leveraging this data however, means initiating a new design process. What harm is there in a little more up-front planning and modeling? Once project owner’s see the return on investment, the rest will take care of itself. Take it from Deloitte…