Exterior rendering of a mass timber building
The Sterling Road development in Toronto, Ontario, designed by DLR Group using mass timber is expected to be complete in 2023. COURTESY DLR GROUP

How Can Architecture Firms Measure Progress in Sustainability?

A Perspective: Sustainability panel dives deep on how designers can meet urgent benchmarks for saving the planet.

Many architecture firms that are signatories to the AIA 2030 Commitment realize that this is not some date in the distant future, but imminent—and firms are looking for ways to assess where they stand. In this spirit the June 7 Metropolis Perspective session tackled “Measuring Progress in Sustainability.” Moderated by the magazine’s editor in chief Avinash Rajagopal, the conversation opened with a keynote from Edward Mazria, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030.

He began with a grim warning: “The difference between a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2.0 degrees Celsius in 2030 is global ecological disaster for millions—in terms of water, food, and temperature.” But he became more upbeat in saying “Biden is calling for a 50 percent reduction by 2030 in carbon emissions, so we have a much better chance of meeting the below-2.0 threshold.”

“The difference between a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2.0 degrees Celsius in 2030 is global ecological disaster for millions.”

Edward Mazria, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030

Mazria urged the audience to espouse worldwide adoption of the Zero Code, which provides a national and international framework for building energy standards to support the construction of zero-carbon buildings. As for existing buildings, he said: “How do we get those to zero? You electrify the building, getting rid of natural gas and heating oil. It’s a no-brainer.”

With Mazria’s talk setting the tone, the panelists launched into a vibrant discussion. Cliff Goldman, chairman, Carnegie Fabrics, discussed how his family firm is transitioning to bio-based textiles. “My father in the late 1970s became very interested in what products were made of and what impact they had on human health.

“So we put our Xorel product under the microscope,” he continued. “It’s about who’s making it, how it’s made and who is affected. We changed the manufacturing process from fossil fuel-based to plant-based. Our biobased Xorel is now made from sugar cane plant, which is highly sustainable.”

Shona O’Dea, high performance design leader, DLR Group, talked about indoor air quality. “We started to see how it was making people feel,” she said. And it’s not just about comfort: “There is a lot of research about a link between indoor air quality and cognitive function.” Rajagopal interjected, saying: “The link between indoor air quality and cognitive ability set people on fire. It was a big moment.”

O’Dea continued: “Since 2016, we’ve created a scalable measure of air quality that we share with all of our clients, including large ones like the General Services Administration.” Architect Keith Hempel, design director, commercial, LPA, said his firm offers a road map of sorts for clients: “What’s the one tool that will solve all of the problems? It doesn’t exist. But we are setting a path to zero. We are trying to understand what it takes to get to zero. We look at the sense of urgency to meet the timelines we’re facing now.”

The Palomar College Learning Resource Center designed by LPA in San Marcos, California, utilizes a variety of techniques to conserve energy, including the “floating” upper level floors, which shade the lower floors, as well as abundant natural light. COURTESY CRIS COSTEA PHOTOGRAPHY

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