Environmental Responsibility of Design and Construction Professionals

Alicia Bache-Wiig

Considering recent events with the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, it is important to note that the architecture, engineering and construction management industry doesn’t need to be driven by mandates for sustainability on a local, national or global level. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, commercial and residential buildings and industrial building operations are responsible for approximately 33% of greenhouse gas emissions.

The sustainable design revolution that gained significant momentum throughout the industry in the last decade or so is still going strong. At one point it was driven by the market forces within forward-thinking architecture, engineering and construction management firms promoting it as a competitive differentiator while demand from clients progressed. Sustainable design solutions were then advanced by corporate social responsibility initiatives as well as the cost savings from buildings that were more economical to operate.

Whether driven by market forces or environmental responsibility, or both, Heery International and many firms like it will design and advocate for energy-efficient buildings for clients because it is the right thing to do. From a strict business perspective, our engineers are designing systems that reduce energy costs, water usage, and improve the quality of the indoor environment – all things that help companies be resourceful and productive while reducing their impact on the environment. These initiatives save money in operating costs with negligible up-front costs.

Just as Adam Smith identified the invisible hand as a force in markets, there is now an invisible hand that guides corporate self-interested actions toward environmentally-oriented benefits to society.

There were no regulations driving the decisions for Heery’s architects and engineers to design the Georgia Power Headquarters with a 66% reduction in energy usage in the 1970’s and moving forward since then we haven’t recognized conventional limits to achieving greater returns for our clients and the environment we all share.

As professionals focused on the built-environment, we accept the challenge to be proactive, incorporating the latest innovations in resourcefulness and environmental stewardship in order to ensure the health and well-being of building occupants and the environment as a whole. If we apply our talents to only solving problems after they have caused universally-recognized issues, or waiting for regulations to govern our professional behaviors, we’ll inevitably reach a point where the problems to be solved exceed the time and resources available to solve them.

Leadership on this front is not as much about what you have done but rather what you are doing, based on what you now know. Architects, engineers and construction management professionals must continue to innovate, advocate and apply their knowledge. Buildings that are being constructed today are expected to serve their purpose in their initial configuration for decades, applying operational and energy-saving benefits over time. With each new building or renovation project commissioned there are tremendous opportunities for demonstrating to future generations our commitment to the environment.

Sustainable design and construction isn’t a divisive issue. It makes business sense and serves the greater good. Architecture, engineering and construction management professionals are joined together in improving the built environment.  I’m proud of my company, my colleagues and the industry for working together to achieve greater gains in sustainable design and construction.