3 Ways to Incorporate Sustainable Design into Your AEC Projects

April 21, 2022

As the state of the environment becomes an ever-pressing issue, sustainability has become a critical component of AEC projects. Project stakeholders are more engaged and invested in pursuing various sustainability goals, and it is essential the details are not missed at any stage in the process.

More often than not, architects and engineers are being urged to look to the future and consider changes to help protect the environment and build more sustainably. This includes designing buildings that are more sustainable, ecofriendly and smarter.

While the environmental impacts are extremely important, we now also look at how the built environment can support the health and wellness of the people using the facilities.

Since we spend about 90% of our lives indoors between work, school and home, and even recreation such as shopping, movies or bowling, it’s important to look at how to design and create spaces to not only protect our health, but to improve it. In fact, employees in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings report feeling healthier, happier and more productive.


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Here are three ways to incorporate sustainable design into your next project:

1. Put Smart Buildings to Work

Smart buildings encompass areas such as: connectivity, health and wellbeing, safety, power and energy, cybersecurity, and sustainability.

Consider equipping buildings to monitor and detect harmful air quality and adjust the ventilation if needed. Smart systems can also monitor when filters need to be replaced and have sensors to regulate outdoor air intake, providing the right balance of recirculated air for energy conservation and fresh air for ventilation.

Sensors can detect and trigger the control of lighting and can mimic the natural light progression of daytime. Brighter lights after lunch may be used to help workers focus and soft lights in hospitals can help patients relax. An intelligent system can also shut off lights when employees leave the building, saving energy and automating processes.

Many projects now include Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations or at least the infrastructure to include alternative fuel vehicle stations. A transition to zero-carbon transportation probably won’t change how we go about our day, but it will establish expectations for building owners, electric utilities, and businesses so it’s important to start planning for that transformation now.

2. Embrace the Power of Zero

Amid growing concerns about rising energy costs, energy independence and the impact of climate change, the importance of considering building efficiency as a way to decrease energy consumption is growing.

Net zero energy buildings are projects that produce enough energy from renewable sources to meet their own annual consumption needs. There are many benefits of designing a net zero energy building such a providing a way for building owners to hedge against future energy price increases, higher resale value as the demand for net zero buildings increase or increasing the occupant comfort, well-being and productivity.

When designing a net zero building, the green aspects can include solar panels, which absorb and convert the sun’s radiation into electricity, reducing the need for gas or specific features, such as sustainable materials, renewable resources, green roof systems, improved acoustics, and clean indoor quality.

While achieving zero energy may seem like an ambitious goal, owners have a growing interest in developing energy zero buildings to meet their corporate goals and in response to regulatory requirements. Although net-zero buildings represent a fragment of new construction projects, the technology, tools and knowledge architects have acquired have made designing a net zero building more feasible. Therefore, it’s not a matter of net zero building becoming a bigger part of the built environment, but how quickly.

3. Go Green with Construction Materials

Materials are being engineered to be smarter, stronger, sleeker and easier on the planet. To keep a competitive edge, architects need to stay up-to-date on these material innovations. Buildings crafted with well thought out, intelligent material selections will be more equipped to solve ongoing challenges, reduce the carbon footprint, and make a positive impact on the environment.

There are many considerations when selecting materials in the built environment. Materials may be sourced from low environmental impact or renewable resources or be easier to break down at the end of life for a building.

According to the AIA’s Report Sustainability in the Architect’s Journey to Specification, 79% of architects want to specify more sustainable materials than they do today. Incorporating the desired material properties right into the individual sections that subcontractors see is a great way to make sure everyone on the project team is involved.

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.


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The future seems bright and full of possibilities for architects and engineers to incorporate smart design that will win more work and be sustainable. Buildings crafted with well thought out, intelligent material selections will be better equipped to solve ongoing challenges, reduce the carbon footprint, and make an impact in the industry.