2021 has started with a mix of excitement, fear, and relief. We’re all delighted to be here if just to get out of 2020, but we have challenges ahead. For those of us who work in creating the built environment, those challenges are both obvious and perhaps yet to be seen.
We’ve all been walloped by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has affected how we run our offices, and what work has been available. Some markets, like single-family homes and other high-end housing, have been booming. Other areas, such as hospitality and entertainment, have been struggling through pandemic-induced restrictions.
Events from the summer, including the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, put a sharp focus on issues of societal imbalance and structural racism. This led to reflections on equity within our industry. How do engineers, architects, and contractors change both the way they work and the work they do to increase opportunities for everyone?
We know that our industry has a huge role in responding to the ever-increasing climate crisis, and with the new rules and opportunities stemming from a new administration, we can move forward with some serious climate action. Many firms and professional organizations are creating climate action plans to guide this work.
So, it seems that we are being pummeled by several disparate issues all at once. How can we possibly respond to all of it? One key thing that many people have come to recognize is that these issues are not necessarily separate. They are interwoven. The impact of climate change falls disproportionately onto non-white, lower-income families. These families are much less likely to have benefitted from the exploitation of resources leading to climate change. This double-whammy is just one indication of why we must address both of these crucial issues together. These communities are also harder hit by COVID-19, with more infections and a higher death rate. These are the groups most impacted by our inequitable social system.
But what does this have to do with the AEC industry? We are the ones who design and construct the world where all this happens. Every project is an opportunity for community engagement, a chance to lift the users or occupants and provide a safe, accessible, and environmentally responsible contribution to their world. We are the ones with the professional education and skills to put a better environment in place.
Our clients are facing the same set of stresses and crises, so we need to be ready to offer the professional guidance they need to be sure they understand both the benefits of positively addressing these things and the risks of not doing so. We know that the political, regulatory, and financial situations will be changing rapidly and perhaps profoundly. We can help clients by understanding these changes and providing the information for designing and construction projects that effectively address them. This is the moment to really push and show how much rapid progress we can make.
This coming year will be a time to regroup, acknowledge our differences, and learn how to collaborate around them. We have a chance for a fresh start and a chance to prove our relevance to a society that needs us.
Betsy del Monte, FAIA, LEED BD+C, co-leads Cameron MacAllister Group’s sustainability consulting efforts working with AEC firms and facility owners to greatly accelerate their sustainable and resilient design outcomes. Betsy recently served on the AIA’s Climate Action Plan Task Force and is the 2021 Chair of the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE). If you are interested in learning how Betsy can help your firm, please contact her directly.