Architects Can Save the Planet

NEWSFLASH – 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.

Do we discuss environmental impact of our projects with our clients? We must, and not just because the AIA Code of Ethics requires us to, but in some markets that can risk our relationship with those clients unless we associate those environmental impacts with the very real impact on their profit. Do we practice stealth sustainability? Yes, without question. Anyone who attended architecture school knows how to design passive solar buildings (a.k.a. the most impactful thing we can do on every project at no cost to the client). Do our projects engage the landscape both directly and indirectly? Every project should incorporate and nurture natural ecosystems, reminding ourselves and occupants of our own inherent connections to the earth and every other living thing.

LS3P is committed to reducing carbon emissions in our projects to zero by 2030, and we are tracking our progress. Some of our best performing buildings are emerging, not from the client’s goals, but from our own internal mindset that good design is sustainable design resulting in high performance buildings. I am often asked which green building rating system we should promote to our clients. Those systems are great for introducing a client or a design team to best practices, but they’re also mostly a snapshot of the day the building opens.

The most powerful rating a building can earn is one that requires proof of performance or tracks ongoing energy and water consumption. Any of the Living Building certifications accomplish this, as do LEED Operations & Maintenance and Energy Star. We can design a new building that is LEED O+M ready after one-year of occupancy. Tracking actual building performance benefits the clients’ operations costs, and often inspires broader attention to performance of their entire portfolio, amplifying the influence of our work and creating a long-term client relationship.

Our consultants are part of this critical design strategy – native low-water landscapes, reforestation, soil health, natural stormwater management, acoustic concerns, bird-safe building guidelines, ground-source heating and cooling, renewable energy, rainwater capture, and building envelope testing. We cannot design a comprehensively sustainable project without their help, so we choose wisely. We engage ninja engineers, holistic landscape designers, and the nerdiest most passionate professionals we can find, and they make a difference.

Integration is the key to achieving all of this. Inclusion of a diverse range of disciplines from the start of a project, designing so that every feature serves more than one purpose, and thinking and designing in systems… this is integrative design.

This is the future of architecture, and we can save the planet.

About Elaine

Elaine Gallagher Adams, AIA, LEED AP BD + C, serves as the firm’s Sustainability Director. Gallagher Adams brings substantial multidisciplinary expertise and experience as a practicing architect, professor, sustainability consultant, historic preservation specialist, conference speaker, and contributor to national sustainability guidelines.  She is based in the firm’s Savannah office and serves as a firmwide resource for high-performance building design.

Gallagher Adams, a Professor of Architecture, Urban Design, Preservation Design, and Sustainability at SCAD, recently served as High-Performance Buildings Consultant on the National Museum of African American History and Culture and at Rocky Mountain Institute as a senior consultant, architect, and senior project manager. Her portfolio includes sustainability consulting for nationwide corporate retrofits, city sustainability initiatives, campuses, federal buildings, and international mixed-use developments.