3 Ways to Put AEC Sustainable Design into Practice

April 22, 2021

Architects and engineers are often urged to look to the future and consider changes that support environmental protection and sustainability. This includes designing buildings that are built smarter and more sustainably.

Green buildings follow strict resource-efficient models of construction with environmentally friendly features, such as sustainable materials, renewable resources, green roof systems, clean indoor air quality, and even biomimicry spaces. Biomimicry design solutions bring nature into the space increasing the visual aesthetics and often increasing structural efficiency as well.

Fortunately, the cost of sustainable building materials and products is continuing to drop, making green building a cost-effective solution that supports the environment. Sustainable buildings can improve indoor air quality, reduce employee absenteeism, and decrease symptoms of asthma, respiratory distress, depression and stress. In fact, employees in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings report feeling healthier, happier and more productive.


Sustainability in the Architect’s Journey to Specification

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Sustainability also presents a significant opportunity for architects to grow their business. While sourcing sustainable building materials may be more complex, according to the AIA’s report, Sustainability in the Architect’s Journey to Specification, more than 79% of architects want to specify more sustainable materials than they do today and according to LEED, 61% of corporate leaders believe that sustainability leads to market differentiation and improved financial performance.

How Do Architects Move Towards Putting Sustainable Design into Practice?

Collaboration, strategizing with contractors, and easier access to sustainability standards and research are three critical components to putting sustainable design into practice.

1. Collaboration is Key

A great deal of information goes into green building projects. Collecting, compiling, analyzing and recording this information is a collaborative process that requires coordination among all involved.

As an example, working with the mechanical engineer on a new sustainable building might include material selection for ease of cleaning while maintaining acoustical integrity, sensors for occupancy, and efficiency and air quality monitoring. For the contractor, there might be a need for a site analysis for solar heat gain and loss. The owner may need more information on what makes a product sustainable. 

Clear and effective communication is key, ideally with all the relevant disciplines communicating with each other, meeting regularly to revisit goals, and readjusting strategies as necessary.

2. Strategize with the Contractor

A direct line of communication with the contractor is essential. If the contractor doesn’t have a clear picture of the products, applications and installation methods, it’s more difficult for them to provide accurate bids, especially with sustainable design. By including requirements for material composition, product certifications, and installer qualifications there will be fewer RFIs, change orders, or product substitutions.

For example, it is important to document for sustainable construction areas such as duct protection for mold prevention, temporary covers for elevator shafts to avoid moisture buildup, and maintain clean worksites that preserves worker health and minimizes their exposure to toxins.

3. Make Sustainable Research Easier

There are more than 600 product certifications available globally. The ability to utilize resources such as consultants, specification solutions, and product manufacturers make your product research easier.

Consider using a specification tool that supports checklists. A specification checklist and a drawing checklist will ensure all the sustainable details are included. A specification tool also makes sustainable product research easier and can expedite developing sustainable product specifications. 

Thousands of firms leverage AIA MasterSpec® as the foundation for building their own custom office master to identify sustainable product preferences and retain custom information for reuse across multiple projects. With more than 900 master guide specifications covering more than 7,000 products, it is the most comprehensive and trusted collection across architecture and design.


Putting Sustainable Design into Practice

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While putting sustainability into practice may seem like a significant undertaking, there are resources and tools to support architects and project teams. With advances in technology, materials are being engineered to be smarter, stronger, sleeker and easier on the planet. Buildings crafted with the most modern materials will be better equipped to solve ongoing challenges, reduce the carbon footprint, and make an impact in the industry.