Architects can save the planet. Seriously, buildings account for 40% of annual global carbon emissions, and recent studies indicate that sprawl has expanded at a rate four times worse than previously predicted for this century. Architects and urban designers have an enormous impact on the planet, and every project we touch matters.

In the not-too-distant past, it was common to view materials through a “cradle to grave” lens. Raw materials would be harvested and turned into products, which would then serve a purpose. These products would eventually break, wear out, or go out of style, at which point they would be discarded and never thought of again. The flow of materials was linear, with a starting point and an ending point.

The higher education market has seen substantial shifts in teaching pedagogy in recent years. When design began for Clemson University’s College of Business in 2015, Clemson wanted to create academic and faculty space with a greater emphasis on collaboration and critical thinking.

Those of us who live in coastal areas like my hometown of Wilmington, NC are accustomed to weathering hurricanes. We stock up on batteries, board up windows, and make sure we have enough nonperishable food to last a couple of days if the power goes out. We’ll swap family stories with those who remember Hurricanes Hazel or Fran or Floyd, and maybe make coffee on the grill to share with our neighbors.

The first rule of high performance design is to create spaces that are beautiful and beloved by all stakeholders including the client, users, and community. This will ensure the building is preserved, relevant and maintained for 25, 50, 100, 200 years.

In recent years, biofuels have become feasible and economically competitive. This has resulted in manufacturing plants that grow microalgae in large open fields or work in tandem with coal plants sequestering carbon dioxide by feeding it directly to an attached algae plant. The US alone has over 50 research institutions and 100 companies working on algae technologies. The existing market uses microalgae facilities as add-ons to existing power plants; however, this is predicted to be a temporary transitional phase before biofuel plants begins to overtake conventional stored fuel sources and large-scale algae fields become more common.

In my first design job out of college at a capital ‘A’ architecture firm, I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to attend a major national conference on green building. And by ‘attend,’ I mean that an architect named Todd let me borrow his nametag and attend all the sessions that he could not. I was an imposter at the conference, but I had the best of intentions to master the world of ‘green’ in those select lectures. I wondered what the sustainability hype was all about and what my role as an emerging designer was to embrace green-ness.

Biologist E. O. Wilson defined biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” In architecture, the concept of biophilia is rooted in the idea that humans are innately drawn to the natural world and seek out natural elements within the built environment as well as outdoors. Biophilic design is more than just adding plants to a workspace; it creates a meaningful connection between the people who use a space and the environment through patterns, textures, and natural materials. Enhancing connections to nature within a design is a timeless practice which has found a renewed popularity in recent years as sustainable design and wellness have become high priorities for building owners.

I became a LEED Accredited Professional on September 29, 2006 during a firmwide push to have everyone in the firm become LEED accredited. Becoming a LEED AP was a big deal at the time; however, in the past twelve years, I have only had the opportunity to certify a single project.

Does that mean that my project designs are not sustainable? On the contrary; USGBC and LEED have brought sustainable design to the forefront my thinking. Whether or not any particular project pursues LEED certification, LEED provides an invaluable knowledge base and a checklist for monitoring the sustainable ideas and elements within a specific project that can easily be confirmed and validated. As a measure of a building’s sustainable design, LEED has set the standard for the industry and continues to raise the bar for building performance.

Product transparency between manufacturers and designers is critical not only to the success of a project, but also to the health of the people who will occupy a building.