Two sustainability action plans initiated by the AIA are focusing resources and attention on energy and health, two fundamental issues facing architects.
Shaped by the AIA Sustainability Leadership Opportunity Scan, a research report completed in 2013, the action plans encompass new continuing-education products, practice-based research, strategic partnerships, and legislative and public advocacy for the profession.
These linked strategies will unfold over the next three years in tandem with an emphasis on materials and resilience, the other two priorities recommended by the sustainability scan.
“The scan provided an organizing framework to help the AIA focus and prioritize its resources to address global trends in the built environment,” says Mary Ann Lazarus, FAIA, AIA resident fellow and chief author of the scan. “It also serves as a practical resource to equip architects to make informed decisions that advance sustainability leadership opportunities within their own practices and communities.”
For Peter Davis, AIA, sustainability project manager for the city of Austin, Texas, the four issues of energy, materials, health, and resilience guide the programming he oversees as chair of the AIA Austin Committee on the Environment (COTE).
At a recent AIA Austin seminar, he invited representatives from Austin Energy, the local electric utility, to share details about the city’s Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure ordinance as well as the utility’s energy modeling incentive. Davis also has identified a group of Texas architects who specialize in disaster response and could be a resource for resilience planning for the region’s vulnerabilities.
“It’s about making the connection between the big-picture sustainability goals and challenges of a city, and the work of an individual architect designing one house in the community,” he says. “Corporations, professionals, and citizens all have to understand how each individual action is a contributing factor.”
Architects are well-positioned to convene the broad collaboration required to continue advancing sustainable solutions, says Julia Siple, AIA, an architectural technician at Quinn Evans Architects in Washington, D.C.
“The role of the architect has always been to work among diverse groups of people and identify ways that we can better facilitate collaboration and problem solving,” she says. “And we’re increasingly becoming aware that the more interconnected a solution is, the more long-lasting and impactful it will be.”
As COTE chair of the AIA DC chapter, Siple is helping to plan a series of workshops to engage a broad community of participants in exploring topics that align with the AIA focus areas.
“We want these events to be very inclusive, so we’re hosting panel discussions with code officials, mechanical engineers, architects, and other recognized experts representing a broad perspective,” she says. “It’s about learning from others in the planning and construction fields, and making these topics accessible to everyone.”
Active local engagement also is essential for achieving the energy reduction targets of the AIA 2030 Commitment, whose ultimate goal is to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2030.
“The 2030 Commitment is an ambitious plan that must be applied at the local level,” says Gene Schnair, FAIA, managing partner of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s San Francisco office, who also serves as a liaison between the AIA Large Firm Round Table CEO group and its sustainability leaders committee. “Having a common platform is enabling us to share information and have an ongoing dialogue. Everybody is marching to a common drumbeat of moving to higher levels of energy performance.”
Phil Harrison, FAIA, CEO of Perkins+Will, says the recent five-year economic slowdown has compelled architects to shift their focus to a more responsible and transparent attitude toward design.
“The tallest building is no longer as interesting as the most responsible and accountable building,” he says. “One of the primary factors that will make the entire environmental movement successful is a collaborative crowdsourced approach, with lots of people mobilized to solve systems problems at a systems level.”