Candid Comments on the Future of Sustainability

Professional practice board rooms are developing green niche micro strategies and also making strides in creating high-performance cultures.

“LEED has been able to achieve what many others have not. Since the energy crisis of the 70’s, many different avenues of energy reform have been tried. USGBC was able to get the US Building Owners to understand the relationship between building design, energy use and cost, and building operation, and have developed a model that is understood by building owners. The downturned economy has presented financial difficulties for owners to realize all the benefits of energy efficient buildings, but the momentum has been created. Now, architects have the ability to design really impressive buildings that create their own energy, Net Zero, etc. Beyond LEED, and beyond! Thank you USGBC.”

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“I find the trend towards ‘counting points’ like LEED to be a false goal. It doesn’t necessarily mean the building will be energy efficient and sustainable. There is more science that can and should be applied to make all buildings — new and renovation — much more sustainable without adding cost.”

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“The problem of proliferating High Performance Buildings is in sociological, cultural and anthropological areas rather than in technological or educational areas. Conspicuous energy consumption is still a mark of having ‘money to burn’ (excuse the pun). The roar of the Lotus still out matches the whoosh of the Tessla. As a result, most clients do not challenge their designers and many architects are untried at pushing the envelope of sustainability and energy conservation, which we would like to challenge. Recent political movement — nationally and internationally — and oil and natural gas discoveries allow many in the general population to ignore the imperatives before them and claim that architects are ‘out of touch’.”

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“I believe that reaching the goals of the 2030 Challenge are technically possible. The big question is whether there is the political and business desire to do so.”

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“I’d like to see more data on embodied energy in building materials and construction methods. I believe that recycling existing buildings is the best place to focus our efforts towards sustainability.”

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“We need one rating system to avoid the emerging and creeping bureaucracy of multiple systems.”

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“We are putting our money where our mouth is. We are relocating to an urban office in downtown San Jose, with a LEED CI Platinum target.”

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“We are definitely improving — our new office is scheduled to make LEED gold and we have about 30 percent participation in public transportation (much better than before our move to a downtown location).”

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“Architects need to be better educated on the performance side. Sustainability is defined by LEED for too many. LEED is a great tool, but more architects need to better understand how to get measurable results without a checklist.”

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“Energy modeling and prototyping in the early design process is the most overlooked opportunity to put the science of architecture in front of a client.”

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“The architectural profession should consider a massive mind shift in how the exterior design of buildings are perceived. Buildings should be designed from the inside out with occupant comfort, safety and program the primary drivers. The glazing should be scientific in how it is applied — and not random to match the whims of designers focused on the building as a monument to themselves. This does not mean that the buildings shouldn’t be beautiful — but there are too many design architects who design from a sculptor’s perspective — and then try to integrate high performance principals after many of the major architectural design decisions are established.”

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“Primary focus is on integrating sustainability into the design of global hi-tech manufacturing facilities and data centers. This is an industry that has a major impact on the environment and energy use, yet the metrics and tools developed to assess and design “green” commercial buildings fall short in scale and complexity of these facility types. Tools for energy modeling and life cycle cost analysis are extremely complex, and the fact that these projects are done in a fast-track mode adds to the challenge. Paradigm shift for manufacturers from low cost to low impact is enormous.”

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“We are committed in word but not totally in deed to sustainable design. We accomplished some big achievements: LEED Platinum for our office in a historic building, first LEED Gold high school in the state. But we don’t pursue sustainability hard enough if the client is unconvinced. We also do many “charter school” projects that are driven by first costs and not long-term life cycle costs, leading to a lack of sustainability in the future. So it’s a mixed bag of achievements and disappointments. The real question is, ‘Do LEED Certified buildings perform as well as promised?’ If not, a lot of false hope has been created. Architects and engineers have to change their own lifestyles and walk the talk from the time they leave the house in the morning until they return at night. If we don’t set the example, why should we expect our clients to follow us?”

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“It has to become embodied in the vision, mission and values of the firm. It has to be a requirement of employment and inculcated into every project. Not that every client will support the full effort or that every project will succeed at the highest level, but the effort must be made. Knowing the baselines, setting goals and measuring throughout the design process is essential. These can all be used effectively in marketing new work.”

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“The cost of sustainable design must be considered in terms of the ROI and not first cost. The added cost for achieving a 40 percent increase in energy efficiency can be paid back in less than two years, and will be followed with ongoing savings throughout the life of the project. Additionally, the value of increased productivity needs to be considered. Employee costs can be more than $600/sq. ft./yr and a 5 percent productivity increase (that’s 3 minutes an hour) can therefore have a value of $30/sq. ft./yr. If your business is 25,000 sq. ft. in area (a typical floor of an average office building), the value of a 5 percent productivity increase over a 10 year period is $7.5 million!”

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“To be truly sustainable we will all have to design for quality, durability and minimal consumption. Less flying, more walking. Eat, live and think local, but be globally compassionate, use less, read more poetry.”

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“Our firm focuses exclusively on senior living — a market that carries only a slight trace of interest in sustainable design, despite our routine appeals for consideration.”

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“Unfortunately, until the regulation is uniform and mandatory from state to state, only limited change will occur. We are human and unfortunately that usually means taking the least expensive, quickest payback on investment,with little or no regard for the planet, let alone our own neighborhood.”

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“We have designed one project that received LEED Platinum Certification, and only because our client wanted to do it, and had the money to do it. Every other client thinks it is a waste of time and money, and will not support our pursuing sustainable design and LEED certification.”

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“We need to move very quickly to a point where it isn’t “Either/Or”: ALL design needs to have sustainability as a given. Period. Designers need to be leaders on this issue. It starts with education. It would be helpful for organizations to take on this approach: Design intelligence begins with design that creates positive impacts, and doesn’t create human or ecological degradation.”

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“Most of our works are large mixed-use projects in China. There is not a whole lot of focus on sustainability. It’s not that they reject it, it’s just not a high priority for most. That said, the Chinese government is clearly making admirable moves to address it (of course with much contradiction).”

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“We have a blend of clients who are pushing to be sustainable and clients who are very “business as usual.” However, we always do high performance design and are instrumental in changing our clients’ perceptions of what is possible.”

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“I feel like we are making progress at the high end of the profession, but it is almost shocking how little progress has been made in some small town areas.”

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“It’s time to turn attention to development standards…Buildings are well on their way…”

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“The challenge of changing thinking — mine as well as my clients’ — remains the biggest impediment to more rapid deployment of sustainable ideas. Also the lag between ideas and manufacturing.”

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“The beauty of our profession now is that it’s not purely aesthetic. In addition to designing beautiful buildings that work well for the functions within them, we’re being asked to help clients make design decisions that show them actual paybacks. Being knowledgeable enough to say ahead of time that doing this or that can result in significant cost savings is valued more than in the past. And architects, engineers, and contractors have more tools to educate clients about the potential paybacks of sustainable design decisions. We are selling more than just drawings and specifications; we are adding value by helping clients make good design decisions.”

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“We are using the 2030 Challenge as a goal on all projects. LEED is still widely used, but we find that focusing on 2030 is very motivating.”

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“With IBC adding sustainable requirements and local jurisdictions adopting the new codes (or not), it will become more mainstream.”

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“We need to develop new human systems that are adaptable and learning, based on new relationships with each other and nature; the obsession with technology, objects and fixed/quantified relationships most often collapse at some point.”

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“Give tax incentives for companies that develop a cost saving maintenance cleaning plan for their buildings. Too many times the maintenance contractors simply go into a high rise office building and turn on all the lights to clean. There is no systematic plan to clean a building floor by floor.”

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“It has been our perception that USGBC is product-driven while we believe sustainability is achieved by an efficient design based on a detailed facility program. Therefore our critical comments are based on the perception that our firm’s core professional skills that result in very efficient inside-out space planning are not considered by USGBC as a way (or THE way) to achieve sustainability. LESS is always LESS, meaning less sq. ft. to achieve the desired facility program will always result in LESS of everything that goes into the building, operation and maintenance of the resulting building.”

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“Client demands remain the single best way to implement sustainable design on a project, and until more clients desire a “green” or “high-performance” building the numbers will remain lower than desirable.”

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“We are the first firm to receive Green Firm Certification through the Sustainable Performance Institute, we are in the second year of implementing the Wight Sustainability Standard on all of our projects — and we just completed our first annual report for AIA2030. We have more work to do to improve, but our commitment is solid and we are continuously improving.”

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“We incorporate materials and methods that are fiscally responsible. We suggest other, more expensive alteratives such as solar panels and geothermal.”

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“Sustaining is not something we are interested in…We are interested in stewardship of resources and the only green is money.”

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“There is danger in rule of thumb and non-analytical measures of sustainability that are being promulgated as definitive answers.

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“Google is probably the single largest company pushing sustainability on every level. They use LEED and the Living Building Challenge along with the EPA red list to try to construct healthy and sustainable environments.”

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“LEED and the USGBC are the best and the worst thing that happened to sustainable design. The process is no longer about design and what is appropriate for a given site or project — but a complicated set of do’s and don’ts that seek to promulgate limited viewpoints and opinions of what is right and wrong — reward and yes, punishment.”

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“We’ve moved beyond sustainable and high-performance design being unusual or a separate service. It just needs to be a part of every architectural practice. The mandatory requirements of LEED and other levels of certification are leading to mediocrity and are not helping. We, as designers, should just be doing sustainable and/or high-performance design because it is the right thing to do, not because we are regulated into it.”

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“USGBC is out of control with its frequent changes and requirements for CEU’s. The cost of certifying a building has exceeded its value. Our firm does not encourage our clients to go through the certification process.”

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“I didn’t answer if I thought the 2030 challenge was achievable because I don’t know yet! We just completed our first year of data and are about to get into figuring out how we get there.”

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“We are moving towards net zero and regenerative buildings. We view this as a process which will require education for ourselves, clients, sub consultants and contractors. Our mission is to build vibrant urban communities which embody all the best aspects of sustainable design including thriving over the long term.”