Green design is gaining acceptance. Some aspects of green design might even be said to be entering both mainstream practice and the wider public consciousness. There is an NAAB accreditation criteria focused on sustainability, and the actor Brad Pitt is a talking head for green building. 1 The language of the various LEED rating systems has seeped into the vocabulary of most designers, and uncertain energy prices have given environmental concerns economic cachet. Even some of the more progressive planks of the green building platform are receiving significant support (though if only in principle so far) with both the National Association of Counties and the United States Conference of Mayors endorsing the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the 2030 Challenge. 2
Yet, it still seems that a surprising number of clients remain unconvinced as to whether they should pursue green strategies in their buildings. Likewise, there remain many design professionals waiting for the “right” project with which to begin greening their practice. Both of these stances fundamentally misunderstand the place and scope of sustainability within the design disciplines. The call for designers to create environmentally progressive products, buildings, or cities is not a call for an applied style or set of technologies. Rather, it is a call for the application of an ethic that is integral to the process of design no matter the project, the style, or the client. It is an expanded understanding of context. Every project must now answer for its impacts on not only its immediate surroundings but also on the broader planet. We have passed the point when architects and designers can plausibly claim ignorance of these issues. To design in today’s world and give no consideration to environmental issues is to act irresponsibly, and results in the creation of buildings that are obsolete before their time.
So how does one begin? The issue of sustainability in design is certainly a vast and nuanced topic with each breakthrough in understanding seemingly leading to many new unanswered questions. A designer beginning on the road to a more sustainable practice will not address all relevant issues on his or her first attempts. Many pieces of the green puzzle are currently beyond the reach of everyday practice. It remains impractical for the average practitioner to develop a comprehensive understanding of the embodied impacts of all of the materials she or he uses, and renewable energy sources are far from being a choice that is easily justified on the typical project. In time, with advancing knowledge and technology, such strategies will become common practice. However, there are steps that any designer can take on any project to make it significantly greener. What follows is an overview of some strategies that are available to designers whether or not one’s client is calling for a green solution.